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Launchbar or Alfred? That is the Question


The two major launchers now for launching programs but for doing an awful lot more are Launchbar, which has been around for a few years and Alfred, which is more or less the new kid on the block. What has happened, as the Mac market is evolving, is these two launchers are becoming central to many Macs, not just to run programs but to do other things such as quitting all your applications and logging out to preparing a standard email for preparation and then printing.

Which one has Now Become and Over Arching Question

In this article I wrote titled “Is Launchbar and Alfred an Either or Scenario” I concluded that both launchers provide value and there is no harm in having both. They each have commonalities providing functional overlap but they each have their own areas of strength. Thus, having both doesn’t necessarily duplicate functionality but it can enhance various areas of functionality. This is true, but for some they like the idea of delineation. That is, for some they would rather make a choice as to launcher and go with one avoiding duplication but possibly choosing a launcher based on their style and the types of things they enjoy accomplishing.

Two Can be Better than One but Not Necessarily

Firstly, at a very basic level these launchers are similar. However, beyond that there are significant differences not necessarily in the end result but how you get to that point.

Launchbar is an index driven launcher and so can be very fast. Most of its functions are built in except in a recent release they started providing the ability to invoke workflows via Automator.

Alfred, on the other hand, is more or less a builder of applications using scripting tools. To get any great advantage out of Alfred you have to be good at scripting of which I’m dreadful. I’d say, at this point, unless you’re prepared to borrow scripts others have written for their application functionality, are a terrible scripter I would avoid Alfred like the plague as like the plague it might not kill you but you certainly might feel like drinking. Putting that aside, if you are good at scripting or can find scripts built that deliver functionality you’re looking for, this might absolutely be the product for you.

Two Could Possibly be Better than One

When you look at this from the above scenario, it can easily be seen how the two could be better than the one. Launchbar is limited by Automator in terms of the depth of the workflows you can build. Anything that can be scripted though can be pretty powerful. It ranges from the very simple to basically application functionality.

Knowing One’s Needs will Dictate as Driver

If your needs are to get in there sort of on the fast and dirty, buiild an automator routine quickly or use Launchbar’s wealth of built in functionaliity to advantage but have little interest in being the next best programmer, Launchbar is probably for you. It is quick, nimble, flexible, configurable and did I say fast.

Alfred is in some ways just as fast but differently. At the base level this might be of appeal. Let’s say you want to run an application say Microsoft Outlook, in Launchbar you might program it as MO and when you hit command spacebar M-O Outlook will run. In Alfred you would start typing either Outlook or Microsoft and wait till you see the progam, jump to it and run it. Depending on how you look at it and your style, one is probably going to suit you more over the other.

However, now let’s say you want to run Outlook but with the email ready to go. In Launchbar, using Automator, this is a piece of cake. In Alfred, you would probably want to pull out Applescript to do this. For me, the former is fine but the latter is a big NO. Thus, my need and requirement will drive the solution.

Know your need and it will drive the solution. Joe Kissell just wrote a fascinating article on this that has been publsihed at The Daily Mac View call “The Task-Based Approach to Tech Purchase Decisions

If you’re a good scripter, on the other hand, you can build very complex solutions in Alfred. For some people, the payoff for having done this is Paramount. I, on the other hand, would probably find myself needing to change what I’ve developed too often making this impractical.

Stick with your Solution and Get to Know it Well

Once you’ve decided on your solution the payoff from these programs is immeasuable in terms of time savings and just the pure convenience factor. Whether you decide on Alfred, Launchbar or both dig your heels in and get to know your solution well. You will find, slowly but surely and maybe even quickly you won’t be able to do without it. It/they will become part of your DNA and functioning without your chosen solution will be one tough option.

Of course, neither of these solutions will be the “Be“ all and end all of a good automation strategy. In fact, it is only just the beginning but for many a very important beginning.

KeyBoard Maestro

One automation product and this category of solution has fallen somewhat by the wayside is Keyboard Maestro. Keyboard Maestro is one of the finest Macro programming tools I have ever used. Macro programming tools were defintely all the rage at one point in time but their use seems to have wained and I’m not sure why.

Regardless, I don’t think there is anything you can’t do with Keyboard Maestro and you can create elaborate and very rich application functionality. Again the more you use the product the more it becomes an integral part of your DNA. The problem with any automation tool is take away the tool and it’s very difficult to remember how to do things as they were meant to be done.

Not that this should dissuade anyone from using any of these tools to their fullest but it’s better to aware of a problem. For myself, often when I’ve gotten stuck it’s because my tool isn’t there and I don’t know how you’re supposed to do things without the tool.


The original question of the article was inherently intended to suggest which is the best of the two tools for helping your with your automation routines. The answer, is as is so often the case, not cut and dry. It really boils down to your needs, skils ajd the time you want to invest. Staying current, a common theme of the Mac View/Daily Mac View, is integal to determining which of these solutions is best for you. None of these solutions come with a guarantee and they all require time and constant use to get good at them. It’s important for your decision to be as informed as possible. Stay current and this will definitely help in the decision prcessoss.

So Which One

As I mentioned earlier, the answer to this question definitely rests your requirements. However, more specifically I think it’s important to think about these solutions in terms of skillsets. In both cases, you will probably be able to get what you require from a Launching utility from either product. However, think of Alfred as more of an application development environment that requires heavy duty scripting capabilities. If you’re not a scripter yet the application functionality to be obtained must come from scripting there are ways to deal with this, such as using another person‘s code however, this can present its own problems. it is best to have control of your environment and understand it.

If fast access to application, file or automation work flows are required, Launchbar has a lot to offer. In fact, it would be my recommendation of choice as it is a mature, well thought out application enhancement tool. Launchbar has a greater breadth of scope than at first initially appears.

I would highly recommend Kirk McElhearn‘s book on Launchbar “Take Control of LaunchBar“ so that you can full take advantage of the vast array of capabilities the product offers. This is one area that Alfred falls down very poorly in and that is support documentation. For such a highly complex program support materials would be more than welcome. They put too much emphasis on the support forums to get the required information needed to develop a well rounded systems strategy.

Regardless of tool, as you might find benefit in having both on board, watching carefully though that you don’t create overlap, these two tools are very valuable in any Mac scenario. Once you get on to one or the other, that will be it. There is no turning back.

So to conclude, my general overall preference, for a variety of reasons is Launchbar. Alfred though does hold a close second in my book and I actually use both. However, it is Launchbar that is my mainstay whereas Alfred is my go to for some additional functionality I find extremely useful. As such, I feel the programs are both put to good use and are definitely something in which I could not imagine having to do without.

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