When you get a brand new Mac, everything seems so simple and clean. Files are neatly arranged. All the photos are in the same folder. You have just a few essential apps and know how to find and launch anything with little clicking around.
Over time, the rhythm of our lives forces you to cut corners and break the serene patterns we set out to uphold. Truth is few of us have the discipline, or frankly desire, to review all the changes on our Macs every week and place everything where “it should be.”
We give up and often let our digital lives take their own course. But is it that bad? Not necessarily. There are two schools of thought here: one argues for everything to always be perfect, the other for the ability to find what you’re looking for in any creative mess.
So why not aim for the latter?
What Is Alfred For Mac And How To Use It
Alfred was created to solve the problem of finding files on your Mac. Essentially, it’s a keyboard launcher that allows you to search for anything you might think of with a simple shortcut.
But the Alfred Mac app goes further than that. While it excels at finding an obscure file even from the deepest folder structure imaginable, it also works as a text expander, executes system commands, saves clipboard history, controls your music, and much more.
The basic version of the Alfred app is free, but you can also buy a Powerpack, which gives you Alfred workflows — the ability to set custom actions that include multiple apps. Is Alfred app safe? Yes. Alfred for Mac goes through the same checkups as any other app and if you use macOS Catalina or Big Sur, the system’s Gatekeeper will also verify that the Alfred app passes all verified developer standards.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Let’s see how you can actually use it.
How to use the Alfred Mac app
To follow this Alfred app review, download Alfred from its website and run the installation, just like any other app. When you first open Alfred for Mac, it’ll request a few macOS permissions to be able to fully function — make sure to grant them.
The Alfred app preference window should open. If it didn’t, click on the Alfred hat in the menu bar and then Preferences.
Here, you’re able to go through everything Alfred has to offer. Start with the Features tab. Default Results will help you set up which folders appear in searches and which don’t. File Search will define a few quick actions you can take when looking for something. Web Search allows you to set shortcuts for specific sites. For example, typing “wiki Einstein” will automatically open a Wikipedia page about the renowned scientist.
Going through the tabs, you’ll see that lots of them (Clipboard History, Snippets, etc.) require you to buy the Powerpack to use them. Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the free Alfred Mac app. But let’s see how we can use the basics first.
The default shortcut for the Alfred app is Option + Space, which should bring up the Alfred search bar. To change the shortcut:
Open Alfred preferences
In General, click on the Alfred Hotkey bar and type in the desired new shortcut
If you want Alfred go launcher keyboard to substitute the Mac Spotlight shortcut, you need to delete the latter first:
Open System Preferences ➙ Keyboard
Navigate to the Shortcuts tab
Click on Spotlight
Double-click on “Show Spotlight search” and delete the existing shortcut or change to something irrelevant
Then follow the process above to set this same shortcut for the Alfred app
So when you’re finally ready to search with Alfred, just enter the shortcut and type out what you want to look for. Hitting Enter would execute the highlighted search result, using another shortcut like ⌘ + 7 will execute the seventh result.
Tip: Most of the time you don’t have to write out the whole command. For example, type “w” when you want to search for weather, and if the weather result is highlighted, hit Tab to autocomplete the command. Then just type in the destination. It’s all about saving time!
Top Alfred app alternatives
Naturally, Alfred is not the only app that’s capitalizing upon your desire to quickly search for the file you need. One of the pioneers in this space was Quicksilver, an app that’s still available and free, but unfortunately largely outdated. Then other prominent competitors, such as Paste and Lacona, took the podium. And, of course, one shouldn’t forget about the Mac Spotlight search, which has been getting better with every macOS release.
The Spotlight search Mac feature has been integral to every macOS for years. Easily launched with a simple shortcut of ⌘ + Space, Spotlight Mac will search your Finder, calculate anything you can think of, show you the weather forecast, define obscure words, and more. In terms of features for Alfred vs Spotlight, Spotlight probably gets you about 70% there. So unless there’s something specific you like about Alfred (e.g. the ability to execute custom commands), you might be better off just staying with the Spotlight Mac search.
Lacona is in many ways a technological evolution of the Alfred app. It not only searches for files and executes commands (which can also have custom names) but also interprets natural language patterns for more complex tasks.
For example, you can schedule a meeting, send text or email, or shutdown your Mac all from the same place:
Launch Lacona by hitting Option + Space (default shortcut)
Start typing “Send” and you’ll see lots of options appear
To choose from the options, select Option + [the order of the option]
Even with all these advanced capabilities built in, Lacona feels lightning fast and lightweight, more so than Alfred, which might have become too ambitious for its own good.
Paste is another interesting example of a time- and stress-saving hack. The app essentially acts as an infinite clipboard, remembering everything you’ve copied in the last days or weeks. You can also set custom shortcuts and call upon Paste at any time within any app you’re currently using (just hit Shift + ⌘ + V).
While Paste comes at Alfred vs Spotlight debate from a different angle, it does feature an built-in search to quickly pull up any notes you’ve saved in the past. Finally, you can be certain in everything you’ve copied and the days of overwriting your clipboard are over.
So what to do? Without a doubt, the Alfred app is good at what it does, especially if you pay for the professional version to get Alfred workflows. But the question is really about its competitors. If you feel like you rarely even use search — just stay with Spotlight search Mac offers right from the get-go. If you need something extra, upgrade to Lacona with the side of Paste.
Best of all, Lacona and Paste mentioned above are available to you absolutely free for seven days through the trial of Setapp, a platform for over 200 Mac apps that can turn your Mac life around with powerful features, ranging from time management to making your Mac run faster to effortlessly creating high-quality GIFs. Try Setapp today and it’ll feel like your Mac is reading your Mac — searching for something will never be the same again.