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Up and Running With the Alfred Powerpack — The Basics

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For many years Mac users have been blessed with a number of great launcher applications. These applications allow you to use keywords or hotkey combinations to quickly launch an application or perform a particular action. Recently, one of the top launcher applications, Alfred app, was updated to version two. With this update comes a plethora of new and improved features. In this tutorial I'll be showing you the unique and powerful features available to Alfred app Powerpack users.


The Basics

What Is Alfred and How Do I Use It?

Alfred app, to be referred to as Alfred from here on in, is a launcher application for Mac OS X 10.6+ that is aimed at minimizing the time you spend searching for things and maximizing your time doing exactly what you want. In essence, Alfred gives you a text box that let's you type in what you are looking for or looking to do. We won't be going over the basics too much in this tutorial, but feel free to ask anything any questions in the comments.

Launch Alfred Your Way.

Alfred is launched via a hotkey set in the General Preferences pane. By default, Alfred is set to use the combination of use Cmd + Space. To access the preferences pane you can do one of the following:

  1. Click on the small black hat icon in the menu bar and select the second option, “Preferences…”
  2. Launch Alfred. In the top right hand corner of the Alfred Window is a small cog wheel. Clicking on this cog wheel will open the preferences.
  3. Launch Alfred and use the keyword Alfred. In the list of results you will see Show Alfred Preferences in the results. Press Return and the preferences will pop up.
Alfred app General Preferences
Alfred's General Preferences pane.

To change your hotkey to one of your choice, click on the box near the top labeled Alfred Hotkey. You will know it is selected by a highlight around the white box. Press the key combination of your choice. If your new hotkey was successful, you will see it reflected in that box.


Supercharging Alfred With the Powerpack

What Is the Powerpack?

Alfred users have two options depending on the features they are looking for. Basic features such as finding applications and files, doing quick searches, or using the calculator or dictionary are free of charge and is available to any Mac OS X user with 10.6+ (Snow Leopard or higher). This is great because it allows you to easily try the application without having to commit to purchasing the application.

These basics only scratch the surface of the potential of Alfred version 2 though. For users willing to purchase the Powerpack, a number of amazing features are unlocked that will leave you wondering how you survived without them. The Powerpack is available on the Alfred website beginning at £15.

What Does the Powerpack Provide?

The Powerpack provides a number of features in a few different areas. Today, I'll be showing you how to use the following Powerpack features:

  • Syncing (via Dropbox)
  • Custom Searches
  • Email
  • 1Password
  • iTunes
  • Workflows

Today, we'll be talking about the first 5 features of the powerpack, and you'll soon see a second post to this series focusing on workflows and the powers that they offer to you. While today's lesson covers a majority of the great features available within Alfred, we may not cover some specific pieces which you are looking for. If that is the case, I would highly recommend visiting the Alfred Support site's features section. This does a great job of touching on anything and everything that you may have questions on and does a great job of showing and explaining the application.

Activating Your Powerpack License

Once you purchase the Powerpack from Alfred's website, you will receive an email containing your license information. To activate your license, launch Alfred's preferences in the same manner that we did above. On the far right of the top menu bar you will see what looks like a partially filled battery icon with the label Powerpack. Click the Activate your Powerpack button and enter your information and away we go!

Activating Your Powerpack License
Alfred's Powerpack Activation pane.

Syncing

The largest feature for users who own multiple Mac machines, is Alfred's new syncing functionality. Alfred allows users to easily sync their settings between machines via Dropbox. It is important to note though that Alfred's developers suggest setting up syncing first on your primary Mac machine. The reason for this is that the first machine you set this feature up on will be considered the master machine and if there are preference conflicts, the primary machine's settings will be used. If you inadvertently set syncing up on a machine that isn't your primary, the only way to correct it is to delete the preferences and set up syncing again.

What Information Syncs?

