I’m a mac guy. Have been since 2008. And I like to consider myself a power user. From my days editing video to web programming to writing sermons and seminary papers, I’ve always desired to increase my efficiency on the computer. That’s why I’ve always taken the time to learn keyboard shortcuts to my favorite software programs. Those few minutes of memorization are recouped by the reduction of extra clicks and broken concentration that happens every time you need to hunt through the menus with the mouse for the function you need.
Well, I wanted to introduce my fellow macOS power users out there to a tool that I’ve been using for about 5 years now—one which I literally use dozens of times throughout my day.
It’s Alfred and it’s awesome!
I want to show you a few of my favorite features so you can see its benefits. I plan to write other posts sharing advanced Alfred workflows that have specific application for Christians (like the ability to paste any Bible passage, in any version, anywhere, instantly).
So what is Alfred? It’s like a personal butler for your Mac computer. It is a lot like the default Spotlight feature that ships will macOS, but on steroids. Spotlight made some big strides in OS X 10.10 Yosemite. But a lot of the features they added were just things Alfred had already been doing for years. So, at first glance, you might think Alfred is just another super search bar. And it is that, but it is so much more.
Here are a few of my favorite features:
If I open up the Alfred search bar and type “define gravy” I get an instant definition in the search bar. And if I hit return it opens up the dictionary app and gives me the full definition.
I use this feature all the time when I’m reading and writing. It’s especially handy because along with the definition, the dictionary pulls the Wikipedia entry and (my favorite) the thesaurus as well. Now I can find a really long synonym for the word I’m searching and look smarter than I really am!
Open / Find
Does this situation sound familiar? You saved a file somewhere but can’t, for the life of you, remember where. After poking around for a few minutes and finding nothing, you finally turn to Finder’s search function.
That can work…
Or you can find (or find and open) your file instantly with Alfred, all without having your fingers leave the keyboard. If I open the Alfred search bar, type “Open,” and start typing part of the file name I’m trying to find, Alfred will begin listing files that match that search—right in the search bar. Then, you just select the correct one and it will open in its default app. Even better, if you’re trying to simply move that file or find it so you can attach drag it to an email, just type “Find” followed by part of your file name and it will open the Finder app to the folder containing that file.
Let’s just say I didn’t go to seminary because I was a math whiz.
If I need to figure out a quick math problem, Alfred is there to help. Just open the Alfred search bar, start typing your math problem, and it will instantly display the result. If you hit return, it copies the result to your clipboard so you can paste it wherever you need it.
All of those basic features are available in the free version of Alfred, which you can download and install right now. But Alfred’s real power is in the paid “Powerpack” upgrade. At £19.00 (around $25 USD), it really is worth it.
With Powerpack you get expandable text-snippets (great for those repetitious email responses), deeper app integrations, and (the best part) workflows.
Workflows are little processes you trigger either using the Alfred search bar or with keybindings. These can trigger apple scripts and complex interactions with other apps. If you’ve ever used the iOS app Workflows (no relation), it’s a lot like that.
Alfred comes with several built-in workflows like Amazon Suggest, which interacts with Amazon.com to try and guess the book or product you’re searching for as you type it. Hit return and it takes you right to the product page. I used this a lot while I was in seminary. I’d hear a book recommendation mentioned by a professor, start typing the title in Alfred, and add it to my wishlist before the guy next to me had his browser open.
And if you’re handy, you can create your own workflows. For example, I created a simple workflow for when I type the word “Vindicated” so that it opens up YouTube to the chorus of Dashboard Confessional’s song “Vindicated.” I’ve found it to be a much classier way of saying, “I told you so” when I end up being right about something.
If you’re looking to see what other kinds of workflows are out there, there is a site called Packal which serves as a public repository for user-created Alfred workflows. Browsing this site for a few minutes was what got me to purchase the powerpack in the first place.
Any of you use Alfred? What’s your favorite feature or workflow?