Alfred 2 – The Productivity Powerhouse Arrives

Just a little over two years ago, when I moved from Linux to the Mac, I set out to find an app launcher similar to what I was accustomed to. At the time, Quicksilver was pretty much defunct and Launchbar… well that just didn’t click with me. Then I found Alfred and have never looked back.

Dubbing Alfred as a mere application launcher is very misleading though, simply because it’s capable of so much more. It a true productivity powerhouse, the backbone of so many of my workflows… An app without which I would feel crippled on a Mac.

As is the case with any vital tool, when I hear the words “New version” or “Major rewrite”, I cannot help but cringe and feel a little bit anxious with what lies ahead. Will it remain the crux of my workflow, or will the glue that holds the many intricate pieces together fail? Well… Will it?

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What Changed

One thing that can be said for Alfred, is that development never stopped. The team behind it laboured tirelessly, constantly adding new features and improvements. The downside being that many were an afterthought, a fact that became painfully apparent in the app’s cluttered and unwieldy preferences.

With version 2’s rewrite that has changed dramatically. From the first time you open the preferences, now a separate app, you’ll notice a cleaner interface with better layout. Settings and features are logically grouped making them easier to find and tweak.

A Closer Look

Three separate sections all merged into one.

Three separate sections all merged into one.

As Vero had stated in her initial blog post, version 2 would still feel like home for veteran users. I was happy to see that it does, albeit a new, improved and redecorated home!

With one or two minor exceptions every single setting was where I’d expect it to be. A few settings, that in version 1 merited a separate section, have now been merged with others. As an example, Fallback Searches can now be found under Default Results, while Custom Searches, Web Searches, URLs and History have all been meshed together forming Web Search.

This type of reorganisation can be found throughout the app. But the changes aren’t merely cosmetic. A few features have matured and received some interesting tweaks. For instance, you can now disable unneeded default actions as well as asking for confirmation for specific System Commands.

You can now disable actions and ask for confirmation for System Commands.

You can now disable actions and ask for confirmation for System Commands.

Another feature to have been tweaked in a considerable manner is the Contacts Viewer. You can now define custom actions per contact field. This allows you to extend functionality and somewhat bend it to your will by passing the entry to a URL Scheme, copying it to clipboard or viewing it as large text.

These custom actions can be accessed from a workflow, but more on workflows a little later.

UI

Version 1 already had the ability of theming, but Alfred 2 brings it to a whole new level. Not only is the theming engine more intuitive and accessible, it is also vastly more powerful. Choose from an array of fonts, change font sizes, increase of decrease the padding between entries. Change the width of Alfred’s window as well as the corner radius. After creating a master piece, use the share button to export your theme, either as a URL or as a file.

The new theming engine, powerful yet intuitive.

The new theming engine, powerful yet intuitive.

Click on the background to change colours, giving you a better feel for how your design will look.

Workflows

Gone are the ragged and weary extensions of version 1. In their place you’ll find the infinitely more powerful, flexible and intuitive Workflows. What are they, you may ask.

Workflows, a feature found only in the Powerpack, allow you extend Alfred’s functionality in almost infinite ways by running scripts, launching hotkeys running system commands, and more. Workflows are made up of objects such as triggers, inputs, actions and outputs, each easily linked with the aid of a visual canvas.

The ability to feed results back to Alfred, a much requested feature, finally saw the light in version 2 giving way to many creative workflows.

The excellent Weather Workflow by David Ferguson showing results fed back to Alfred.

The excellent Weather Workflow by David Ferguson showing results fed back to Alfred.

If you’d like to get started then there are a few examples or templates that will show you the basics. Examples are fully functioning workflows that will immediately give a feel for what is possible. Templates on the other hand provide you with the essential building blocks for workflows. All you have to do is then fill in the blanks.

An example of a few templates.

An example of a few templates.

However, if that’s not your thing, you can easily import workflows created by the vibrant and helpful community of users that have rallied to create some amazing workflows. Simply choose the workflow you’d like to import, double click it and confirm the prompt in Alfred. There is much more to be said about workflows and for that very reason we’ll have a whole piece solely dedicated to them shortly.

Final Thoughts

At the beginning of this piece I asked a vital question: “Will it remain the crux of my workflow, or will the glue that holds the many intricate pieces together fail? I’m happy to report that after having used Alfred 2 for the past couple of months it has strengthened its foothold as one of the pillars of my daily workflow.