While Alfred's syncing is fantastic, there are some things which it does not sync for your safety and convenience. Specifically, it is important to note that Alfred does not sync the following preferences:

  • Alfred's main hotkey and default search scope (Features pane > Default Results > Search Scope).
  • Currently selected theme (allows for use of different themes on each Mac).
  • Dictionary language for spell and define words (Features pane > Dictionary > Language).
  • Clipboard History Enabled and history data (Features pane > Clipboard > Clipboard History).
  • Custom home folder location for File Search navigation (Features pane > File Search > Advanced tab > Use custom home folder location.)
  • 1Password enabled and keychain location (Features pane > 1Password > Enable 1Password Bookmarks)

While this information does not sync, the majority of other information does. This includes workflows that you have installed, custom searches, and a multitude of other small bits and pieces. This makes it easy to try new workflows, change the general behavior of Alfred and more without any problems.

Setting Up Sync

To setup the syncing feature, launch Alfred's preferences and navigate to the Advanced pane. You can find it by looking for the flask filled with a bubbling purple. Here there are a lot of settings. I recommend avoiding changing the majority of them unless you have a specific reason to as some of the options can erase what Alfred has learned about you. In the right hand column, about halfway down, you'll see a syncing option. Click the Set sync folder… button and select your Dropbox folder.

Alfred's Dropbox Syncing
Alfred's Syncing in the Advanced pane.

it is important to note that at the time of writing this, Alfred has released the following statement about Dropbox syncing:

Note: The /Dropbox/Apps folder is proving to cause issues for users, as it appears to be reserved for apps using the Dropbox API (which Alfred does not use). This is why you'll see the /Dropbox/Apps folder greyed out when setting the sync folder on your Mac.


Custom Searches

Custom searches are a great way for you to expand and really personalize what Alfred can do for you. Custom searches allow you to quickly and easily search a website of your choice (that features search functionality) directly from Alfred. Today we'll be setting up a custom search for MacTuts+ so that we can search for our favorite Mac articles from Alfred. To do this, we need to get the search URL from MacTuts+. While this sounds a bit intimidating, don't worry. It's nice and simple.

Getting the URL

To get the URL we navigate to the website we want to create a custom search for and search for something. For getting the URL, I usually search for "TESTING" (without quotes) so that I can easily find where what I was searching for appears in the URL. After running the search, you'll get a screen showing you the results. What we are looking for though is the URL though as we will need this to create our custom search. Once we get it, I recommend leaving the page open until we finish setting up the custom search.

Search URL
Locating the Search URL for Alfred

Creating the Search

To create the search, we have to launch Alfred's preferences and navigate to the Features pane. On the left hand navigation, choose Web Search. Here, we will be presented with a list of our available searches.

Alfred Web Search Panel
Alfred Web Search Panel

In the bottom right of this panel you will notice a button reading Add Custom Search. Click this button and you will be presented with a modal asking for the Search URL, Title, Keyword, Icon and Validation. In the Search URL, let's paste (Cmd + V) our search URL in the field labeled Search URL. If we left our URL as it is, any time we run this search, it would search for the word, "TESTING." This isn't the behavior that we want as we would like to be able to search for our own thing. To allow us to search for whatever we would like, replace "TESTING" in the URL with "{query}". This will take whatever you search for and put it where the website is looking for your search terms.

For some sites, this URL will be more complex than this. Amazon for example has the search term in the middle of the URL. This is fine, simply locate the word "TESTING" (or the word you searched for) and replace it with "{query}" leaving the rest of the URL alone.

Next, we want to set a Title. The title is what will be displayed in large black text in the Alfred window. For example, when we launched Alfred's preferences, the title read, "Show Alfred Preferences." Similar to the URL though, we can use the "{query}" in our title. I will use "Search MacTuts+ for {query}" as it will tell me where I am searching and what I am searching for.

With our title setup, we want to put a keyword. A keyword is what we will use with Alfred to begin our search. I will use "mt+" but feel free to use whatever works best for you.

On the right hand side, you will see a square with the text below saying, "Drop icon above. Will be resized if needed." This is where you can put an icon that will be displayed to the left of the title when searching. For the purpose of this tutorial, we will not be putting in an icon, but you can easily do this by dragging an image onto that square and releasing. This will place the icon there, and you will see a preview of that image in the box.

