App launchers are elaborations of your Mac's built-in Spotlight search feature, designed to help you launch applications, run commands, and navigate through your laptop faster and more efficiently using only your keyboard. Alfred has long been a well-established name among Mac users, packing all of Spotlight’s functions and additional features, and the more recently-emerged Raycast is another alternative to Spotlight and a formidable Alfred rival. Ready to find the best app launcher for your Mac? This guide includes a detailed Raycast vs. Alfred breakdown.
Setting Up Raycast and Alfred App Launchers
Raycast and Alfred can both be downloaded for free from their official websites, and both require you to go through a simple setup at the first launch. When you run Alfred for the first time, you have the option to skip the setup completely or adjust several settings.
Getting started in Raycast is just as easy. A welcome window pops up after downloading and running this app launcher, and you can begin the setup. When you run your launcher for the first time, you may feel like browsing its settings and seeing its features.
Alfred’s Preferences menu has an elaborate and well-organized design. It's comprised of a window with a sidebar containing different tabs, such as "Features." Raycast takes somewhat of an all-in-one approach. Opening the "Extensions" tab provides a long list of different commands, applications, and extensions, with an option to filter the list’s items by type.
In the case of searching, Alfred provides users with more choices compared to Raycast. When you open Alfred with its custom hotkey, a search bar appears in which you can type a variety of commands to find and open files, search inside specific folders or look for particular tags.
Raycast’s search bar is not as simple as Alfred’s and looks like a window showcasing suggestions and commands, as well as an Actions menu that pops up when you press Command + K.
The extensive Action’s menu makes up for the lack of specific search commands, such as those of Alfred’s, by giving you options such as "Launch in the App," "Show in Finder," "Add to favorites," etc.
Overall, Alfred’s simple search bar may be visually soothing, but the lack of an actions menu means you have to open Preferences every time you want to adjust a setting. Raycast’s search window feels a bit complex at first glance, but its Actions menu allows you to prompt different functions without the need to open the launcher menu separately.
When it comes to surfing the Web, Alfred truly stands out. Go to Web Search in the launcher’s Preferences to see a long list of predefined keywords to use various popular web services.
In contrast, there is no such thing as a web search keyword list in Raycast, but this launcher features various extensions, such as Google, that can rival Alfred’s extensive web search options.
Good to know: need to do a search from a specific location? Learn how to do a country specific Web search.
Hotkey and Shortcuts
Both Raycast and Alfred allow users to assign shortcuts to apps and commands, but you have to follow completely different steps in each launcher.
Setting up a hotkey in Raycast is easy. You can select any command or app from the dock and assign it a shortcut from the Actions menu. This will take you to the launcher’s "Extensions" tab, where you can also configure other commands and extensions.
Setting up custom shortcuts in Alfred is not as straightforward and requires Workflows, a premium feature that can only be unlocked by purchasing the launcher’s Powerpack. Furthermore, Alfred’s workflows give you immense control over your system and allow you to design and run commands that can achieve advanced tasks, such as counting the words of an essay you are writing and telling you whether you should write more.
As exciting as Workflows seems, having to go through a complex process just to set up a custom shortcut is a drawback. Moreover, Raycast also has a similar tool that allows you to create custom script commands, but you don’t need to do so for a simple task like assigning a customized hotkey to an app or command.
Raycast and Alfred have similar features but function differently in many aspects. For example, one of the valuable features available in both launchers is the Clipboard History. It is precisely what its name suggests: a summary of everything you have copied on your system’s clipboard.
In Alfred, clipboard history is a simple, abstract list. It doesn’t give you additional options to pin or categorize the items.
Raycast, however, features a more comprehensive list and provides more information on every item. You can also filter your clipboard history by file type or pin your desired entries.
The calculator is another common feature of both launchers. However, it is much smarter and supports many advanced functions in Raycast. You can do many calculations without specific commands, just by typing in your natural language. It also supports currency and unit conversion.
