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 create a powerful workflow system – find and launch applications and files, do various types of web searches, access text you saved on your clipboard with a simple keyboard shortcut, and call up contact information without opening the Contacts application in your Mac.
We have covered the basics of Alfred in this article, but the recent release of Alfred 2.0 now includes automation workflows that can help you perform various types of actions on your Mac using a few keywords or hotkeys. Alfred doesn’t require that you know a single line of code, but it does require a little setup time that you will eventually gain back, and more, using its powerful shortcuts. Alfred is a free download, but its Powerpack features cost £15.
Alfred Workflow Systems
Alfred is mostly used for quickly launching applications and files, and doing web searches, but with its new Workflows feature, you can set up micros to perform multiple actions at a time. It works similarly to Apple’s Automator.
After you download and add the Powerpack features to Alfred, it contains a few sample workflow systems to get you started. For example, say you want to research reviews on a particular movie. With this sample workflow, all you have to do is launch Alfred’s trigger window, type the keyword “movie”, followed by the name of the movie you want to search. After you hit the return key, Alfred will download search results for that movie in three different websites: YouTube, IMDb, and Rotten Tomatoes. This one powerful workflow saves you several clicks and repetitive typing. And on top of that, you can create similar workflows for your own favorite sites.
Alfred includes four types of workflow objects – triggers, inputs, actions, and outputs. These actions can launch applications and files, open URLs, run AppleScripts, perform iTunes and System commands, filter files, and much, much, more.
Creating a Search Workflow
An entire short manual could be written about Alfred, but I will show how to set up a simple search workflow similar to the one above. This workflow will perform a search term on both MakeUseOf and Google at the same time.
To create this workflow, click on the Workflows button in the toolbar, and then click on the + button at the bottom of the application. Select Templates > Web and URLs > “Open default web search in specified browser.”
The following setup should look like this:
Now double-click on the Keyword trigger, and type in a keyword you want to use to activate the workflow. I used “smuo”. Provide a descriptive title and subtext, and if you like, grab add a MUO icon that will help you quickly identify the workflow. Click Save.
Okay, so far we have an action that will do a Google search of a search term you enter into Alfred’s trigger window. But now let’s add a trigger that will search MUO for that same keyword.
Click on the + button on the top-right of the workflow editor, and select Actions > Open URL.
Now you will need to add the search URL for MUO. It explains how to do so in the drop down window, but to save you time, you can simply copy and paste the URL below. Click Save and the action will be added to your workflow.
Notice also that you can select the browser you want the search to open in. It doesn’t have to be your default browser. Next, click on the Keyword trigger and then click and drag a connection between the keyword trigger and the Open URL trigger.
Now you’re set. Simply toggle open Alfred, type your keyword trigger, followed by the search term. Hit return and Alfred will do its thing at lightning speed.
This workflow system only scratches the services of what Alfred Workflows can do. Though I heavily use the Mac automation program, Keyboard Maestro to perform hundreds of computer tasks, Alfred has a few special actions that Keyboard Maestro can’t do. Plus, it’s just fun to see how you can get an application like Alfred to perform redundant tasks that you normally do manually.
Alfred users with coding skills have already produced dozens of other Alfred workflows that you can download. Just do a Google search for “Alfred Workflows,” and explore what’s already out there. Also, of course, try out the sample workflows and actions already installed in the Powerpack. The website for Alfred also contains a community forum in which users share workflows and questions.
Let us know what you think of Alfred as a productivity tool. Do you find it easy to use? What type of workflows would you like to create in it?