With all the great features that it retained from version 1, the inclusion of workflows and the budding community of workflow developers creating amazing things, I can state with a clear conscious that this is a must have app. The price of the PowerPack is easily justified by workflows alone. How much does a weather app cost? A good twitter client, or something akin to Mailhub? These are just a few examples of workflows that already exist!

If you’re still on the fence, then peruse the previous in-depth articles where I cover in much detail what Alfred can do. Though they are for version 1, the features and power remain intact. Install the free version and give it a test run… I’m sure you’ll love it. I feel so confident in fact that I foresee a couple of converts from other popular app launchers!

Rating an app isn’t always an easy task, but this is one case where I have no doubts and give it a solid 10! What are your thoughts?

Don’t forget, we’ll soon have an in-depth look at workflows, showcasing some great ones.


Summary

Alfred is an application launcher and allround productivity tool.

10
  • Patrick

    Very nice article and I have to say that Alfred is a worthy successor after Quicksilver.

    • Sadhuram

      Quicksilver has much more features and it’s free. Will Alfred bring any thing new? Workflows ar just QS triggers which I’ve been using for some years and without paying ^^

      • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

        Hi Sadhuram,

        I’m not entirely familiar with Quicksilver so I’ll have to take your word that it has more features. I’d like however to address 2 issues:

        1) If you’re ok with development of Quicksilver stopping, as has happened in the past, then great. Personally I prefer to pay for software as good as this. It not only assures me that developers will be able to continue working and improving on the product as well as it entitles me to some degree to complain when things break (hasn’t happened yet though)

        2) With regards to the features, maybe Quicksilver may have more out of the box, but the new workflow feature has extended Alfred’s capabilities far beyond what many may have initially imagined. We are starting to see some excellent and creative workflows. There is even a package manager of sorts that allows you to search, install and update workflows.

        If you’re happy with Quicksliver, great. But then again, why not install the free version of Alfred and take it for a spin. Maybe have a look at the forums and see what type of workflows are brewing.

        I’d love to hear back and see if maybe… just maybe I managed to convert you ;)

        Cheers,
        Pedro

        • everzet

          Whole your opinion is based on misinformation. QS development didn’t stopped. Lead maintainer is changed:
          https://github.com/quicksilver/Quicksilver/commits/master

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          Hi everzet,

          I’m sure that if you do a quick search, you’ll see that there was a time when development slowed down, or almost stopped. I came into the Mac arena in Snow Leopard days and at the time, QS had not yet been updated to work with SL. So while current development progresses at a steady pace, history has shown that it can stop. Truth be told, nothing guarantees that development of Alfred won’t stop one day too, though in this case, the apps history shows quite the contrary.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Thank you Patrick, I’m glad you liked the article.

  • Dan

    Nice article. Looking forward to the in-depth look at workflows! :-)

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the article. We should have some nice goodies for the workflow piece.

      • Dan

        That’s some great news Pedro, thanks for the reply.

        I use some of your Workflows, which are great, btw. ;-)

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          Thanks Dan. I’m happy you enjoy the workflows. I’ll have to update a few once I get some free time. Got a few tweaks I’d like to get in there ;)

  • Bob

    Good write-up, Alfred 2 is so damn amazing and feature packed that it’s hard to fit it all in a single write-up like this but you have covered a lot, so that is quite impressive. The workflow specific write-up is going to be awesome especially with all the sweet workflows you have released during the beta period. Keep it up Pedro! Love the write up and it’s hard to do Alfred2 justice but you have done so. Cheers!

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Thanks Bob for your kind comment. I’m glad you like it and agree with me that Alfred is indeed awesome.

      It’ll be impossible to cover all the great workflows that have popped up but I’ll do my best to highlight some interesting ones.

  • iyyy69

    I’ve been using Alfred for a couple of years, but I’m kind of confused about the versioning and Mac App Store. I’ve got it installed through the app store, which says I’m up to date on v1.2, and the Alfred website seems pretty vague, though when I download the app from there, the zip file indicates 2.0. It’s too bad when a great app drops the ball those kind of details.

    • Jeremy

      The new version probably hasn’t been approved by the Mac App Store yet.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi iyyy69,

      As Jeremy stated, it could not have been approved yet. Having said that I’m not entirely sure they’ll have version 2 in the MAS. However, if you intend to use all the great features you’ll need the PowerPack and that will only work with the website version.

