Using and Comparing LaunchBar (LB) with Alfred and other Apps

In general:

With LB you have less need for customization. Many things that would require you to write a workflow in Alfred are already built in in LB. As a quick example see my post from yesterday. For more examples see LB’s documentation (unfortunately still not updated for ver 6).

Scripts:

With both apps you can add functionality with your own scripts (“Workflow” in Alfred, “Action” in LB). The main differences here:

  • LB lets you write your scripts rather in “free form”, while Alfred tries to guide you with its connectors and stuff. You can see either one as an advantage or as an disadvantage.

  • With older versions of LB it was indeed very clumsy to write an action: you had to duplicate your action template, write the script and then manually modify the associated plist. In Alfred this was way more comfortable.

  • As with ver 6 (I think) LB added the “Action Editor”. This is a magnificent tool that makes it a breeze to create a new action, so that – IMO – Alfred’s advantage here has completely disappeared. (To my shame I discovered the Action Editor only a couple of months ago, and I can’t stress enough how useful it is!)

Keyboard shortcuts:

This is one of the main differences between the two:

  • Alfred lets you assign hotkeys in the usual Modifier(s)+Key style.
  • LB lets you assign Abbreviations. These don’t require modifier keys, an Abbreviation can be for example “ABC”. This way you have way more available combinations in LB. (As a sidenote: these Abbreviations can be assigned manually, or you just let LB learn them by using.)

Index:

I find, with LB you have more flexibility to customize the index, i.e. which paths are indexed and which not. This has to do with the way how the index works: LB relies (mainly) on its own index, while Alfred is dependent on Spotlight.

Please correct me if I’m wrong with something. I don’t have too much experience with the latest version of Alfred.

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That's a lot of useful information, thanks. Now I want to try Launchbar again.

Some of the most impressive workflows I've seen bypass the Alfred workflow interface entirely and just use a single script filter. For example, this is the entire Reddit workflow:

As a case example, we could compare Launchbar Spotify with Alfred Spotify. Personally, I have only used the Alfred one, but based on how much more features Alfred Spotify has, it appears Alfred can do more right now. On the other hand, perhaps you know of some LB actions that surpass what Alfred can do?

I was a Alfred w/ Powerpack user and have now switched to LaunchBar, primarily for the superb file and folders operations possible. I also like being able to set custom abbreviations for actions.

I am using KM for creating macros and running them from LB using custom abbreviations.

Ex.: Cmd + Space to bring up LB, type n and hit enter to switch to Bear app and simulate Cmd + N to start typing a note.

Similarly, t to switch to Tweetbot and begin composing a new tweet.

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OK, it’s always a question how you write your scripts.

If you write an excellent script (“workflow’) for Alfred, and I write a mediocre script for LaunchBar (“Action”) you win.

But that’s not the point. You have asked for ease of customization.

And I tried to answer this in the first posts. With some points in favor of LB, and some points not in favor of Alfred.

Keep in mind that Alfred is “substantially” a different thing: LB maintains its own Index, it works with that Index +Spotlight. (Alfred, on the other hand, it uses the Spotlight index + some Caches; => Many People complaining about the “sluggishness” of LB, but they don’t even realize that LB is working based on its own index)

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You may have noticed that I’m a LaunchBar guy (as opposed to…, I don’t know).

But, ironically, I never was a Quicksilver guy in the first decade :wink: The contrary: I was a very modest Quicksilver user, but Alfred (in 2007 or so) showed me, how Quicksilver should be (should have been), more or less. Thanks to Alfred for that.

But then I discovered LaunchBar. And I learned that Quicksilver (and Alfred) should have been like this all the way and since ever! (Well, this was a bit exaggerated.; but you get the idea.)

Edited 16 Mar 2017, 21:25 Z

Grammar and semantics.

Edited 22 Mar 2017
“Quicksilver”

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I realize that I sort of changed the topic, and you definitely did answer my first question before. I suppose my real question is about the range of possibilities in both app, but I misworded my original question. I have been testing out Launchbar again and do see its pros.

To sum it up:

There are two (not more) crucial differences between LaunchBar and Alfred:

  • Alfred is entirely relying on the Spotlight index. (That’s also the reason that Alfred doesn’t consume any RAM or CPU resources, as opposed to LaunchBar.)

