App of the Week: Alfred

Ditch Spotlight for this genius universal search bar on Mac

Spotlight is a powerful tool on the Mac, but it doesn’t even compare to the third-party app Alfred and its countless user-developed workflows.

By Taylor Martin of CNet

Apple’s Spotlight for Mac is a wonderful tool, but even with Siri and a third-party add-ons coming this fall, Spotlight doesn’t compare to one of my all-time favorite applications, Alfred.

Alfred looks and acts much like Spotlight. But with the add-on Powerpack, it gets a lot smarter. The $22.04 (£17.00 or AU$28.61) app adds “workflows,” which make your Mac do a chain of tasks with one command.

The best workflows for Alfred

If you’re ready to ditch Spotlight, install these add-ons to change the way you use your Mac. Seriously.

To install one of these workflows, follow the link to download it, double-click to open and the workflow will install itself.

  • Google Suggest does exactly what you would expect it to. It puts suggested searches inside Alfred. Press your launch command for Alfred (by default, it’s Options + Spacebar) and type “g” followed by a space. Then type your search query. With each keystroke, the list of suggested searches narrows. Use arrow keys or the hotkey (listed to the right of the result) to select one and load the search results in your default browser.
  • Amazon Suggest is the same thing for Amazon searches. Launch Alfred and type “amazon,” followed by your search query. Highlighting and selecting one of those results will launch the Amazon search in your default browser.
  • Curious how critics feel about a new movie? Use the RottenMovies workflow to find out. Type “rt” followed by the name of the movie. The workflow will search Rotten Tomatoes and you can see the score without ever visiting the website.
  • Sitting at a desk all day, it’s easy to let 10, 20 or even 30 minutes slip by unnoticed.
  • Sometimes you need to set quick reminders for yourself to respond to someone in 20 minutes or check the coffee pot in 5. EggTimer 2 is the perfect workflow for this. Launch Alfred and type “timer 5 Check coffee pot” to set a 5-minute timer with a reminder to check the coffee pot. You can also set alarms for specific times using the same syntax: “alarm 4:00pm Take a break” or “alarm 12:00pm Lunch.”

  • When writing, I’m constantly switching between my writing app and Google search for currency and unit conversions. With the Units workflow, I can make those same conversions without ever leaving my writing app. In Alfred, type “units” and type or select what you want to convert from the list of options (length, temperature, currency, etc.). Next type a number and select the starting unit from the options and finally select what you’re converting to. When you hit enter at the end, the conversion is copied to your clipboard for pasting. It will take a few tries to get the process down, but once you do, this is one of the most handy converters around.
  • The Recent Items workflow is great for helping you recall things you have been working on in the last few hours. Install the workflow and launch Alfred, then type “rec.” The workflow will suggest types of recent items, such as applications, downloads, folders or up to two custom items. Select one of the types of files from the selection (or begin typing to narrow the suggestions) and all the recent items of that type will appear. Selecting one will open it.
  • After you get used to a keyboard launcher like Alfred, it’s difficult to break the habit of launching Alfred when you want to do anything, even things that you don’t normally control with Alfred, such as adding new tasks to your task manager. Fortunately, you can add that functionality with workflows for Trello, Wunderlist and Todoist.
  • Sometimes toggling Wi-Fi will fix any connectivity issues you’re experiencing. It’s not a difficult task on OS X, especially with the menu bar icon. However, the Wi-Fi Control makes it a much faster process. You can turn Wi-Fi on or off with the workflow, but you can also restart Wi-Fi (toggle off and back on) with just a few keystrokes.
  • The Kill workflow is easily the one I use the most. If you have a rogue app that gets hung or you need to force quit, launch Alfred, type “kill” followed by the first few letters of the app and press Enter. It will immediately kill any apps or processes.
  • I also do a lot of link shortening for personal analytics. The Shorten URL workflow is fantastic. It includes support for goo.gl, bit.ly, is.gd, j.mp and more. With the workflow installed, launch Alfred and type “short” followed by a space, paste the URL you want to shorten and select the link-shortening service. The shortened link will be copied to your clipboard and automatically pasted wherever your cursor is placed.
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    • It’s easy to use the same password over and over. But if you use a password manager, quickly generating a new password is the more secure route. With the Password Generator workflow, type “pw” followed by a number for how many digits you’d like the password to have. Press enter and the randomized password will be copied to your clipboard.
    • Sleep is a sleep timer workflow for your Mac. Just type “sleep” followed by the number of minutes you want your computer to stay awake. After the timer finished, the Mac will go to sleep.
    • Who doesn’t love GIFs? Alphy puts Giphy search right inside Alfred. Just type “gif” followed by your search term. Highlight one of the suggestions and press Shift to preview it. Pressing Enter will copy the URL of the GIF to your keyboard, Command + Enter will copy the Giphy URL and Alt + Enter will open the GIF on the Giphy website.
    • There are several ways to quickly insert emoji with a Mac. Emoj is yet another way, and this one comes with search, which means you can find a specific emoji, even when you don’t know its exact name. The downside is that this requires Node to be installed on your Mac.
    • If you’d prefer unicode emoticons over emoji, Dongers is the workflow you’re looking for. Type “dongers” and your search term for a list of relevant emoticons, like the table flip. (ノಠдಠ)ノ︵┻━┻
    • One of the first things I do if my internet connection is having problems is run a speed test. The SpeedTest workflow allows you to do this without loading the speedtest.org site in your browser. Type “speedtest” press enter and wait. When the test completes, you will receive a growl notification with your uplink and downlink speeds, as well as your ping.

