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Alfred for Mac enhances Apple's Finder

alfred for macAlfred is a utility for Mac OS X that's part app launcher, part navigation tool and part web service. In short, it's a productivity tool that sits quietly in the background until you need something -- fast. Imagine a fully fueled 1987 Buick GNX 223 idling in your driveway with the door open, and you'll get the idea. While power users who cut their teeth on custom Quicksilver scripts will walk away wanting, the rest will find Alfred suited to their needs. Here's my look at Alfred for the Mac.

Inevitable comparison to Quicksilver

I'll get this out of the way now. Comparisons to Quicksilver aren't entirely appropriate, but they're inevitable. Quicksilver is an application launcher and quick means of navigating the Finder. Eventually its developer ceased development, considering the utility feature-complete, not to mention a time-consuming effort that failed to bring in any money.

Today, it's maintained by an enthusiastic and talented group of developers. Users enjoy a library of plug-ins and the option to write their own scripts. That's great, but I'm looking for a more turnkey solution. Alfred is it.

UI

It's bare bones, baby, and that's how I like it. When first launched, Alfred adds a menu bar item (this can be removed) and that's it. A customizable hotkey combination calls its main window into view, which can be themed.

Alfred comes with two themes, light and dark (I like light). Powerpack users (more on that later) can create their own and import themes made by others. You'll find some nice third-party themes at Alfred tips and deviantArt.

Text entered into the main window is nice and legible, as are search results. As you get into functions other than application launching, you'll find easily-interpreted icons. Finally, the main window features Alfred's hat logo and small cog that opens the preferences window; both of these can be switched off.

Preferences

There are five main preference panes; six if you've bought the Powerpack. The General pane lets you choose hotkey for the main window and navigation. Those who dislike removing their hands from the keyboard (like yours truly) will have fun putzing around, setting key combinations for local search, Spotlight and the web. Finally, you can have Alfred check for updates automatically or manually, and even opt into receiving pre-releases (I do).

The Features preference is the most expansive and powerful. Alfred's options are divided into five categories: basic, local, web, accessories and advanced. Basic options give you control over default results. You can choose to include or exclude folders, bookmarks, images or text files, for example. Likewise, you're free to include or exclude your Home Folders or specific directories by path. Alfred offers fine-grained control for nit-pickers like me.

Local options let you include or exclude applications, while file search options offer something fun. As I said, Alfred is more than a launcher. It'll also open files, find files and peek inside them. Here you can select the command that tells Alfred to do each of these tasks. For example, "find flowers.jpg" will reveal that item in the Finder. Neat! If you've bought the Powerpack, you can then email flowers.jpg, move it and so on.

Web search options are insanely detailed, so I'll only offer a few. The syntax is simple. For example, you can tell Alfred "Search Google Maps for '...'," "Open Twitter user '...'," or "Ask Wolfram '...'." There are similar options for Amazon, Linked In, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, local weather ... on and on and on. You can also create custom searches. For example, I made one that brings me right to the content area of TUAW's CMS. Nice! Each of these can be toggled on or off.

System commands offer more fun. Create your own commands for shutdown, restart, lock, sleep, empty (or view) the trash, start the screensaver or eject media. I especially love hitting Command+Space (my Alfred key combo) Shutdown at the end of the day.

The fun is only getting started! You'll also find a calculator (Command+Space 5*3 returns 15), dictionary (Command+Space "spell '...' offers the correct spelling and puts it on the clipboard), email (with an option to use Apple's Mail or Gmail via a browser) and Address Book integration.

Finally, advanced preferences let you navigate the Finder, control iTunes via a very nice built-in controller, browse a clipboard history and even pass shell commands to the Terminal.

Additional preferences let you control the appearance as mentioned above and display your stats, which is fun. I've launched Alfred 1,544 times since December 15, 2010. An average of 20.3 times per day. Yowsa.

Use

Alfred is free to use. The out-of-the-box version offers app launching, file, web and custom search, system controls, the calculator and spelling options. Your experience is further enhanced by purchasing the Powerpack.

The Powerpack

The Powerpack is a collection of additional functionality. For the regular price of £12, the Powerpack offers actions on files (email to, move to, etc.), the iTunes mini player, full file system navigation, clipboard history and snippets (I've found this to be quite useful), Address Book integration, access to recent documents and color theming, plus email and terminal support. It's a small price to pay for a huge number of additional goodies. Most importantly, goodies that you'll use. I've tried software whose marquee features I never found that useful. On the contrary, Alfred's Powerpack has been a real boon to me.

Conclusion

This type of utility isn't new. As I said, Quicksilver has existed for years, as does the immensely popular Launchbar. All three are great, but for different reasons. While Alfred's customization options are good, they'll leave those used to bending Launchbar to their every whim wanting. On the other hand, those who want to get up and and go with minimal fuss ought to try Alfred. And why not? It's free out of the box and for a measly £12 you get all that other great stuff.

Now for the good news. As Alfred celebrates its first birthday today, the Powerpack is available at a 10% discount.

Alfred is a great little app that you'll be thrilled to own. I recommend it.

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Alfred is a utility for Mac OS X that's part app launcher, part navigation tool and part web service. In short, it's a productivity tool...