  • In Alfred you can assign hotkeys the usual way, i.e Modifier+Key. That‘s a pretty limited name space, since most of the combinations are already occupied. In LaunchBar you can assign abbreviations like LMS to launch a script called Launch My Script. On top of that you don’t even have to assign the abbreviation explicitly, since LB is learning that from your use.

So, strictly unnecessary to say it, there is no reason to ever use Alfred instead of LB, except when you are low on resources (CPU, RAM). Indeed I’m considering to use Alfred as a “Low Energy” Replacement of LaunchBar on my future KabyLake MacBook Pro :wink:

But, I think, by tweaking LB’s index appropriately, I can obtain the same (energy-efficient) results, without having to resort to Alfred.

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I agree that reliance on Spotlight seems to be the biggest difference. I’ll have to get more experience with Launchbar before I can contribute anything else productive to this conversation.

You may be correct that Launchbar can do everything Alfred can do and more. There’s only one way to find out: making a port of a powerful Alfred workflow to Launchbar, such as SpotMini. I challenge someone to do it! … or maybe one day I will.

Do you have a procedure you could share? Thoughts on reducing LB’s resource footprint would be useful.

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Some more differences between Alfred and LaunchBar, and why I continue to use both, in no particular order:

• Workflows – LaunchBar’s action editor may or may not be superior when putting together your own custom actions (I actually didn’t know about it either until Tom pointed it out here, so I have no personal experience to speak on) but there’s no denying that, for whatever reason, the Alfred community has come up with vastly more workflows for non-coders like myself to choose from. This is easily one of Alfred’s biggest advantages, perhaps its biggest.

• Customizability – There’s no question that LaunchBar’s ability to learn users’ abbreviations and let them assign their own for anything in its catalog is a huge point in its favor. However, Alfred does allow a similar level of customizability for workflow abbreviations, even if they do all have to be set manually.

• Input Memory– LaunchBar remembers what you last accessed and keeps it there the next time it’s invoked, while Alfred starts you off with a clean slate every time, albeit with an option to recall your last five entries by pressing Up. This is a small but arguably also crucial difference between the two and one of the reasons I keep both around, since I have use cases for both behaviors.

• Input Window – Alfred will let you type and re-type as much as you need, while LaunchBar limits you to no more than 3 seconds, and sets a much smaller window by default. I personally prefer Alfred’s more forgiving behavior here, but LaunchBar’s is fine once you get used to it.

• Input Language – LaunchBar does not play well with different input languages, or at least ones that don’t use a Western alphabet at their base. If you want to search for something in a language that requires converting characters to words, like Japanese, there’s nothing LaunchBar can do for you unless it’s a web search that’s run in a different kind of text entry field that’s separate from its usual launcher/catalog searching interface. In contrast, Alfred is so friendly to multiple language input that it actually offers a preference to enable a default one of your choosing for when you invoke it, and has no problem searching for things in non-English character sets.

• QuickLook – LaunchBar lets you use the spacebar to invoke QuickLook and keeps QuickLook previews open as you arrow up and down through files. I personally find this far superior to Alfred’s implementation, which assigns QL to Shift and ⌘Y and makes it a modal view that restricts you to viewing one file at a time. I’ve especially found it useful in combination with the above-mentioned input memory, where LaunchBar always loads the last thing you viewed when you invoke it; this makes it a great option for quickly accessing and browsing folders you don’t want to have to switch to the Finder to view.

• Buffers/Queues – Alfred uses a clearer and more visual UI for queuing up several files, letting you always see what you’ve queued and manage the queue more easily. It also persists between invocations, so you can close Alfred and come back to it later, and your queue will still be there. In contrast, LaunchBar’s UI only uses colors and a non-intuitive (at least to me) numbering system to queue files, and any queues you create must be acted upon immediately, because they will be lost if you need to close LaunchBar for any reason.

• Sync – Alfred officially supports syncing all your settings and workflows through any synced folder, including but not limited to Dropbox, while LaunchBar does not. LaunchBar can still be made to work via Dropbox, as we’ve discussed here, and has been fine in my years of using it, but it’s still nice to have an officially supported option.

