8 great free and cheap alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X

Better ways to quickly find files and applications on Mac. Here are eight great low-cost and free alternatives to the Finder and Spotlight that'll save you time, trouble and boost productivity.

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  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 1: Alfred
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 2: Easy Find
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 3: Find Any File
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 4: LaunchBar 6
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 5: Launchy
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 6: Path Finder 6 & 7
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 7: QuickSilver
  • Alternatives to Finder and Spotlight in OS X, 8: Tembo
  • More stories
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Alfred: free alternative to Spotlight that's light, powerful and easy to use

Created by indie developers Andrew and Vero Pepperrell (aka Running With Crayons Ltd) Alfred is a free alternative to Spotlight that's light,  powerful and very easy to use. (See also: 10 amazing tips and tricks for using iTunes on Mac.)

 At its most basic, Alfred enable to quickly find files and applications by simply typing a shortcut, [option] + [spacebar is selected by default, and then start typing what you what to find or do.

As you type, Alfred quickly runs through the files and apps on your Mac that contain those letters, narrowing down the more that you type. Once you've found what you're looking for, simply hit [Return] to open the appropriate app or file.

Alfred is quick, intuitive and a great timesaver. No wonder Apple is echoing some of its functionality with the revamped Spotlight app in OS X Yosemite. But there's a lot more to Alfred than that.

Buy the optional Powerpack (from £17) and you'll discover a whole new range of productivity tools - from the ability to create clipboards and snippets that you can use again again to complex workflows that enable you achieve complex tasks simply by using a couple of keywords and some keyboard combos.

Better yet: the Powerback also gives you full control over iTunes, enabling you to search for and play music and other content.

Other goodies included in the Powerback include syncing via Dropbox so your Alfred settings are available across all your Macs, 1Password integration and the ability to customise the way Alfred looks by creating your own colours, themes and window sizes and lots, lots more. Definitely worth the modest outlay we reckon.

  • Free, optional powerpack: £17 (one user licence) / £27 (family licence) / £32 (single user, lifetime upgrades
  • Running With Crayons Ltd
  • www.alfredapp.com

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Created by indie developers Andrew and Vero Pepperrell (aka Running With Crayons Ltd) Alfred is a free alternative to Spotlight that's light,  powerful and very easy to use. (See also: 10 amazing tips and tricks for using iTunes on Mac.)

 At its most basic, Alfred enable to quickly find files and applications by simply typing a shortcut, [option] + [spacebar is selected by default, and then start typing what you what to find or do.

As you type, Alfred quickly runs through the files and apps on your Mac that contain those letters, narrowing down the more that you type. Once you've found what you're looking for, simply hit [Return] to open the appropriate app or file.

Alfred is quick, intuitive and a great timesaver. No wonder Apple is echoing some of its functionality with the revamped Spotlight app in OS X Yosemite. But there's a lot more to Alfred than that.

Buy the optional Powerpack (from £17) and you'll discover a whole new range of productivity tools - from the ability to create clipboards and snippets that you can use again again to complex workflows that enable you achieve complex tasks simply by using a couple of keywords and some keyboard combos.

Better yet: the Powerback also gives you full control over iTunes, enabling you to search for and play music and other content.

Other goodies included in the Powerback include syncing via Dropbox so your Alfred settings are available across all your Macs, 1Password integration and the ability to customise the way Alfred looks by creating your own colours, themes and window sizes and lots, lots more. Definitely worth the modest outlay we reckon.

  • Free, optional powerpack: £17 (one user licence) / £27 (family licence) / £32 (single user, lifetime upgrades
  • Running With Crayons Ltd
  • www.alfredapp.com
 

Easy Find is a simple but powerful alternative to Spotlight

Created by the Mac developers behind productivity apps DEVONthink, DEVONnote, DEVONagent and DEVONsphere, Easy Find is a simple, but powerful alternative to Spotlight with some very nifty features. (See also: 10 amazing tips and tricks to become a Safari Mac power user.)

Open the app and you'll be presented with vaguely Finder-ish file browser with a set of search parameters running down the left side, some basic controls in the toolbar at the top and a search bar into which you type the name of item you're looking for.

