Spotlight is one of the handiest features in macOS and has only gotten better in recent years. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better, though. If you rely on Spotlight but find it lacking features, an alternative launcher like LaunchBar could be just what you need.
From quickly launching apps to searching files and managing your clipboard, LaunchBar lets you do a lot of things with just a few keypresses. Master it and you could save yourself minutes of time every day. Over the course of a year, that adds up.
How does LaunchBar compare to Alfred?
LaunchBar isn’t the only launcher of its type. One of the most popular alternatives is Alfred, which offers many of the same features. As similar as the two apps are, there are some key differences between LaunchBar and Alfred.
LaunchBar sells for $29 and comes with a month-long free trial. There’s also an option to use it for free, with one caveat: as the LaunchBar website puts it, the free version of the software “occasionally invites you to take a short break, allowing you to breathe and relax.”
Alfred is simply free, at least the core software is. That said, many of the launcher’s best features require the Powerpack upgrade. This will cost you $27, meaning that LaunchBar and Alfred are comparably priced.
LaunchBar has more powerful searching and more features out of the gate and requires less configuration. It is also extendable via its Actions, which let you add commands and other features. These are somewhat limited compared to Alfred, however.
Alfred, especially with the Powerpack, has plenty of features out of the box as well, but these pale in comparison to how much you can add to the launcher. Alfred’s Workflows are many, and they add nearly limitless functionality to the launcher.
The main way Alfred and LaunchBar differ is the interface. Both are accessed with a keyboard command, usually Command + Space, but they feel very different. LaunchBar will show the last command you used, while Alfred always launches as a blank slate. LaunchBar also interprets a long enough delay in what you type as starting over. If you start typing ‘w’ and then ‘o’ to launch Microsoft Word but wait too long to type the ‘r,’ LaunchBar will think you’re looking to launch Reminders.
Since both have a free trial, you’ll likely want to try both to see which is for you.
Installing and configuring LaunchBar
Installing LaunchBar is simple. Download the installer from the LaunchBar website, double-click the file to open the installer, then drag the LaunchBar icon into your Applications folder.
If you want to replace Spotlight, open your System Preferences and go to the Keyboard section. Here, go to Shortcuts and find the Spotlight section in the list on the left side of the screen, and then disable the Command + Space shortcut.
Open your Applications folder and double-click on the LaunchBar icon to launch the app. It should automatically be configured to use Command + Space. If not, make the app active, then select the LaunchBar menu at the top of the screen, open Preferences, select the Shortcuts tab, and set the Search in LaunchBar command to whatever you prefer.
The simplest use for LaunchBar, as the name implies, is launching apps. Hit your chosen key combination to pull up LaunchBar, and start typing the name of the app. After a few letters you should see it. Now hit Enter and it will open.
You can also search your files and folders with LaunchBar. First, you’ll have to tell LaunchBar where you want to search. For more information on this, see the LaunchBar documentation.
Other uses for LaunchBar
LaunchBar is also a handy way to keep your clipboard history handy. Make sure this is enabled by going to the Clipboard tab in the LaunchBar preferences. Hit the keyboard shortcut for this (the default is Command + Option + \), and pull up your ten items or more, depending on your settings.
You can also use LaunchBar to quickly enter calendar appointments. Pull up Launcher and type Calendars. It will show you a list of your calendars. Select one and start typing to create a new event.
There is a whole lot more you can do with LaunchBar. One of the best ways to find out is just to start using it. As you use the app, you’ll start to find new features and actions along the way.