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).