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Automation programs Keyboard Maestro and Alfred, among others Power Up Your Mac With Advanced BetterTouchTool Automations Power Up Your Mac With Advanced BetterTouchTool Automations I started using BetterTouchTool back in 2011, and since then it has become one of the top three Mac applications for boosting my productivity and streamlining my workflow. Though BTT can be used by any... Read More , can power up your Mac workflow and productivity by reducing the need to perform redundant tasks. But what is the difference between each program, and which will work best for you?

Both programs have saved me hours of time, and continue to save hundreds of clicks and keyboard shortcuts on a daily basis to get things done. Though both can perform similar functions, I use each program for specific purposes.

Saving times

If you’re new to either of these programs, you can read my review of Keyboard Maestro Automate Everything On Your Mac with Keyboard Maestro [Mac] Automate Everything On Your Mac with Keyboard Maestro [Mac] I've written several articles about Mac automation, including a MUO Automation Guide on how to get started with Apple's Automator and the built-in OS X features for creating smart folders, playlists, albums, and mailboxes. But... Read More and a collection of advanced workflows features of Alfred How To Create Your First Workflow System In Alfred 2.0 [Mac] How To Create Your First Workflow System In Alfred 2.0 [Mac] Computers should be about getting things done faster and more efficiently. This is where the award-winning productivity Mac application, Alfred comes in. Using a few keyboard shortcuts, and/or keyword commands, Alfred enables you to quickly,... Read More .

Creating Workflows

The power of KM and Alfred comes in the form of workflows, which consists of one or more computer actions activated by an assigned trigger. Alfred includes actions for launching files, opening specified URLs, performing Google searches, issuing system commands, and running scripts.

Alfred actions

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While the Alfred actions are extremely powerful, KM includes hundreds more that mirror all types of computer tasks, including controlling applications, copying text and images to system and custom clipboards, executing scripts, integrating with Chrome and Safari, manipulating windows, controlling iTunes, posting notifications, sending mail messages, inserting text and recording actions. See the entire list of actions.

KM actions

So for example, a simple workflow can be created in Alfred to open a set of URLs and applications using a keyboard shortcut.

Alfred workflow

KM can do the same thing, but it also includes actions for activating any menu item of any application, as well as hiding or quitting an application, or automatically relocating the front window of an application. For example, you can set up a workflow to open an application and automatically launch a new file or document, and even automatically save the new documents to a designated folder before you get started using it.

KM workflow

If you’re new to Alfred and KM, don’t let the above screenshots of workflows overwhelm you. Creating workflows doesn’t require any programming skills, you just need to assemble actions that basically mirror what you perform manually on your Mac. KM can also record actions and create a workflow based on what it records.

Triggering Workflows

Alfred mainly triggers workflows by using a hotkey or keyword, but KM workflows (called macros in KM) can also be triggered by other applications, time and day, macro and menu palettes, a USB device, a designated wireless network, a mounted drive and more.

KM triggers

So for example, when I launch the writing program MarsEdit, it also launches Photoshop and Dragon Dictate, both of which I use when writing articles. When MarsEdit launches, it also launches a custom KM palette with two choices for the type of new document I want set up.

I also have a pallet of workflows I used in MarsEdit to perform lucky Google and MakeUseOf searches, embed the frontmost Safari or Chrome URL in MarsEdit, and change my desktop to a white background for some screenshots. Incidentally, the palette is configured to only appear when MarsEdit is the frontmost application.

KM palette

Watch this KM workflow I created and use for uploading articles written in MarsEdit to WordPress. It demonstrates how KM mirrors what I would have to do manually without the workflow.

Both Alfred and KM can perform web searches, but I find that Alfred is faster and more specialized for these type of actions. I can use Alfred to quickly perform a keyword search in MakeUseOf or do a lucky search that usually downloads the exact page I need based on the keywords I give it. I have mapped Alfred workflows with a KM workflow to trigger searches by typing a character string or using a hotkey.

This may sound confusing, but as you become familiar with the actions and features in both programs, you will discover that they can mirror most of the actions you perform manually on your Mac. The only thing they can’t do is read your mind and go into action. We’re not there, yet!

