The introduction of the Macintosh back in 1984 helped release us from the bondage of the command-line interface. So, it seems ironic that there's a relatively new category of Mac productivity apps that lets us control our Macs from the keyboard. Quicksilver was one of the first of these utilities, and I was a big fan. But when developer support fragmented, other apps like Launchbar and even Apple's own Spotlight moved in to stake a claim. I've tried all of them and, while all have their merits, I eventually landed on Alfred by Running With Crayons and haven't looked back.
At its most basic, Alfred is an app-launching utility. Rather than clicking on an icon in your dock or rummaging through your Applications folder, you simply type a key-combination (Cmd+Space, in my case) to bring up a text input window. As you begin typing the name of the app you want to open, Alfred starts displaying matches, narrowing down the list as you continue to type. Either hitting the Return key or selecting a Command-key option will open the selected item. Not only can you launch apps this way, but you can open files, folders, emails and contacts, perform web searches, copy/move files and folders, and a whole host of other actions. Almost anything that's stored on your Mac is fair game for Alfred. The more you use it, the more Alfred learns about you in order to help you work more quickly and efficiently.
Alfred 2.6 is available as a free download from the developer's website. (Note: An older version exists on the Mac App store, but it lacks some new enhancements and is not compatible with the newly released Alfred Remote app for iOS that's described further.) The app includes several basic features, including the app launcher, Web search, calculator, and dictionary actions.
This is a good place to start, but if you want to squeeze the most out of Alfred, you need to buy the Powerpack. This unlocks more advanced capabilities such as searching your contacts, accessing your clipboard history, controlling iTunes playback, and integrating with 1Password. But probably the most important Powerpack feature is the ability to create workflows. These are multi-step actions that can include AppleScripts, shell scripts, Ruby or Python code, and so on. You can build your own workflows if you're so inclined, or download Alfred workflows that other users have shared.
Alfred has become so ingrained into my workflow that I find it painful to work on a Mac without it. Now, Alfred has a new assistant called Alfred Remote — a $5 iOS version of Alfred that lets you control your Mac from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It's important to note that Alfred Remote is not a standalone app; you also need to have Alfred 2.6 or higher running on the Mac you want to control.
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