Apple already has Spotlight, an excellent instant search and application-launching tool for everything on your Mac. So why should you download Alfred, a free utility from the Mac App Store? Alfred searches Amazon, Google, and Wikipedia in addition to your hard drive. Plus, this little app will do it all without you having to take your fingers off the keyboard.
While you can access Alfred from either the dock or the bar at the top of your desktop, it's even easier to launch the app with a customized keyboard shortcut, such as Alt + Space. A search box instantly appears. Enter a file name, a person, or search query and Alfred will search as you type. Once the app has found what you're looking for, hit Return for the first result, command + 2 for the second, and so on. Alfred conveniently shows the key shortcuts next to each search result.
Alfred will also perform specific web searches. For example, typing "gmail Groupon" will open your web browser to your Gmail account and search it for all e-mails containing the word "Groupon." There's a list of pre-programmed web searches in the settings menu, which are enabled by default, but can easily be disabled by removing a checkmark. Other web search commands include "twitter," "youtube," "imdb," and "linkedin" for searching those sites.
There are even commands for searching Google Docs ("docs"), Maps ("maps"), and Reader ("reader"). While these search commands are logical, it's worth a look at the Web Searches menu under Settings to see all of the possible commands.
Likewise, Alfred will also execute system commands, such as "emptytrash" and "sleep." These are also enabled by default, so if you find yourself searching for a file about sleep disorders, you may want to disable it. There's also a dictionary and calculator built into the app. Unfortunately, you must command Alfred to "spell" or "define" the word you're after. We wish the app was more like Google Search in this area and suggested possible words with correct spellings.
We really enjoyed the speed and accuracy with which Alfred returned our search results--particularly for launching programs--and we especially liked searching the web without firing up our browser first. Although Alfred's command list is a bit daunting to remember, this app's usefulness greatly outweighs our occasionally poor memory.