Lastly, you'll see the Validation box with "alfredapp" in the text box. The validation box is there to allow you to test the custom search to ensure that your custom search funtions correctly. In this box, it's a good idea to always test your custom search with something with a space in it. The reason for this is because we need to be sure that Alfred is correctly encoding our query in the URL. Simply test for "TESTING THIS." If it works correctly, Alfred will open a the MacTuts+ website and search for that. If it does not work, we will want to check the box for Encode spaces as +. With this information there, you should have the following panel:

MacTuts+ Custom Search in Alfred
Our Custom Web Search for MacTuts+

After running our test, we see that everything is working correctly and we have no problems. Now we can click Save and our web search is saved so that we can use it in the future.

Using Custom Searches as Fallback Searches

Occasionally, Alfred may not be able to find what you are looking for locally. In these cases, we can customize our fallback searches to reflect our common searches. To choose what appears as a fallback search, navigate to Features > Defaults Results > Setup fallback results. You will find the button at the bottom of the Default Results panel. After clicking this button you will be presented with the following modal:

Fallback Search Modal
The Fallback Search Modal

To add our recently created custom search, click the small + button to the upper right of the Save button. You will be presented with two different fly-out menus, Web Search and Custom Search. We created a custom search, so we navigate over Custom Search and then click on our MacTuts+ custom search. We now have MacTuts+ as one of our fallback searches!

Using Workflows to Enhance the Default Searches

While Alfred offers quite a number of search options by default, there are ways to make these even better through workflows. I will be explaining Workflows in more depth next time, but the basics are that they allow you do a series of actions or trigger code allowing Alfred to do more things than what it is enabled by default. Luckily for us, Alfred ships with two great workflows to enhance the Amazon and Google searches provided by default.

These workflows allow Alfred to return results to you in the Alfred launcher window as such:

David Ferguson's Amazon Suggest Workflow
David Ferguson's Amazon Suggest Workflow

To add this workflow, navigate to the Workflows pane. On the left is a list of the workflows that you have installed. You will notice at the bottom of the column is a + button which is used to add or create new workflows. Click the + button to be presented with a fly-out menu. For what we are doing, we want to choose the Examples menu. This will then list a series of different workflows that enhance Alfred's built in features. Choose Amazon Suggest from the menu. You will then see the workflow in the left column with the details of the workflow on the right as seen in the image below.

Amazon Suggest Workflow Pane
The Amazon Suggest Workflow Pane

In the leftmost box you will see a word above an icon, in this case, "amazon". This is the keyword that can be used to begin the workflow. In the case of amazon suggest, we can launch Alfred, type "amazon" followed by our query and we will receive our results from Amazon in the Workflow.


Alfred's Email Capabilities

Alfred not only let's you quickly and easily find files of interest, but it also let's you email those files to your contacts. Alfred gets your list of contacts from the Contacts (previously Address Book) that is included with Mac OS X.

Alfred's Email Panel
Alfred's Email Configuration Panel

Setting Up Alfred to Send Emails

First and foremost we want to make sure that Alfred is configured to handle email how you want it to. To see how Alfred is configured, navigate to Features > Contacts > Email (tab in the center). At the top, ensure that Email a contact is checked and that the keyword to the right is what you would like. For the purpose of our tutorial I will leave the default "email" keyword.

Some users may not be a fan of using a mail client such as Mail.app which ships with Mac machines. Luckily, Alfred supports a number of desktop clients including Mail.app, Mailplane, Postbox 2, Postbox Express, and Sparrow. Not only does Alfred support multiple desktop clients, Alfred also supports Gmail for composing messages if you prefer by checking the Webmail option. Otherwise, Alfred will use the default email application on your Mac.

How to Create A Blank Email

The first and easiest way to send an email is by using the "email" keyword. Launch Alfred, type "email", then type either the email address you would like to email or the name of the contact who you would like to email. If you use the contacts, Alfred will display a list of addresses for the specific contact. Simply press return or the corresponding hotkey to select the contact who you would like to email.