     

    Have you tried Alfred? What are some of your favorite workflows? Sound off in the comments below!!

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    App of the Week: Five Interesting Mac Apps Worth Checking Out

     

     

    By Juli Clover of MacRumors

    Apps created for the Mac don’t receive as much attention as apps made for iOS devices, so we have a bi-monthly series here at MacRumors that’s designed to highlight useful and interesting Mac apps that are worth checking out and potentially investing in.

    This week’s picks include apps for streamlining your email, focusing on tasks, checking the weather, cleaning up your Mac, and managing all of your messaging services. Many of our highlighted apps this week were chosen by MacRumors forum members.

    Focus (Free with in-app purchases) – Focus is a time management app and monitoring service that’s designed to help you keep track of your time so you can stay on task. It encourages users to work in focus sessions, which are 25 minute blocks of time for working accompanied by a 15 to 20 minute break. There’s an included task manager so you can stay on top of tasks, along with detailed statistics so you can see how you’ve spent your day. Focus is free to download, but it costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 for year to use across all of your devices.

    Carrot Weather ($11.99) – Carrot Weather is a well-known weather app that delivers weather information with a little bit of attitude to make checking outdoor conditions more fun. It has different dialogue and graphics for various weather conditions, and what comes up is always a surprise. Carrot Weather uses data from Dark Sky so it’s super accurate and it offers up tons of data like 7-day forecasts, rain and snow predictions, weather maps, and a time machine so you can see past weather conditions.

    Dr. Cleaner (Free) – Dr. Cleaner from TrendMicro is an app that offers a Disk Clean Map so you can see what’s taking up space on your Mac, a memory cleanup feature for freeing up memory, a scanner for large files, and a junk file cleaner that’s designed to get rid of temporary files, trash, and other unwanted items taking up disk space. Dr. Cleaner is free from the Mac App Store, but there is a $19.99 Pro version that finds and eliminates duplicate files, shreds deleted files, and uninstalls apps.

    Canary Mail ($19.99) – Those who previously used the now-eliminated Newton Mail might be looking for a new mail app, and Canary could fit the bill. Canary Mail offers one-click encryption, natural language search, smart filters, read notifications, snooze options, email templates, one-click unsubscribe, and more.

    All-in-One Messenger (Free) – This is technically a Chrome extension rather than a Mac app, so it’s limited to Chrome users. All-in-One Messenger is designed to combine all of your chat and messenger services into one convenient web app so you can keep up with all of your chats in a single spot. It works with a wide range of messaging apps, like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Telegram, Slack, Discord, Google Hangouts, and more.

    Many of this month’s app picks came directly from recommendations from MacRumors forum members, and it’s these recommendations that have helped make this series useful.

    What are you’re favorite Mac Apps? Sound off in the comments below!!!

