Alfred 3: Your Mac Butler

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #324

Alfred, the superb productivity utility from imaginatively-named developer Running with Crayons, recently celebrated its 9thbirthday.

SO… Here’s my birthday tribute, which explains why Alfred 3, the latest version, is one of my favorite and most-used utilities. 

BUT… before I reveal what it does and why I love it, let’s start with some background:

Alfred’s (Free) Basics

Alfred runs in the background until you summon it with a hotkey. I like using Control+Space, but you can designate any key combination you prefer. When you press your hotkey, a small floating text-entry box appears onscreen. Type a few characters and Alfred presents a list of items that match what you typed.

If you think it sounds a lot like macOS built-in Spotlight search functionality (Command+Space by default), it is, but Alfred has myriad other tricks up its sleeve. 

For example, Alfred offers much more extensive control over which folders and file types are searched than Spotlight.

Alfred has myriad ways to configure searches (way more than Spotlight).

And, unlike Spotlight, Alfred can execute system commands including Sleep, Activate Screensaver, Empty Trash, and more. You can also tap the Shift key to see a Quick Look preview of the contents of files in the search results list.

My favorite part might be the way Alfred assigns shortcuts—Command+2 through Command+9—to the top nine search results so you can open them without using the mouse or trackpad. 

Select from the top 10 results without touching the mouse.

And, like Spotlight, Alfred can also perform calculations, contact lookups, spell-checking, and dictionary definitions. 

Alfred’s (£23 ≈ $30) Powerpack

The best news is that Alfred does all of the above and more for free. But… you’ll probably want to upgrade to the Alfred Powerpack (£23, or around $30 US), which adds more than a dozen exceptionally useful features including: 

  • automatically storing and saving every item you Cut or Copy to the Clipboard, making it easy to recall and use items you cut or copied days (or weeks) ago. 
  • typing shortcuts that expand into longer strings of characters. For example, when I type “blc” Alfred would expand it into my full email address, [email protected]. While I still prefer TextExpander for my snippets, Alfred’s implementation doesn’t suck. 
  • assign keyboard shortcuts to open apps and files.  
  • control your music entirely from the keyboard. 
  • select multiple files from Alfred’s results list, add them to a “buffer,” and then take action on all of them at once. Sweet!

Alfred: The Swiss Army Arsenal of Mac Utilities

I’m a huge fan of tools that save keystrokes or help me avoid the mouse or trackpad; Alfred does all that and more. The “Swiss Army Knife” thing has been done to death, so I call Alfred the “Swiss Army Arsenal” of Mac utilities. Give it a try and you’ll wonder how you ever used your Mac without it. 


Alfred (Free). Alfred Powerpack upgrade (£23, or about $30 US). Running with Crayons.

2 thoughts on “Alfred 3: Your Mac Butler

  • I dropped Text Expander after they went to a subscription model. The new “features” that they added for subscriptions were useless. In searching for an alternative, I turned to Alfred. After using Alfred for typing shortcuts, I found it is smoother than TextExpander. Its categorization of snippets is really nice. Each category can have its own beginning character and can be used based on the context. For example, if I am typing something for work, I have it so that if I use a semicolon I would get my email address (;email). If I am typing something personal, I just use a comma (,email) to get my personal address. Every snippet has the same shortcut that I copy from context-to-context.

    There is also Workflow capabilities that should be able to do just about anything–think a replacement for Hazel. I just have not tried it, yet!

    1. I’m with you, Scott B in DC. I don’t care much for Text Expander’s subscription model either. I only kept TextExpander ’cause I got a rocking’ deal on prepaying for one year. When that expires this summer, I expect I’ll move my snippets to Alfred and be done with TE.

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