If you are a user of the operating system OS X for Mac, certainly you will have used it at least once Spotlight, a powerful real-time search tool that was introduced with OS X 10.4 Tiger in 2005. Spotlight can be called up with a key combination (generally with cmd + space bar) or by clicking on the icon in the form of a magnifying glass at the top right of the men bar. Over the years, several improvements have been introduced, which have allowed users not only to intelligently search for files within the Mac, but also to perform simple actions such as performing mathematical operations, opening installed apps or performing web searches.
Years after the debut of Spotlight, some developers started working on similar tools but offered more features, and allowed them to perform actions we normally do with the Mac in just a few steps, simply by typing a command. In 2010 the first version of one of the more complete alternatives of Spotlight, Alfred, made by Crayons Ltd, a small software house composed by the developer Andrew Pepperrell and from the aforementioned business and commercial aspect True Pepperrell.
Over the years there have been several updates, with the introduction of version 2.0 in 2013. Currently the development has led to the release of version 2.8, which I installed on my Mac and which I would like to talk to you to show you how Alfred 2 he replaced Spotlight in my daily use of OS X, the potential offered and the advantages of using a powerful tool like this.
Free features offered by Alfred 2
Alfred 2 an application that is distributed free by the developer. Basically, it includes many useful features, but to unlock all the potential you need to buy a license for the Powerpack, of which I will speak later in a dedicated paragraph. After installing Alfred 2 (can be downloaded from official site), the first thing to do is set up a combination of keys with which to call up the instrument. I generally for comfort tend to assign the combination of Spotlight, so every time I press cmd + space the search bar of Alfred 2.
Although the tool is in English, selecting Italy as the default country, all the searches will be redirected to the Italian site of reference (think Google or Amazon). Users who have downloaded the app for free can customize the tool only through the section Features of Alfred's settings. In the left sidebar we can choose different areas of interest and, for each of them, specify how the tool should behave. For example, under the heading Default Results You can select the types of files that should appear in the search results we are going to perform.
To not make frustrating the use of Alfred 2, we recommend that you only search for certain file types, such as applications, contacts, system preferences and Safari bookmarks. You can also choose to enable the search for documents such as PDFs, images and more, but I advise you not to activate these items, as it is possible to call up the search for documents by pressing the space bar once before searching. This ensures greater efficiency of the tool.
Another section that I find very useful Web search. Within it we can go on to define rapid searches on the websites we visit most, simply by putting the name of the site before the phrase to be searched. For example, if we wanted to search how to install WhatsApp on Android tablet on Google, it would be enough to recall Alfred and write google how to install WhatsApp on Android tablet and, after pressing enter, the browser will open with the search results made on Google.
But the searches are not limited only to Google. For example we can do the same thing with Amazon, eBay, Youtube and all the sites that provide the possibility to carry out searches. By default there is already a substantial list of sites, with the keyword to be written next to each of them before the sentence to be searched. For example by writing wiki Steve Jobs, it will open the wikipedia page related to Steve Jobs. Really a very useful function. By clicking on Add Custom Search we can manually enter sites that are not present in the list.
The potentials of Alfred 2, in the free version, are multiple, and by scrolling through the different sections you can select and enable the features that we consider most useful. present for example the possibility to search for a word in the dictionary by writing define WORD TO SEARCH. The result will be shown directly inside Alfred.
You can also control iTunes playback without opening the relevant program or, if used 1Password to manage passwords, you can search for a stored password and open the related website.
A world opens up with the Powerpack
Although the free features are very useful, I believe that the true potential of Alfred 2 emerge once the license for the Powerpack. It allows us to access workflows, or a series of quick actions that we can create ourselves personally or that we can find on the official forum or on the packal site. On the Alfred web page dedicated to Workflow, some have been highlighted that integrate with the most used apps on Mac.
For example, one was created for Spotify, which allows you to have a miniplayer directly inside Alfred through which to search, play and scroll through the songs in the Spotify catalog. If you use Evernote, through its workflow you can easily manage your notes, while if you need to search for something in your emails, you can find an extension for that too. Browsing the site packal many workflows are found, many of which provide useful and interesting features.