Another feature exclusive to Raycast is window management. People used to turn to Magnet and similar apps that allowed them to resize and reposition windows, and the sad part of the story was that these apps were not free! Raycast, however, comes with a window management function and relieves you of needing another app.
Note that almost all of Raycast’s features are available in the free version that you can download from the launcher’s official website. In contrast, many of Alfred’s features can only be unlocked by purchasing Powerpack.
Tip: learn more about the Powerpack upgrade.
Raycast Extensions vs. Alfred Workflows
An incredible thing about Alfred and Raycast is that they both allow you to define new functions for undertaking various tasks, and each does it in its unique way.
When Alfred introduced Workflows, it provided a new platform for developers and programmers to employ their creativity and extend Alfred’s functions in a variety of ways. You can create your own workflow, or install interesting ones you come across that are designed by other developers.
A good thing about Alfred’s Workflows is that you don’t need advanced programming skills to develop one. Its platform is relatively straightforward, and you can find comprehensive guides on Alfred’s official website.
Raycast Extensions work similarly to Alfred Workflows, meaning they add new functions to your launcher, but instead of creating them yourself, you can open the Raycast store and choose from a vast array of free, open-source extensions. It is not an exaggeration to say you can find an extension for your every need.
Even if you can’t find an extension that suits your needs, you can create one yourself. Note that the process is not as simplified as designing a workflow in Alfred, as it involves doing some coding in your Mac’s terminal.
You don’t always have to develop a new extension for the custom function you have in mind. For less complex tasks, Raycast offers Script Commands, a feature that allows you to write personalized commands on a simplified platform. Of course, you can also use the scripts written by others.
Overall, Alfred Workflows and Raycast Extensions both aim to serve similar purposes. The range of extensions available in the Raycast store is quite vast, but there is still a slight chance you won’t find what you are looking for. Although developing an extension is not as easy as designing a workflow, Raycast allows you to create script commands to add less advanced functions to your launcher more easily.
Tip: learn some of the best Alfred workflows to be more productive on Mac.
Raycast does not collect any sensitive data, either. In addition, all of the launcher’s extensions are thoroughly reviewed before they appear in the store. More importantly, both Raycast and its extensions are automatically updated to remove any bugs or security flaws.
Raycast offers a free version that includes all core functions, such as search options, window management, clipboard history, and extensions. You can also buy one of the two purchasable plans to add interesting new features to your launcher.
Raycast Pro is available for $10/month ($8/month for yearly purchase) and adds Raycast AI, cloud sync, custom themes, and unlimited clipboard history. The Team Pro plan, available for $15/month for each user ($12/month for yearly purchase), is suitable for companies and packs all the core and pro features as well as unlimited shared commands, quick links, snippets, and team members.
Alfred offers a free version too, but most of its features are locked unless you purchase the Powerpack. It unlocks the Workflows section and core features, such as clipboard history and password management. Note that Raycast’s free version already packs these features or their alternatives.
The latest version of Alfred’s Powerpack license can be bought for $42.60. However, you’ll be charged again for future upgrades. To receive free lifetime updates, you must buy the Mega Supporter Powerpack for $74.
Alfred vs. Raycast: Which One Is for You?
Alfred is a well-established app launcher for Mac. If you are an experienced user with a Powerpack license and know your way around this launcher, we don’t recommend switching to Raycast. You’ll be sparing yourself the trouble of getting used to the new launcher.
Also, having Powerpack enabled, Alfred’s features parallel those of Raycast’s, and workflows can be an excellent alternative to extensions and command scripts.
For new users, however, we recommend Raycast over Alfred. It is full of innovative features and easy to master.
First off, you can access all of Raycast’s core features for free. On top of that, it outperforms Alfred in several functions, such as hotkey customization, clipboard history, and window management. Finally, Raycast’s premium plans are more affordable and add exciting new features, such as AI and cloud sync to the free version.
Images and screenshots by Farhad Pashaei.
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