Home Mac Automation Revisited using Keyboard Maestro, Launchbar and Alfred

Automation Revisited using Keyboard Maestro, Launchbar and Alfred

by Kerry Dawson

In past articles I have discussed a variety of automation techniques for the Mac. In this article I want to revisit automation as it relates to Keyboard Maestro, Launchbar and Alfred. Automation of your Mac is very important and has many benefits. In this article I will discuss how I actually fell prey to over automating my Mac and the downside of that.


In “Automating your Mac: Beware of Over Automation” I discussed the three tools I’m going to discuss in this article however, I concluded that article that I was very happy with the two tools I had used for a long time, Keyboard Maestro and Launchbar. In the article“Is Alfred 2 the Butler for You,” taken with Alfred’s wily ways, I had changed my tune and had become very positive about this program.

In “Automating your Mac: Beware of Over Automation” I discussed extensively the value of automation but not to over automate. In this case too much of a good thing is not such a good thing. Too much automation can lead to confusion. First, you can get confused as to which program provides the automation techniques. Secondly and more importantly you can easily forget either the syntax to invoke the routine or you can easily forget that you have automated something.

On The Road

In my article “Is Launchbar and Alfred an Either or Scenario” I was well on the road to over automation. Much of what I do is constanItly test computer software and hardware. More so than hardware, it is software that involves a lot of my testing time. Hardware is essential to enable applications but it is in the software that the true magic happens.

In the constant trying and testing of software, it’s easy to get caught up with a product. In this case it was Alfred. If it makes sense, use it. However, it is important to know when you are getting too much a good thing.

In the case of automation, this is so true. In evaluating Launchbar and Alfred I found that this did not have to be an either/or scenario but that you could easily use both for their strengths or choose either one and still be ahead of the game. However, in my move to Alfred and away from Launchbar it was short lived.

The Return

With time, I migrated back to Launchbar even though Alfred is more attractive with its larger window, larger text input and the bowler hat. Launchbar is faster and more powerful if you learn it thoroughly. In the end, you’re much better to learn one program a SAextremely well than try to use the two or two or more.

I’ve now given up Alfred fully and moved back to Launchbar. I realized that there was nothing I couldn’t do in Launchbar that I could do in Alfred. One might think about Alfred’s workflows but much of what you can do with Alfred can be replicated by Launchbar workflows that use Automator. More importantly, you can write Applescripts that work interactively in Launchbar. This is challenging as Applescript in challenging but it can be done.

Back to the Beginning

In my automation glad bag I use primarily Launchbar and Keyboard Maestro. I do use TextExpander but I find I’m using Launchbar’s snippets more as I try to keep things all in one program. I tend not to use the advanced functionality of TextExpander and now that so few programs work in Touch TextExpander for IOS I have little interest in keeping the programs in sync.

I am more interested though in the rationalization of my automation so I draw extensively on the two programs I know the best. Keyboard Maestro just operates without thought for me as I have so many routines I just use and never think about. However, I’m using Launchbar more diligently. Automator and Applescript play a role but I invoke them using either Keyboard Maestro or Launchbar.

In essence, I’ve gone back to the beginning. I’ve returned to the routine I had well established in “Automating your Mac: Beware of Over Automation.”


Automate absolutely but absolutely beware of over automating as it will work against you. If you like Alfred stick with Alfred and get to know it well. This is how you will really be able to get the greatest advantage out of it. You’ll avoid wasting time on learning something else, dividing your learned skills between programs, forgetting where applications or routines sit and excelling at the tool you like the best.

However, the exact same thing goes for Launchbar. Launchbar is a more powerful program than its interface lets on. The manual can sound overly complex thus sometimes pushing you away from learning something very valuable. However, this is just the way the manual sounds but the truth of the matter is in the pudding. Learn this thing that you were interested in and in all likelihood it will pay off in more ways than one.

If you like Launchbar I should quickly point something out. Although its manual sometimes seems complicated Launchbar comes with a very complete manual. Alfred, which can be confusing and complicated has no manual at all. If a hat needs to be tipped it should be towards Launchbar. Alfred’s lack of a manual, for a program that can be very complex at certain levels, is a peculiar thing at best and unwarranted at worst.

To help you with Launchbar, Kirk McElhearn has written a Take Control book titled “Take Control of LaunchBar.” In the case of Alfred Don MacAllister has done a three part series on the program at Screen Casts Online. Both additional tools can help greatly in understanding each program.

The Magic is in the Tool

By using your automation toolset/s thoroughly and diligently without over automating, you’ll find magic naturally occurs. At first, things might feel frustrating. As you get to learn your automation program/s you’ll feel more and more empowered.

Get to learn your automation tool/s diligently, and the magic will flow more quickly, naturally and with great breadth. As an example, only learn the surface of Launchbar and you will just be scratching the edges. Launchbar is known as a program that can do a thousand things. However, to even begin to know the tool at this level requires patience, persistence and diligence but the rewards cannot be understated.

If the tool is right for you, you will naturally gravitate to taking advantage of the capabilities. Once again, productivity is the natural outcome of successful use. You will not go wrong by learning a tool to its utmost. Yet by over automating the benefits will be buried in the confusion. There’s no greater satisfaction than by mastering one thing and mastering it well.

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