     

    How to: Use AirPlay

    Minimum Requirements and Basic Information

     

    by Sam Costello of Lifewire

    For many years, the music, videos, and photos stored in our iTunes libraries and on our computers were stuck on those devices (barring complex file-sharing arrangements). For Apple products, that has all changed with the advent of AirPlay (formerly known as AirTunes).

    AirPlay lets you stream all kinds of content from your computer or iOS device to other computers, speakers, and TVs.

    It’s a pretty neat, and powerful technology that’s only going to get more useful as more products support it.

    You don’t have to wait for that day to come, though. If you want to start using AirPlay today, read on for tips on how to use it with many existing devices and apps.

    AirPlay Requirements

    You’ll need compatible devices in order to use AirPlay.

    • A Mac or PC
    • An iOS device running iOS 4.2 or later
    • iTunes 10.2 or later (some earlier versions support AirTunes or more limited AirPlay implementations)
    • Any iPad model
    • iPhone 3GS or higher
    • 3rd generation iPod touch or newer
    • Any Apple TV model
    • AirPort Express
    • Compatible third-party apps
    • Compatible third-party hardware like speakers or stereo receivers

    Remote App
    If you have an iOS device, you’ll probably want to download Apple’s free Remote app from the App Store. Remote allows you to use your iOS device as a remote (are you surprised?) to control your computer’s iTunes library and what devices it streams content to, which saves running back and forth to your computer each time you want to change something. Pretty handy!
    Basic AirPlay Use

    When you have a version of iTunes that supports AirPlay and at least one other compatible device, you’ll see the AirPlay icon, a rectangle with a triangle pushing into it from the bottom.

    Depending on what version of iTunes you have, the AirPlay icon will appear in different locations. In iTunes 11+, the AirPlay icon is in the top left, next to the play/forward/backward buttons. In iTunes 10+, you’ll find it in the bottom right-hand corner of the iTunes window.

    This allows you to select a device to stream audio or video to via AirPlay. While earlier versions of AirTunes required you to set iTunes to seek out these devices, that’s no longer necessary – iTunes now automatically detects them.

    As long as your computer and the device you want to connect to are on the same Wi-Fi network, you’ll see the names you’ve given the devices in the menu that appears when you click the AirPlay icon.

    Use this menu to select the AirPlay device you want the music or video to play through (you can select more than one device at the same time), and then begin playing music or video and you’ll hear it playing through the device you selected.
    See how to enable AirPlay for iPhone for a walkthrough.

    AirPlay With AirPort Express

    One of the easiest ways to take advantage of AirPlay is with the AirPort Express. This is around $100 USD and plugs directly into a wall socket.

    AirPort Express connects to your Wi-Fi or Ethernet network and lets you connect speakers, stereos, and printers to it. With it serving as the AirPlay receiver, you can then stream content to any device attached to it.

    Simply set up the AirPort Express and then choose it from the AirPlay menu in iTunes to stream content to it.

    Supported Content

    The AirPort Express supports streaming audio only, no video or photos. It also allows wireless printer sharing, so your printer no longer needs a cable attached to your computer to work.

    Requirements

    • iTunes 10.2 or later
    • At least one AirPort Express running firmware 7.4.2 or newer (you can use multiple AirPort Expresses in the house)
    • Speakers (or printer) to plug into the AirPort Express

    AirPlay and Apple TV

    Another simple way to use AirPlay in the home is via the Apple TV, the tiny set-top box that connects your HDTV to your iTunes library and the iTunes Store.

    The Apple TV and AirPlay is a powerful combination indeed: it supports music, video, photos, and content streamed from apps.

    This means that with the tap of a button, you can take the video you’re watching on your iPad and send it to your HDTV via the Apple TV.

    If you’re sending content from your computer to the Apple TV, use the method already described. If you’re using an app that displays the AirPlay icon (most common in web browsers and audio and video apps), use the AirPlay icon to select the Apple TV as the device to stream that content to.

    Tip: If the Apple TV doesn’t show up in the AirPlay menu, make sure AirPlay is enabled on it by going to the Apple TV’s Settings menu and then enabling it from the AirPlay menu.