What's nifty about Easy Find is that it gives you way more control over the search results than Spotlight does and organises them in a more meaningful way.

That's in large part due to the search parameters running down the left side, which enable you to search by files and folders, files only, folders only and file contents and then narrow down the results using phrases, words and Boolean+Wildcard searches.

Then there's what you can do with the files and the folders you have found, using the options available in the toolbar at the top of the main window.

You can check a file or folder's contents using Quick Look, open it in the Finder, open it in the relevant application, delete it and even share it -- all without having actually use the Finder to any of these things.

For a freebie app we reckon Easy Find pretty good --  and since it only weighs in at 4.5MB,  it's definitely worth having in your file finding armoury.

 

Find Any File aims to reach those files that Spotlight won't even go near

Originally launched in 2008 by indie developer Thomas Templemann, Find Any File aims to reach those files that Spotlight won't even go near, let alone tell you about -- including invisible files, system files and files hidden in obscure directories. It's not for the faint-heartedness. (See also: hidden features in QuickTime player for Mac.)

Neither's the interface, to be honest, which is pretty retro but that doesn't stop Find Any File being any less powerful. One of the advantages of this old-fashioned approach, is that Find Any File present you with search results as they appear, including inside nested folders, making it relatively easy to track them down.

Naturally you can add all kind of parameters to narrow down your search results, from choosing certain date ranges, file sizes or other metadata or even combine several different search attributes to really narrow down your search in much the same way that OS X's own Smart Folders work.

You can alsouse Find Any File  to search networked volumes, which use the AFP protocol. And do low-level searches of non-networked volumes by using root privileges. Best of all, you can save any search results / parameters so you can use them again at a later date.

What Find Any File won't do is actually search inside the contents of a file. For that you'll need to use another tool like Spotlight or Easy Find instead.

  •  £5.49
  • Thomas Templemann
  • iTunes
 

LaunchBar is slick, powerful and inexpensive

LaunchBar has a long and illustrious history as a launch application that predates Spotlight by several years. And that heritage and know-how shines through in the LaunchBar 6, a Yosemite-compatible version that's slick, powerful and only costs a couple of pounds more than the Powerpack-equipped version of Alfred, although basic functionality (with occasional nagging) is free. (See all Mac software downloads.)

Like Alfred, LaunchBar takes over much of the functionality of Spotlight, enabling you to quickly launch applications and open files and folders using a few simple abbreviations, which LaunchBar gradually learns from you as you use it. If you use Photoshop on a regular basis, for example, LaunchBar will eventually learn to launch the app simply by you using typing ‘pho' or even ‘p' using the LaunchBar interface.

As you'd expect LaunchBar also comes with Alfred-like features such as the ability to create custom workflows,control iTunes, clipboards etc. but even that only scratches the surface of what LaunchBar can do -- there are literally hundreds of features to choose from.

What makes LaunchBar so rewarding to use though is its ability to integrate deeply into the heart of OS X, enabling you to do things like set reminders, create calendar events without ever having to open either Reminders or Calendar. LaunchBar can even work with iCloud content or deliver web search results from Google, etc. You even have the option to program your own custom LaunchBar actions if you're that way inclined.

Awarded 5-stars by Macworld last month, LaunchBar is definitely worth a serious look.

  • Free / €24 (single user licence) / €39 (family licence)
  • Objective Development
  • www.obdev.at
 

Launchy is a free cross-platform app and file launcher for OS X, Windows and Linux

Launchy is a cross-platform application and file launcher for OS X, Windows and Linux that's free to download and to use, although its creator, Josh Karlin, asks for a small donation so he can continue to develop the app. (Download Mac System and Desktop tools.)

Launchy works in a similar fashion to other Mac OS X launchers like Alfred and QuickSilver in that after you launch the app, all it requires is a keyboard shortcut to bring it to the fore.

Launchy's functionality is pretty basic – you can launch apps, files and bookmarked webpages by typing their name or part of a name in the Launchy window and, if it doesn't immediately come up with the thing you're after, it displays a list of items matching what you've typed, which you can then select and launch by pressing [Return].