Copying and Pasting

Both programs contain clipboard features that can keep a history of all the items you copy on your Mac. I prefer the Alfred history clipboard, not only because it’s better designed, but because it also allows for drilling down the list of clippings by simply typing or using an assigned hotkey.

Alfred clipboard

But even in this case, I use KM and an assigned string trigger (“clb”) to activate the Alfred clipboard instead of a hotkey so I can practically select and paste a copied text without lifting my fingers off the keyboard. In addition, I use a KM macro which automatically copies to the system clipboard any text or item I select using my trackpad, thus often replacing the need to the use system shortcut for copying selected text.

KM contains additional features for copying and pasting content. It includes what are called custom named clipboards in which you can copy selected text to a designated clipboard where it can be pasted whenever needed. As an example, I use a workflow that copies the name of an application (or any word or group of words) I’m writing about to a special named clipboard. I even use a string trigger to quickly select and copy the application name.

Then when I want to paste the copied name as I write, I just use type the assigned string, “fh.” This means I don’t have to create a TextExpander or Alfred snippet for a word I might only use for a single article. It also means I can still use the standard clipboard for everything else. When I copy a new word to the named clipboard, it overwrites the previous one. It might take a while to get used to the workflow, but it’s a time-saver.

KM clipboards

There are dozens of uses for named clipboards and variables in KM that can’t be covered in the space of this article. I’ve written about using custom clipboards on on Mac Automation Tips in the past, check it out for more information.

Which Is Best For You?

If you work on a Mac throughout the day, I suggest learning to use both of these applications. But if KM seems to be more than what you need, Alfred should be sufficient for launching applications, conducting Google and website searches, controlling iTunes, and automations other tasks like sending tweets and making reminders 10 More Alfred Workflows to Send Tweets, Set Reminders & More 10 More Alfred Workflows to Send Tweets, Set Reminders & More If you're a Mac power user, application launcher Alfred is a powerful way to get things done with click-saving workflows and a few swift keystrokes. Read More and increasing overall productivity 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows To Make You More Productive 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows To Make You More Productive Now that users and developers are able to extend Alfred's capabilities by adding their own workflows, calling it an 'application launcher' seems a bit limiting. Read More .

And, if you use both programs, you might want to download this Alfred workflow that actually searches and executes your KM macros. KM also includes a search function, but you might prefer the design of this Alfred workflow better.

Alfredworkflow

If you want to learn more about these and other Mac automation programs, download our free Mac Automation Guide, and join my Mac Automators Google+ Community.

  1. Aaron
    March 22, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    One amazing thing [of many] that Keyboard Maestro does is that it can loos for an image on the screen (eg an icon in a Citrix environment running a medical record, which isn't scriptable because it's running on a remote Windows machine), and take action based on whether it exists. It can also click on (or drag from or whatever) that image. Really powerful stuff!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 24, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Yep, I use the image recognition action for several macros, such as WordPress in which some buttons don't have a keyboard shortcut.

  2. David Brewster
    March 20, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Nicely timed article as I'm just getting to know KM. I've been an Alfred user for a while.

    Wondering if you could explain, please, how you do this: "I use a KM macro which automatically copies to the system clipboard any text or item I select using my trackpad" This would be very handy for me but can't work out how to create the macro.

  3. William A
    March 12, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    In all honesty, I just use Automator (with some applescript usage for prompts) and set the services I make to keybinds.

    I don't do enough things often enough that it requires me to set up anything but a few basic keybinds.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 13, 2014 at 4:31 pm

      Yeah, William, KM is best for people who perform lots of redundant tasks on their Mac. I was a big fan of Automator when it first came out, but I soon found that there was a lot actions it couldn't perform. I've also found that KM is easier to use than Automator.

      Thanks for your feedback.

  4. Gail H
    March 12, 2014 at 1:13 am

    I am also a big Quicksilver fan! I'm so glad it was picked up again!

  5. Jon
    March 10, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    I prefer QuickSilver myself. :-)

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 10, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Yep, I was a QuickSilver user years ago. Glad to see it's still around.

    • kidpixo
      March 11, 2014 at 2:56 pm

      +1 QuickSilver rule them all! I'm still an avid user of QS and I'm not changing in the near future.

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