    Supported Content

    • Audio streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
    • Video streamed from iTunes or iOS devices
    • Video from iOS apps (e.g. YouTube app or video embedded in web pages)
    • Photos from computers or iOS devices
    • Mirroring a device’s screen on the TV

    Requirements

    • Apple TV: 2nd generation Apple TV and newer for video and photos, or 1st generation Apple TV for audio only
    • iTunes 10.2 or higher
    • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
    • An HDTV

    AirPlay and Apps

    A growing number of iOS apps support AirPlay, too. While the apps that supported AirPlay were initially limited to those built by Apple and included in iOS, since iOS 4.3, third-party apps have been able to take advantage of AirPlay.

    Just look for the AirPlay icon in the app. Support is most often found in audio or video apps, but it may also be found on videos embedded in web pages.

    Tap the AirPlay icon to select the destination you want to stream content to from your iOS device.

    Supported Content

    • Audio
    • Video
    • Photos

    Built-in iOS Apps That Support AirPlay

    • Music
    • iPod
    • Videos
    • Photos
    • YouTube
    • Safari

    Requirements

    • AirPort Express, Apple TV, or compatible speakers
    • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
    • App that supports AirPlay
    • AirPlay With Speakers

    AirPlay With Speakers

    There are stereo receivers and speakers from third-party manufacturers that offer built-in AirPlay support.

    Some come with compatibility built in and others require aftermarket upgrades. Either way, with these components, you won’t need an AirPort Express or Apple TV to send content to; you’ll be able to send it directly to your stereo from iTunes or compatible apps.

    Like with the AirPort Express or Apple TV, set up your speakers (and consult the included manual for directions on using AirPlay) and then select them from the AirPlay menu in iTunes or your apps to stream audio to them.

    Supported Content

    • Audio

    Requirements

    • iTunes 10.2 or later
    • Compatible speakers
    • iOS device running iOS 4.3 or higher to stream content from third-party apps, or iOS 4.2 or higher to stream from built-in iOS apps
    • App that supports AirPlay


    Do you have a favorite AirPlay Hack? Tell us about it in the comments below!

    How to: Free Up Space on Your Mac

    Apple includes a few tools with macOS to help manage unnecessary files on your computer.

     

    By J. D. Biersdorfer of the New York Times

    For years, Mac computers did not come with utilities like Disk Cleanup and the newer Storage Sense found in Windows, but Apple added new tools in 2016 with the release of its macOS Sierra system. If your Mac is running at least that version of the system, go to the Apple Menu, select About This Mac and click the Storage tab.

    On the Storage screen, you should see a graphic showing your drive’s available space. Click the Manage button on the right side of the box to get started. The resulting storage-management screen offers four ways to clear off old files: Store in iCloud, Optimize Storage, Empty Trash; Automatically and Reduce Clutter.

    As one might expect, the Store in iCloud option punts documents, photos and Messages off your Mac’s drive and into your iCloud online storage locker. While this does free up room on the computer, you may have to buy more iCloud storage space from Apple if you fill up your five gigabytes that come free with an iCloud account.

    Enabling the Optimize Storage feature dumps iTunes videos you have already watched, but you can download them again later. The setting also changes the Mail program’s behavior regarding file attachments to retrieve only recent files — or only those that came with messages you have opened.

    The Empty Trash Automatically setting permanently deletes files that have been living in the Mac’s trash for longer than 30 days. (In macOS Sierra and later, the system also automatically dumps duplicate Safari downloads, cache files, logs and other unneeded files.)

    Using the Reduce Clutter feature is another way to find big files hogging drive space and remove them. To see what the Mac considers “clutter,” click the Review Files button and go through the lists of files deemed large, old or unnecessary. Click the X next to each file to delete it.

    If you are running a version of the operating system older than macOS Sierra, you can manually wade through your drive tossing old files or get a third-party cleaning app to sweep up for you. The Macworld site has a detailed list of cleaning tips that explains how to find and trash old Mail downloads, cache files and disk images.

    If you’d rather have software do the job, a combination of MacPaw’s CleanMyMac 3 and Gemini 2 (for system cleaning and duplicate-file removal) is an option; free trials of the programs are available. Disk Cleanup Pro and Dr. Cleanerare among the free utilities in the Mac App Store, and others can be found online. As with all maintenance programs, however, read the reviews before you download and back up your Mac before using software intended to automatically delete files on your computer — just in case.