For example I have found an extension to manage the commitments of Wunderlist. Through it I can insert a new task by simply using the Alfred interface, or I can view my lists and commitments for each list. Another interesting workflow is the one for Fantastical (I talked about Fantastical in this article), which allows you to add tasks to your calendar by writing in natural language. So typing cal Soccer match tomorrow at 7pm directly on Alfred, a new entry will be added to Fantastical.
If you have subscribed to Netflix, a useful workflow allows you to search for movies and TV series in the catalog. A list will be shown in Alfred, with the possibility of searching by title, actor or director and, after clicking on the desired result, the browser will be automatically started with the video ready to be played.
Finally I would like to point out a useful extension that allows the search for torrents based on the keywords we entered and, after finding the most suitable torrent for our request, clicking on it will open the program to manage the torrent files installed on your Mac.
If you are looking for a specific workflow but cannot find it, you can also create it yourself using the simple interface in Alfred's settings. You can either take advantage of the predefined commands that allow the opening of apps, the sending of notifications or the search for files, or, if you know some programming language, you can create custom scripts that can be opened directly through Alfred if necessary. If you have in mind to exploit all the potential of Alfred 2, you cannot not buy a license for the Powerpack.
Customize your experience with the themes
can customize the interface of Alfred 2 thanks to the section dedicated to the themes. You have three options:
- Use one of the default themes when installing the tool for the first time.
- Create your own theme.
- Install the themes created by the users of the Alfred community (you will find many on the packal site).
They exist for all tastes. You start from the one that fits the graphic style introduced with OS X Yosemite, moving on to an old-fashioned theme for OS X Lion lovers. Personally, I installed a theme in style Material Design and I customized it to make the research area bigger and more understandable.
Alfred 2 can also be controlled from the iPhone and iPad
In January 2015, the counterparty of iOS was released on the iOS App Store Alfred for iPhone and iPad call Alfred Remote. The idea behind this app is to be able to control your Mac remotely via our iOS devices. After having installed it and paired it with the Mac (very simple coupling, as Alfred instances running on the Wi-Fi network to which we are connected are detected), we can decide which actions we want to be able to perform through it.
In the settings of Alfred for Mac, under the heading Remote, present a subdivision by categories. For each category we can choose the actions we want to appear in the app for Alfred Remote. By default there are some, but we can customize the different pages to our liking, inserting actions or for more geeks also scripts and terminal commands. After entering the commands that we believe are most useful, we can call up actions via our iPhone or iPad simply by pressing the icon.
To better understand its usefulness, I make a couple of use cases. Imagine he is going out of the house but he left the Mac on. Through Alfred Remoteyou can send the command to shut down the system with a simple touch. Another somewhat more complex scenario could be this: on the Mac you have a folder with films and TV series that you want to share wireless with your TV at home. On the Mac there is a typical program Plex which allows the sharing of these contents. It is possible to program a command that, if used when sitting on the sofa at home, allows you to start sharing the contents of the Mac, which may be in another room, all in the most extreme simplicity and immediacy.
Obviously the potential of this instrument is innumerable and the only brake could be our imagination. If known how to configure properly, the app Alfred Remote could save us a lot of time during our daily activities. A typical use that I do is to keep the iPad next to the Mac and recall the commands I normally use by simply pressing on the icons in Alfred Remote, without having to go through Alfred on the Mac, in which case I should manually type in the different commands. I think Alfred's simple but brilliant app for iOS.
Because I replaced Spotlight with Alfred 2
Since I bought a Mac, I have always used Spotlight, so I'm used to searching for files and opening apps using this tool. I am a person who likes to use the keyboard as much as possible, limiting the use of the mouse or trackpad to the minimum, and the possibility of being able to manage the entire flow of actions that I perform most frequently through Alfred, allows me to make this way of interact with the Mac. Furthermore, using workflows I can perform operations that would require many steps by typing a simple string, which is a great way to optimize time.
My advice is to try the free version of Alfred 2, which you can download from here. If you realize that a tool that fits your needs and can replace Spotlight, then go on to buy a license Powerpack, which can be purchased for $ 17 for a single PC use, $ 27 for a family license or $ 32 for lifetime product support. The app for iOS can instead be purchased on the App Store for the price of 4.99.
If you want to stay updated on the latest workflows and typical uses of Alfred 2, I suggest you follow the official blog that you can find at this address. If you have decided to use too Alfred 2 instead ofSpotlighton the Mac I'd like to know what you think. Write to us using the comments at the end of the article.