Alfred's email Keyword
Use the email keyword to send an email to a contact

How to Create an Email With an Attachment

Not only can Alfred create a blank email, it can also send emails with attachments. To do this, we search for the file we would like to send. This can either be done using the words to search for the file (if you have files enabled in your search scope) or by navigating to the file using Alfred's file search. To begin a file search, we use the backslash (/) and then navigate to the location of choice.

If you are looking to navigate to your desktop for example, you would navigate to /Users/YourUsername/Desktop/. Once you have found the file you would like to email press the right arrow key or the ctrl key. If for whatever reason those do not show you the actions panel, you can check that they are enabled by navigating to Features > File Search > Actions (fourth tab from the left) and ensure the right arrow and the ctrl checkboxes are enabled. The actions panel looks like this:

Alfred's Actions Panel
Alfred's Actions Panel

From the Actions panel, select either Email or Email To…. If you select Email, Alfred will attach the file to a blank email with no contact suggested. If you select Email To…, Alfred will then prompt you to enter the contact name that you would like to email. Type in the name of the contact and press return. If the contact has multiple email addresses, you will then be shown a list of email addresses associated with that contact. Select the email address you would like to send to and press return. This will open an email to that individual with the file you selected attached.


1Password Integration

For 1Password users, you are in for a treat. Alfred app offers 1Password users a 1Click integration with existing bookmarks. If you are unfamiliar with 1Password, let me give you a quick introduction.

What Is 1Password?

With today's ever increasing reliance on digital services, passwords have become a large part of everyones life. Sadly though, many users today use the same password across multiple services. This is dangerous because if someone was to gain your password, they would have access to each and every one of your accounts. Luckily, Agile Bits has a great solution available called 1Password. With 1Password you have a safe location to store unique passwords for each website you use. To gain acccess to any of these passwords, you use one master password allowing you to remember only one password while still being safe and secure for each of your accounts.

To facilitate this for users, Agile Bits provides users with browser extensions for Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome. These browser extensions allow you to enter your master password, press return and have your information filled into the respective areas of your page. For Alfred Powerpack users though, this is made even easier. With 1Password integration enabled, you can simply type “1p” followed by the name of the bookmark to quickly launch the bookmark, with the login form filled in, in your default browser.

Enabling 1Password Integration

By default, Alfred app has 1Password integration disabled. Also, I want to remind you that your 1Password settings in Alfred do not sync between machines. This can be important if you use Alfred on a shared machine. To enable 1Password integration, navigate to Features > 1Password. At the top of this screen, you will see a checkbox next to Enable 1Password Bookmarks. Checking this box will enable 1Password integration within Alfred. If you prefer to use a different keyword than the default “1p” to access your 1Password bookmarks, you can type in a new keyword in the box next to the label Keyword.

1Password Panel
1Password Panel

For most users, Alfred will find the location of your bookmarks correctly. If for whatever reason Alfred does not find your bookmarks though, click on the Advanced button on the bottom right of the list of bookmarks. Clicking this button will bring up a window that allows you to enter the location of your 1Password bookmarks file. Uncheck the box that says Discover Automatically and type in the exact location of the bookmarks file to ensure Alfred knows the location.

If the machine you use is a private computer, if you prefer, you can choose to not use a keyword to access your bookmarks. This means that you can directly type the name of your 1Password bookmarks into Alfred and open them in your web browser.


Conclusion

Phew! We have covered a lot of information in this tutorial. We've covered the different powerpack features, including:

  • Syncing (via Dropbox)
  • Custom Searches
  • Email
  • 1Password
  • iTunes

We've gone over using each of these and hopefully answered a lot of the questions that you may have about the Powerpack and how to really take advantage of it. In my next tutorial, I'll be talking about workflows and explaining what they are, how to use them, and other great information as we talk about one of the most powerful and interesting new features in Alfred.

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial, and please, if you have any questions leave a comment below and I will try to get answer any questions I can.

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