    Do you have any tips for freeing up space on your Mac (or PC)? Share them in the comments below!!

    How to prepare for the iOS 12 Public Betas

     

     

    By Matthew Potuck of 9to5Mac

    Apple has shared that it will open up its public beta program for iOS 12 (along with macOS Mojave and tvOS 12) this month. Are you considering running the latest software on your iPhone or iPad? Follow along for how to get ready to join the iOS 12 public beta.

    We don’t know exactly when Apple will launch the iOS 12 public beta, but based on previous years, it could be early next week. While it can be exciting to pickup the latest features and updates ahead of this fall’s general release, there are some considerations before installing beta software on your iPhone (or other device).

    How to prepare for the iOS 12 public beta

    Expectations

    Before installing the iOS 12 public beta, it can be easy to focus on all the great features and changes that the software will bring. However, it’s also important think about the downsides and weigh the trade-offs.

    Being pre-release software, the public beta will naturally include bugs that means apps and features won’t always be reliable. That being said, the first and second iOS 12 developer betas have been relatively stable.

    Here’s a few of the issues we’ve noticed at 9to5Mac so far:
    • GPS showing inaccurate location
    • CarPlay crashing when viewing backup and side camera
    • Reminders app crashing
    • Increased battery drain

    If you can, install the public beta on a secondary iPhone (or iPad). Otherwise, just make sure you’re okay taking some risks if you’re going to go for it on a primary device.

    Backing up

    If you do decide to run the public beta, backing up your iPhone is especially important. If you’ve been using iCloud to back up with iOS 11, these will be replaced by iOS 12 iCloud backups once you move to the public beta. If at any point you want to revert to iOS 11, you won’t be able to restore from an iOS 12 iCloud backup.

    Be sure to make an iTunes backup with your Mac or PC with your iPhone prior to installing iOS 12. This will allow you to restore your data in the event you’d like to downgrade to iOS 11.

    Keep in mind that while this is one of the best solutions to protecting your data when running the public beta, there may be some missing data depending on how long a timeframe there is between your last pre-beta backup and when you revert from iOS 12 back to iOS 11.

    The best idea to cover your bases is to download and save any important information manually, both before installing the beta and before downgrading from iOS 12 (if you do).

    Smörgåsbord

    If you’re eager to try out the other public betas, Apple will be launching tvOS 12, macOS 10.14 Mojave alongside iOS 12 access. Like last year, Apple will be reserving watchOS 5 for the developer beta only.

    Check out the videos below covering all that’s new with iOS 12, macOS Mojave and more.

     

    Are you planning to try any of Apple’s Public Betas of their new software? Sound off in the comments below.

    How to: Add AirDrop to Your Mac’s Dock for Quicker Access

     

    By Chris Hauk of MacTrast

    AirDrop is a great way to send and receive files between Macs or between your Mac and iOS devices. Here’s a quick way to shave a few clicks off of the process.

    If you’re initiating an AirDrop transfer from your Mac, you usually have to open a finder window and then navigate to AirDrop. But, by following the quick steps below, you can open an AirDrop window with a single click.

    1.) Open Finder on your Mac. (You can just click anywhere on your Mac’s Desktop and the Finder menu will be enabled.)

    2.) In the Finder menu, click on the “Go” menu item, and then select the “Go To Folder” item in the Go menu.

    3.) In the dialog box that appears, enter the following directory path exactly, then hit the Enter / Return key:
    /System/Library/CoreServices/Finder.app/Contents/Applications/

    4.) A window will open on your Mac’s Desktop, in it you’ll see an icon marked “AirDrop,” as seen below.

    5.) Click and hold on the icon with your mouse pointer. Then drag-and-drop the icon onto your Mac’s Dock, dropping it in the spot where you want it to appear.

    6.) Close the folder you grabbed the AirDrop icon from.

    The AirDrop icon will now always be available in the Dock. Just click on it, and an AirDrop windows will open, ready to go.

    For more tips and tricks on how to make better use of your Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV, be sure to visit the “How To” section of our website.

    What’s your favorite AirDrop tip? Tell us in the comments below!