Delving into Alfred version 2
I have already been using Alfred for Mac OS X for a good few years. I have it set so that when I press command and spacebar, Alfred pops up and I can easily start an application by typing in a couple of characters. What is quite nice about Alfred is the fact that you have a fuzzy logic, in that I can start typing in the word Chrome and Alfred will know which application I am looking for, even though the application is actually called Google Chrome. This fuzzy logic recognition will also let me type in dd and it will give me the option at the top of the list to open up DragonDictate. This is so much easier than using the built-in Mac OS X launchers that are available such as Spotlight or the iOS like, App Launcher. Other applications which do similar things would be LaunchBar and the recently upgraded Quicksilver.
Alfred and the Power Pack
The Power Pack is very inexpensive and well worth getting, as it allows you to do quite a few more useful things with Alfred. Alfred by itself is extremely useful anyway, but the Power Pack certainly takes it up a good few notches. What was of particular interest in this latest version of Alfred, version 2 was the ability to create workflows. Even though I already have the excellent automation possibilities of Mac OS X with Automator, Hazel, Keyboard Maestro and AppleScript, I was quite tempted with this new functionality within Alfred. It stands to reason that if you are using a launcher application on a daily basis to start your applications, that you use to do your stuff, that it is worth looking at what can be done to extend that functionality.
Although there is certainly a certain amount of overlap between these automation applications, some do work better than others and there is the possibility that you can use a combination of more than one to complete some tasks. For example when you are using Hazel, you can have AppleScript embedded within automations that will be triggered by certain occurrences within folders that are being watched. It is the same with Keyboard Maestro in that you can use AppleScript and other programming languages such as Ruby or Python to get other things done. To a large extent there is no limit to the amount of automation that you can program in, once you have worked out what it is that you want to automate.
Mac OS X automation and the non-geek
For the users that are not especially geeky, often the best way forward is to look at automation scripts that have been created by other more geeky users. Quite often the scripts that you can get are already capable of doing exactly what you want them to do on your computer. Sometimes it is quite easy to take something that has been created already and with minimal changes personalise it to your specific requirements. With this new version of Alfred with the workflows, the fact that there are very few tutorial videos showing what you can do with these new workflows and indeed how to make them, you really do need to grab what is there already. Even though I am a bit of a nerd or a geek, I am finding that I’d need to do a fair bit of twiddling and fiddling with previously constructed Alfred workflows in order to find out how to construct my own.
Alfred integration with other applications
Despite the fact that I generally use Alfred for launching applications, I only recently found out that it can also use it to do a good job of searching for files. I did already know that it was possible to have Alfred search for files, but for some reason I always jumped into the Finder application. I have even found a workflow that restricts the search to folders. You have a calculator built into Alfred where you can just start typing your calculation into the Alfred search window, as well as the ability to get dictionary definitions and spellings that you are not sure of.
Something else that is new to me with Alfred is the integration with 1Password, all you need to do is to start your search with the characters 1P followed by the name of what you want to use from 1Password. Alfred will then open up your default browser and log you into that website, very handy! Then, if you’re inclined that way, there is also the link into terminal and shell commands and access to a number of system commands. You have around 13 or 14 system commands that you can use, from starting the screensaver, emptying the trash, hiding an application to ejecting removable media.
Alfred and iTunes
By using a keyword, iTunes or using a keyboard shortcut which is set by default to be Ctrl Cmd Enter you can get into your iTunes in the form of a mini player. This lets you search for artists, albums, playlists and all the things that you need to do to listen to audio from iTunes. You can tell it to play a random album, switch to the next or the previous track as well as do things with the volume of the audio. If you want to, you can go into the preferences for Alfred and put a tick in the box to have it include movies and TV shows with the searches.
Alfred clipboard, snippets and clipboard merges
To a certain extent the facilities that you get with Alfred to use with the clipboard will complete with other applications such as with Keyboard Maestro and with TextExpander. It is quite handy to use the Cmd with pressing the letter C twice to have clipboard items appended to the previous clipping. This allows you to take text from various places and to put it back into another place as one clipped item.
If there are certain lumps of text that you use regularly then you can create it in the preferences area of Alfred as a snippet. Then when you open up the clipboard viewer of Alfred, you will have an option at the top of the list to go into snippets. It is quite easy then to use the command + number to choose a specific snippet or to use the arrow keys to scroll through and see which one you want to use. I don’t think this will completely take over the usefulness of TextExpander, but if you don’t need that full amount of functionality, then this could be just the job for you. It doesn’t take too long to set up snippets in the preferences, although it would be nice to have some way to automatically add new snippets. I’m sure that it must be possible to do this with a little bit fancy scripting.
What you can do with Alfred version 2
The Mac20Q verdict on Alfred version 2 is that it is an application well worth getting on your Mac and it will transform the way that you work with your computer. It is easy for a beginner to use, but I would recommend starting off with the general easy-to-use part of the application and then working up to the advanced options one by one. That’s how you can add these new things to your habitual workflows easily in a way that you will remember them. It may well be that all you will need is the free version of the application and that you won’t need to get to the inexpensive and well worthwhile having Power Pack.
I think though, that it is quite likely that once you see some of the workflows that can be added to Alfred to make it do more things, then you’re likely to want to get your hands on the Power Pack anyway. There are plenty of other useful functions within the Power Pack that also makes it well worth having. If you have any questions on how to use Alfred and how to construct workflows then please feel free to add them to the comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you.