      While great, the MAS isn’t right for every app out there.

      • Dan

        “While great, the MAS isn’t right for every app out there.”

        So true Pedro!

        My bigest mistake was purchasing Coda2 at the MAS!
        The first release had a serious bug causing Coda to crash every couple minutes. It took Apple weeks to approve the crucial update – Customers who purchased Coda2 directly via panic had the fixed version within minutes after release. (at least I had a reason to look for alternatives while Coda2 was unusable and stumbled over Sublime Text, which I’m using now)

        Crippled MAS-versions are another reasen to purchase apps directly via the developer.

        Anyways, looking forward to your next Alfred 2 related articles! (and Workflows) ;-)

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          Hey Dan,

          Yeah, the MAS is great for exposure, to get an app known, but it sometimes falls short in other aspects. Just the other day while running the Macupdate App, I realized that I had at least 6 MAS apps that were a version or two behind the direct sales app. This is disappointing since I usually like to be on the bleeding edge.

          Fortunately some developers (such as the guys from Manytricks) have given users the ability to migrate the MAS version to direct app.

  • http://www.pavelgerega.com Pavel

    Hi Pedro, could you tell me which theme you used for Alfred 2 in this article? I think it looks awesome and would like to know where you got it. Thanks!

  • Denis

    Great article and read! If you’re a Mac user and have to buy only one app, Alfred v2 is the way to go. Boosting your productivity and efficiency through the roof!

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      I couldn’t agree with you more Denis. It’s one of those apps that are were a game changer for me. Well worth the price of admission!

  • Luis

    I rarely post on here. As I am more of a lurker than a commenter, but I have to agree completely with this post. Alfred v2 is simply amazing. Faster in a lot of ways, better menus, and the Workflows posted by the community are just awesome.

    Workflows I love:

    http://dferg.us/weather-for-alfred-2/ (Weather conditions and forecast)
    http://florianpellet.com/alfred/ (Evernote workflow search, open, create notes)

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Luis,

      Those are really great workflows, in fact, David and Florian have some awesome workflows.
      The community creating extension in v1 was already relatively active, but with the appearance of Workflows and the forum to easily share and help has brought this to a whole new level!

  • http://twitter.com/effectivepull Scott

    Is there anything that Alfred 2 does that can’t be accomplished in Launchbar? I’m a user of Launchbar and want to see what, if anything, I’m missing out on. I’d love to see a side-by-side comparison of the two. Thanks for the article!

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Actually, we’ve got an article about just that coming up soon. Stay tuned! ;)

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Scott,

      Bear in mind that I’m not a launchbar user so I couldn’t really say without proper testing, however I think that one of the few key features are workflows and the ability to feed results back into Alfred. This allows for very flexible and powerful workflows. Stay tuned to the next piece that will focus on workflows and I’m sure you’ll get a taste for what Alfred 2 can do.

      • http://twitter.com/effectivepull Scott

        Thanks so much for the response, Pedro. I look forward to your next piece!

        • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

          You’re most welcome Scott. I along with another Mac.AppStorm writer will tackle a interesting project soon that will surely bring the whole Alfred 2 vs Launchbar to new light.

          So just another thing to stay tuned for ;)

  • http://skulbuny.com Sean

    I made a theme for Alfred 2 if you guys want to check it out. A bit on the compact and minimal side. http://static.skulbuny.com/Simple.alfredappearance

    • http://techinch.com/ Matthew Guay

      Ohh, I like that … in fact, just switched to it over here :)

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Very nice indeed!

      I think it’s time took a vacation and this is the best contender yet :D

  • Nick

    Thanks for posting that article Pedro and I couldn’t agree more with your review. I’m very thankful to mac;app storm for making me discover Alfred. I have to say that I too would feel crippled on my mac without it. I find Alfred to be indispensable and I use it more than any other program. It’s so powerful and versatile. I just love being able to call up any program or website with a few key words. Alfred, has enabled me to increase my working speed expediently on a mac. 10/10 without question. Nothing else I’ve tried comes remotely close to Alfred.

    • http://palobo.tumblr.com Pedro Lobo

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m currently testing out another similar app for an upcoming piece and I can honestly say I miss Alfred already! ;)

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