• Overall UI – Alfred has more themes (including an easier ability to find and install custom ones) and a larger focus on icons and visual representations than LaunchBar, which is text-focused first and foremost. Its trigger can also be set to a modifier key double-tap, allowing for easy one-handed, one-finger invocation, where LaunchBar is restricted to the typical hotkey format, a modifier key plus another key.

• iTunes Control – Alfred has a dedicated iTunes player, with its own shortcut and controls and album artwork display, whereas LaunchBar’s iTunes controls are all part of the standard LaunchBar interface, and thus need to always be re-entered when using them. LaunchBar’s is perfectly usable, but I prefer Alfred’s approach.

• Index Customization – LaunchBar definitely wins this one. The ability to choose different categories and folders can be extremely useful depending on your needs. That said, in most cases, Alfred’s Spotlight-based index works just fine, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s less resource-intensive than LaunchBar by default.

Sending – Absolutely one of LaunchBar’s most useful features, and something Alfred just doesn’t support even with workflows, at least as far as I’m aware of. I also very much like LaunchBar’s ability to serve as a drag-and-drop point, letting you drop various things on it and act on them in different ways. Both Alfred and LaunchBar let you drag things out of them equally well, but only LaunchBar supports going the other way.

I’m sure there are other differences I’m overlooking, but this post is already fairly long and hopefully you all get the idea by now. Each launcher has its own strong points (some of which even complement each other nicely in my experience) and I encourage anyone reading this curious about one or the other to give both a try (and of course, if you’re happy sticking solely to only one of them after trying both, that’s fine too).

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Basically, go through your whole LB index (⌥⌘I) and throw out anything you don’t need.

For example, usually it’s a waste of resources to index every subfolder and each and every file of any subfolder of the HOME folder.

Currently I have set my HOME folder index like this:

  • Every folder down to a depth of 6
  • No files

My Documents folder:

  • Every item down to a depth of 4

Any of the rules contains numerous exceptions

Subfolders, that aren’t caught by the above rules, but you want them to be fully indexed (e.g. ~/Library/Preferences), you can always add separately.

‌Or, another example: I noticed that I never used LB’s iTunes player, or searched for photos in the Photos library, so I just deactivated those indexes (which are activated by default, IIRC).

So, the idea is: Start out with a minimal index, and add stuff when the need arises

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“Quiver”? Do you mean QuickSilver? (AFAIK, Quiver is an editor.)

Yes, Quicksilver of course. Thanks.

May I add a vote for Butler, which is showing its age, but I couldn’t live without its ability to set up unlimited menubar and popup menus with any configuration of scripts I might want.

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You can manual assign string trigger or abbreviation with Alfred too,

His @Sridhar, this seems like a great use to me. Can you share your LB script on how to do so? Do you run an applescript action that executes a KM macro?

thx

Z

If you're not yet aware of this great LaunchBar action that lets you run any of your macros from within LB, well, now you are: https://github.com/mlinzner/LaunchBarActions/tree/master/actions/Keyboard%20Maestro

Thx a lot @gglick

This indeed looks amazing yet I'm a novice user with both KM (yet) and LB (only started to explore it).

Do you mind giving me more context? I've installed it but how do I actually use it? Currently it only sees some of my macros?

Also can I assign a specific hotkey to a specific KM macro like @Sridhar showed:

Ex.: Cmd + Space to bring up LB, type n and hit enter to switch to Bear app and simulate Cmd + N to start typing a note.

thx a lot!

Z

No problem. I believe it only shows macros that are currently active, so that may be why you're only seeing some of your macros. As for the specific hotkeys, it seems that it does not allow for that, so if that's what you want, you will need to go the AppleScript route. There's a good tutorial for how to do that here: Trigger Any Specific KM Macro Instantly Via LaunchBar Action

Thx again much much appreciated @gglick!

The guide is exactly what I was looking for.

For some reason I get an error though.

Here is my macro I want to launch via LB:

Full macro is here

I have this as the AppleScript in LB:

But I keep getting an error

Any clue what I messed up :D? I also tried the UUID method with same error

Best

Z