Alfred is a keyboard launcher for Mac, much like Spotlight but with powerful features Spotlight can’t even dream of. It’s simple really. You use a keyboard combo to bring up the launcher (“Opt + Cmd” for me), type what you want, Alfred brings up the best options, press Enter and you’re done. Much like Spotlight, Alfred can do things like launch apps and open documents, but if you buy the £17 Powerpack (around $26) upgrade, you get access to a lot of awesome stuff. The best of which is the ability to create custom workflows. There’s a whole community out there creating workflows for all sorts of things and I’ve highlighted the best in a previous post.
But today we’re talking about the other side of the Powerpack upgrade. The part that will let you manage your files without even opening up the Finder will give you a powerful clipboard, snippets utility and a lot more. So let’s get to it.
1. Use Actions to Quickly Move, Copy and Manage Files
OS X’s Finder is good at organizing files and folders in a simple structure. But you know what’s even better? Bypassing the Finder entirely to manage files. Yes, it’s like using the command line but with a GUI. The Actions menu comes up using a custom shortcut (I’ve kept it at “Opt” + “Cmd” + “V”). Just select some files and use the keyboard shortcut to bring up the Actions menu.
Now just choose one of the options – copy to, move to, delete, etc. If you have Evernote or Sublime Text specific workflows installed, these options will show up here as well.
2. Create Your Own Workflows
Alfred workflows can be anything from simple to immensely complicated. Go to “Alfred Preferences” after clicking the Alfred icon in the menu bar, choose “Workflows” and click the “+” button in the bottom-left corner. To get you started, Alfred already has some examples and templates available for you. Examples range from finding a song and playing it to launching specific URLs, files or apps. Exploring these example workflows will give you an idea of what’s possible with Alfred workflows.
Once you have an idea for creating a workflow – to automate some tasks that you normally do, select “Blank Workflow” from the list. Now, click the “+” icon. You’ll see a list of actions with sub-actions. You have “Triggers,” “Inputs,” “Actions” and “Outputs”.
If you want to launch the workflow with a shortcut, use the “Hotkey” option in “Trigger” or choose the “Keyword” option in “Inputs” to use the keyword option. Then from “Action” you can select what you want the trigger to do. You have basic options like launching files, opening a URL and more. In our example, I’m going to choose “Open URL.”
And then I’ll paste MakeTechEasier’s URL. Now I just need to connect the first box with the second, and I’m done. I can bring up Alfred, type
mte, press Enter, and Make Tech Easier opens up in Chrome. If you’re a keyboard shortcut guy, you can choose to give this workflow a hotkey instead.
Of course, there’s a lot more Alfred can do. But this little example is only to show that it’s easy to do once you jump in. It’s great to use awesome workflows built by the community, but sometimes you just need a personal touch like a shortcut to launch all your favorite sites in the morning or to open all the files related to a project you’re working on so you don’t need to waste time looking all of them up. Spend a couple of minutes playing around, and I guarantee that in the long run you’ll end up saving a lot of time.
3. Managing Clipboard History
Alfred Powerpack comes with a powerful clipboard management utility. When you press the shortcut (“Cmd” + “Opt” + “C” for me), the clipboard utility will show up. It will show a list of all the things you’ve copied. It’s easy to search through them, and clicking a previous entry will bring it instantly back to the clipboard. From “Alfred Preferences” you can also add snippets that are instantly available from the clipboard history tool.
We all know how helpful snippets can be when you’re entering repetitive information. Now just take things like your address and email templates and save them as snippets.
4. Controlling iTunes Using the Mini Player
iTunes is a behemoth of an app, but using the iTunes Mini Player (that you can bring up by entering the same keyword in Alfred) makes it a lot more easier. Instead of stumbling on some menu you didn’t click on, the Mini Player gives you access to all your albums, artists and playlists. And as Alfred is a keyword utility, you can just search for any song and start playing it.
5. Install Awesome Themes
Alfred’s Powerpack comes with theme support, and there are some great themes created by the community you can install for free.
Packal.org has a great selection of around 80 themes. Just download one and double click the file to open it in the Alfred app. Then, from the “Themes” section, just select one. There are some good Solarized Light and Dark themes along with translucent themes that go well with the new Yosemite UI.
6. Use Alfred Remote for iPhone and iPad as a Command Center
Alfred also has a remote control app for iOS ($4.99). While you can use it with the free version, it’s really useful when you have access to powerful workflows. What this means is that you can turn your iPad into a command center. You can have custom workflows to launch specific apps or perform a set of actions on your iPad that’s docked right beside your Mac. Using community-created workflows specific to the remote app, you can control playback for apps like VLC or Spotify or even your Keynote presentation right from your iPhone. But, of course, the Alfred remote is purely an add-on that will only be helpful to the most prolific of the Alfred users.
Did you create a super useful and time-saving workflow? Share with us in the comments below.