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Alfred: My Existential Butler

It is hard to describe an app that is as transparent as Alfred. It’s the app that I never think I use but, somehow I’m always using it. Throughout the entirety of the writing this post I jumped from app to app, file to file all while not even remembering that Alfred took me there. It’s this kind of copasetic app that deserves the utmost raveing comments and reviews but it so well does its job that people forget it sometimes. That is, until they find themselves sucked into Andrew Pepperrell’s documented journey of what Alfred really means to him. And it means a lot. So much so that he recently resigned from his full time job to dedicate himself even more to Alfred and pursue his passion.

There are a couple of things to know about Alfred. Alfred isn’t quite under the hood but it’s not an active app in the sense of a window being present at all times. It does have a UI when called upon but on par with the speed of a keyboard driven app, it quickly disappears. Also, Alfred comes in two forms, the free and the Powerpack. The Powerpack extends Alfred’s features while the free version offers the main functions. The free version is one of those apps that slowly invites you to explore more then entices you to buy the power pack which enable all this extra stuff that pushes you farther down the slippery slope before you realize how much it adopts into your workflow. With that understanding, here’s what it does.

Alfred, in its most basic form, is an app launcher. You enter in the first couple of letters of an app and it shows executable results. It also finds any file on your Mac by bringing you to the exact location of the file in the finder after typing “find filename."If you want to be even more productive with searching the internet, Alfred does that too. Just type a search such as "Alfred tips" and your query appears almost instantly in your default browser. Other handy features include definitions and calculations. Although I forget to use these, they are nice ways to get answers fast. Once you become comfortable with the basics, other opportunities expand into the Powerpack.

You can tell Pepperrell is most excited about the Powerpack. His blog almost always pertains to the Powerpack and the amazing community backing it. The free version of Alfred is really a kind of easement into buying the Powerpack and joining the community while also bringing more advanced functionality. What makes this Alfred community great is the participation in customizing Alfred to their own needs then sharing what they have done with others.  Some of the most noticeable acts of this sharing are in the customizable color themes for the UI and the ability to create scripts that let Alfred interact with many apps. Soon the scripts will be available within the app as extensions that can be added to Alfred to encourage more sharing.

I think what attracts such a ‘give the love back’ attitude within the community is the approach that Pepperrell has taken. He is very honest and real with his writing on both his twitter account and his blog. He tries to be humorous while also delivering news about Alfred. A good example is his  "Super Non Committal Alfred Release Plan" blog posts where he admits that he doesn’t know exactly how long updates will take him.

He just comes off as a normal cool guy that I would want to grab a beer with. But he doesn’t have much time to drink with his relentless implementations and advancements to Alfred’s Powerpack.

For me the Powerpack’s offerings have changed the way I operate with the keyboard. When I first got my Mac I only used the mouse to navigate. Now, Alfred handles pretty much everything for me. I had to ask myself, why would I use the iTunes window anymore? Alfred has a mini player that lets me rate, select, play, and shuffle my entire library. Why wouldn’t I just use Alfred to sleep and shutdown my Mac? Typing “sleep” is much faster than mousing to menus. Why on earth should I be limited to one thing in the clip board when I can save my clippings from the past month with Alfred? On top of that, the Powerpack supports snippets, global hotkeys, terminal commands, address book integration, and file navigation within Alfred’s window allowing you to drag and drop an item without having to open the finder. It’s an all in one package.

However, being the all in one app that it is, there is a risk of it being too bloated. There are options to disable the features you don’t use but I think with all these options it becomes slightly daunting to dive into the experience. Albeit, common Jane will probably stick with the free version anyway so I don’t foresee the immense amount of features hindering Alfred’s progress too much.

Alfred is a fantastic app that has totally changed how I bounce around from task to task. I would encourage anyone to give it a try at their website or the MAS. Pepperrell is also worth following on Twitter, same goes for his tumblr blog.

Connect: Feel free to send a comment to nickedit247@gmail.com or follow me on twitter @nickedit247. Also, see the post that sparked this review.