Slickrun and Alfred, two efficiency heroes

I became an owner of a MacBook Air and missed my loyal friend SlickRun, as it didn’t run on OS X.

3 October 2011, 18:00

This story is simple and almost emotional. I discovered SlickRun in the year 2006 – a free and tiny command line tool for Windows that I believe improved my efficiency on a daily basis – and haven’t parted with it until I got my first MacBook. SlickRun was like a doggy that understood my short commands and would fetch me every program on Windows, pages on the Internet on specific topics, like

... or store my quick thoughts put in words in SlickJot.

Eventually, if I moved my stuff from one computer to another, SlickRun would export my “luggage” and import it to the new environment if I asked.

Now I’m adopting this beautiful MacBook Air trying to restore my efficiency by learning a new legion of shortcuts. But SlickRun cannot run on OS X and that’s very sad.

Yesterday, destiny put me on a chair next to Gilles Ruppert a.k.a. @elduderino78 (such a nice guy!) at the JSConf(erence) in Berlin who suddenly told me something like: “You should use Alfred!”. Who?

What a coincidence to be in focus of Holger Blank’s camera at this very moment!

So I installed the free part of Alfred on my elegant MackBook and started testing his behavior by giving him commands… "Fetch me this! Fetch me that... Turn!". Alfred really turned out to be a golden retriever that also pleases the eye with his soft visual appearance!

Now, I am taking a step back to describe SlickRun in the way I know him. The installation is easy, but will require the Delphy runtime prior to that. Its design phylosophy is "Simple ~ Powerful ~ Stable". SlickRun’s input box always stays on top of all open windows, never looses focus, and I can adjust it to always show date and time, current CPU usage. SlickRun can as well be more discrete and semitransparent and show itself on a Ctrl + Q call. The appearance in terms of font size, color and background color is fully customizable. If I type “setup” in the input box a setup panel will open. One of the most useful things to do then is to create so called MagicWords.

Setting up a magic word needs two steps: one - type the keyword, e.g. "g" to map to the URL for Google with a place holder, "$W$", for the search parameter. Save the magic word, call the SlickRun input box with Win + Q and type: "g clam chowder soup". Then press Enter.

SlickJot looks very basic and pure to use text editor that appears on Win + J allows me to type my blurbs there and never looses focus unless I hit the Escape key. One NB from me: beware of the undo command. If you press Ctrl + Z in SlickJot it will only undo the last action. Another very intuitive command is Ctrl + F. Dear reader, I presume that you already guessed it is for searching.

Alfred has a lot of similar funtionality and is rather luxurious, responds by default to Opt + Space and fetches programs or:

  • pages from Internet, e.g. “google clam chowder soup”
  • performs simple calculations, e.g. "1 + 9" (or otherwise type "calculator")
  • word translations, e.g. “define search-word”
  • file searching, e.g. "find file-name"

On the screen of Alfred preferences I get a rich overview by default:

Theming is possible in three tastes: light, dark and Lion, while in SlickRun I can customize every bit: background and font color, font size and thickness. Both tools can be adjusted to have the ghost behavior and chase your mouse cursor. Alfred can cache the last query and show a customizable number of suggestions while I'm typing.

The "Custom Searches" on the "Features" tab is similar to SlickRun's MagicWord setup, but appartently less technical to use. Alfred offers a lot more useful features when paid £ 12 (a pre-1.0 price), for example:

  • shell scripts
  • apple scripts
  • name searching from the local address book and email
  • iTunes and clipboard

When paid, Alfred will allow you to assign a keyboard shortcut to a specific program and let you call it by this shortcut without showing the input box. In short, Alfred looks very smart, but still, I didn’t find any equivalent to the SlickRun’s SlickJot text editor. To fill in this gap I installed from App Store the free QuickNotes program and created my own “magic word” in Alfred for it.

  • SlickRun
  • Alfred
  • efficiency
  • tool
  • fetch
  • Windows
  • Mac OS X