We like the fact that Launchy works cross-platform as it means you can use the same app across both Mac and on a Linux/ Windows install using Bootcamp. The Mac version also looks suitably OS X like. You can change the default look by downloading additional skins (including one for OS 9!, although most of the available skins are aimed at Windows, rather than Mac, users).

You can also add more capabilities to Launchy in the form of scripts, again most of the ones available on the Launchy community pages are for Windows only.

Definitely worth considering then, but we wouldn't make it our first port of call.

 

Path Finder replaces the regular OS X Finder

Not so much a Finder / Spotlight launcher as a whole new way of using OS X.

Now on version 6 with version 7 launching in September to coincide with the arrival of Yosemite, Path Finder ostensibly replaces (but doesn't do away with) the regular OS X Finder, giving you way more control, functionality and granularity.

You can, for example, view the contents of two separate folders side by side in one window and easily transfer files between them, create custom shortcuts and workflows to suit the way you work, browse your files and folders using tabs (now replicated in Mavericks) and create bookmarks to your most frequently accessed files and folders.

Path Finder also includes some application launcher features too, to save you heading  the Applications folder each time or placing your most used apps in the Dock. Path Finder also includes low-level searches of your Mac's file structure by piggybacking on to Spotlight. And that's just the beginning.

It has to be be said though that using Path Finder as an Finder replacement isn't for everyone. For casual users Path Finder's additional functionality and six different windows view may be confusing or even off putting. There's certainly quite a steep learning curve until you get used to the way it works.

For power users or anyone who just wants OS X to work the way they want it to work, rather the way Apple wants it to work, Path Finder is mighty alternative to OS X's Finder indeed.

 

QuickSilver packs plenty of features and the power to surprise and delight

Before Alfred stole much of its limelight, QuickSilver was seen as the low-cost / free application launcher and productivity tool for many OS users - and it still packs plenty of features and the power to surprise and delight.

Created and maintained by a team of volunteers, QuickSilver let you do amazing things with OS X and your files, folders and applications without barely touching the Finder or anything else.

Like Alfred and most other application launchers, QuickSilver sits quietly in the background  until you need it when a quick keyboard shortcut will bring up its main window, so you can type application and file names, the names of contacts and much more and then perform appropriate actions using shortcuts.

QuickSilver's secret is that not only does it learn how you want to use it -- just like LaunchBar -- but it also supports and extensive range of themes and plugins that enables you to customise the way QuickSilver looks and the way it works.

By default QuickSilver includes plugins for apps like Mail, Contacts, Safari, iTunes and Microsoft Office with many more available for third party apps like Gmail and Twitter available to download -- for free -- from the qsapp website.

So whether you want to quickly send a file to a mate via email or create custom workflows using programmable keyboard shortcuts (or triggers) QuickSilver has a great deal to commend it.

  • Donationware
  • The Quicksilver Project
  • qsapp.com
 

Tembo gives you more control over search results

Available as a paid-for app from the Mac App Store, Tembo doesn't so much replace Spotlight as enhance it, giving you more control over search results that doesn't rely on you either having to launch the Spotlight app from Finder's top menu bar or by creating smart searches using the Spotlight search option in Finder's browser windows. (See all Mac software downloads.)

To use it, simply launch Tembo (you can create a custom shortcut if you wish) and then type what you're looking for into the search field at the top right of its main window.

Within a few seconds, Tembo returns the matched results, which are grouped by file type (e.g. Documents, Music, Movies, etc) with additional results for each category available by clicking on the results arrow to the right of each category heading.

You can further narrow down the search results by specifying when and where the document was created or which disk or volume you think its sits on. You can also easily customise Tembo's Groups so it returns specific results for you. By default it offers up Documents, Movies, Music and Pictures, but you can just as easily create a particular folder on a specific volume as one of the Group results, for example, just as you would with Spotlight.

Tembo works well and is very easy to you -- it's only shortcomings being that it's limited to Spotlight search results, of course, so it display find hidden files or the contents of the system folder, for example. Oh and its slightly silly elephant application icon.

  • £7.99
  • Houdah Software
  • iTunes
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