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Alfred Offers Bat-tastic Productivity for Mac Owners

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 19, 2013 5:00 AM PT

Alfred Offers Bat-tastic Productivity for Mac Owners

Alfred is a free Mac app available in the iTunes App Store.

Alfred Systems Options Preferences
Alfred Systems Options Preferences
(click to enlarge)

We can't all have the riches of Bruce Wayne. Mac owners, however, can have a virtual version of his faithful servant, Alfred.

Like Wayne's invaluable butler, this free productivity app is also named Alfred. Its latest version (2.0), released this month, is more useful than ever. If you're willing to spend a few bucks, you can take that heroic productivity to even greater heights.

Alfred is a utility that is at your beck and call with simple keyboard shortcuts. Need to find something on your computer? Summon Alfred to find it for you.

Need to find something on the Web? Ditto.

Impeccable Manners

While Alfred's manners are by default impeccable, you can tailor his behavior to your tastes.

For example, you can choose to have Alfred launch when you boot your Mac, or remain out of sight until you ring for him.

You can customize Alfred's hot buttons, too. The default is option-spacebar, but shift- and control-spacebar are also available.

The scope of Alfred's searches can also be altered. For instance, by default, local searches target applications, contacts, preferences and bookmarks.

You can add other targets, like folders, documents and text files, but it can muddy the results you get.

If you want to perform file searches, a better method is to tap the spacebar after activating Alfred. That will trigger the open file search function which will return better results than a general local search.

Web Searches

You can toggle search words for Web searches. For example, if you type "twitter" and a search term in Alfred, it will go to Twitter, perform the search for you and return the results to you. You can also turn off "twitter" as a keyword.

In addition to local and Web searches, Alfred lets you perform calculations in its pop-up box. Type in 12*3 and an answer will appear below Alfred's pop-up. Advanced math functions can be accessed by typing "=" and entering an advanced function like cos, sin, sqrt and such.

Dictionary searches can be performed from Alfred with the keywords "define" and "spell." Typing "define cove" will open up the OS X dictionary for you and display the definition you seek.

If you type "spell chrono," as you type each letter after the keyword spell, Alfred will display his guesses for the word you're looking for -- unless you're really a bad speller or need a word spelled correctly that's outside his vocabulary, in which case he gives up.

System Commands

Another treat in Alfred's repertoire is his ability to perform system commands.

You can type emptytrash, and he'll empty your Mac's trash for you. The same can be done for shutting down and restarting your computer, as well as several other tasks.

For commands like shutdown and such, though, you'll probably want to check the "confirm" option in the preferences section for the system commands. That way you'll save yourself from any hurried mishaps.

Other commands you can issue Alfred include hiding, quitting, force quitting and quitting all apps.


When comic book writers become frustrated with Batman's inability to fly, they will resort to mechanical means like the Batwing or a gliding cape. Alfred, too, can gain additional powers with an add-on Powerpack.

Powerpack costs Pounds 15, or US$23 depending on the exchange rate. It adds some features that can make Alfred even more indispensable than he already is.

For instance, you can create "workflows." A workflow allows Alfred to perform several tasks sequentially. You can combine keyword commands with hot key executions and actions into workflows that can be traded with others like baseball cards. You can also import workflows from Alfred's loyal developer community.

One of my favorite utilities on any computer is a clipboard extender. It allows you to archive items you send to the clipboard so you can retrieve them later. Powerpack includes a clipboard history function and a snippet feature for storage of "boilerplate" items that you use repeatedly, like an email signature.

A Mac Essential

With Powerpack, you can also perform specialized searches of your iTunes library and play random albums. What's more, there's a new iTunes "action object" that can be used to create iTunes workflows.

Alfred includes several color schemes in its free edition, but with the Powerpack, you can take the "theming" of the program to new heights with control over colors, fonts, sizes and more.

With Powerpack, you may never open Finder again because it gives you the power to open files, email them to others and find similar ones -- all from within Alfred.

Other Powerpack goodies include syncing your Alfred settings with Dropbox, making them easier to share among your devices, and secure and fast access to 1Password 1Click bookmarks.

There are applications on every computer that users should install instantly because of their invaluable contributions to productivity. Alfred -- with or without Powerpack -- is one of those applications.

John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.

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