Should Alfred be worried about Raycast?
For a long time, Alfred has been my go-to as a Spotlight replacement, it’s fast, intuitive and has more to offer than Spotlight alone. However, I have recently started using Raycast, a new kid on the block when it comes to app launchers and I wanted to share some of my views.
I have been using Raycast for around about a month now and although I am still getting used to it and finding out what it can do, on the surface, it appears to be a pretty good alternative to Alfred and I am sure for some, a welcome change and addition.
What is Raycast?
Raycast is, at its heart, an app launcher, similar to that of Spotlight or Alfred. It allows you to interact with your Mac via the keyboard to perform a variety of tasks. It offers tools such as system-wide searching, launching applications, triggering shortcuts, creating notes, doing calculations and much much more through an open extensions library.
If you are having any problems with Raycast or finding it a little frustrating maybe head straight to my Tips section to see if any of those can help.
Download & Installation
You can find the Raycast download from the Raycast homepage or if you use Homebrew you can use the below command
brew install --cask raycast
Upon installing Raycast I suggest that you set up your chosen hotkey. This is the hotkey you use to launch Raycast. I suggest replacing your current app launcher's shortcut key. This will ensure you give the app a good go and don’t just resort back to your default app. I find muscle memory hard to overcome.
To define your chosen hotkey do the following:
Open Raycast ⌥ + ␣ (Option + Spacebar)
Open Raycast’s preferences ⌘ + , (Command + ,)
On the General page select the Raycast Hotkey and enter your chosen hotkey
Some of you may know that I run an app called Karabinar-Elements. This app enables me to override the caps lock key (which I never use) and replace it with a new modifier key that is the same as pressing ⇧ CTRL ⌥ ⌘ all at the same time. This combined with the spacebar is what I use to launch Raycast.
If you’re looking to replace the Spotlight keyboard shortcut you will have to head on over to the Keyboard settings in Preferences
Click the Shortcuts tab
Select Spotlight from the menu on the left
Disable the Show Spotlight Search option
What Can Raycast do?
That's enough drivel, let’s talk about what Raycast can do. As I have said already, I believe its full capabilities still elude me as I have only been casting rays for about a month or so. However, in that time I have used most of the built-in capabilities and core features of Raycast so that is what I will dive into here.
Upfront and centre we have launching apps. Not much to say here really. Search for an app and open it. It does what it says and it does it fast.
Launch Raycast (Your newly defined shortcut)
Search for an app
Window management comes as standard with Raycast and it can be really useful to quickly snap windows to certain locations on your screen. You can either search for all of the commands by typing in ‘Window’ into Raycast or search for a specific action like Left Half.
This isn’t a feature I use as I have pretty much all of my window management controlled with Keyboard Maestro. However, if this is something you find yourself using you may want to think about adding some of them to your Favourites List or creating a Hotkey
Raycast, much like Alfred or Spotlight, can search for files and folders on your Mac. This could be a word document or a photo stored anywhere on your device.
Begin typing File Search into Raycast
Press enter to begin searching for files
Type in the file or folder you are looking for
File searching frustrated me, to begin with as I didn’t like the default behaviour but you can take a look at this tip to find out how I resolved that. It also didn’t work, to begin with, and I had to change some of the settings, you can see that here.
A feature I liked was the ability to search through my screenshots and add them to the clipboard. As someone who does a lot of screenshotting this is an extremely fast and useful tool.
Not only does this find all of your screenshots it also finds any screen recordings you may have done as well.
Enter Screenshots into Raycast
Select a screenshot to add it to the system clipboard
Something I am aware of here but have never really used is the ability for Raycast to access your Calendar. By launching the Schedule feature, Raycast will display all of your upcoming events, meetings and whatever else you may have in your calendar.
Search for Schedule in Raycast
Hit Command + K to view extra options for specific events
With the system commands you can show and hide apps, restart your Mac, empty the trash or log out of the system just to name a few, there are plenty more as well.
Types System into Raycast to view all of the commands or Type in a specific command
At the core of Raycast are what are known as Extensions. You can think of these extensions as building blocks which can extend the functionality of Raycast from a simple app launcher into something more complex with the ability to link to other applications.
These Extensions are developed not by Raycast but by the community and other companies so there is a whole host to choose from. Many are open source which means you or anyone else can take an existing extension, copy it and make changes to it. Or you could just develop one from scratch.
I have not created any extensions myself, which may be just out of my capabilities, but if you are interested you can take a look a this.
If you aren’t a developer or just want to see what is out there you can take a look at this page.
If you know what you are after you can always install your extensions directly from within Raycast
Type Store into the search field
Search for your chosen Extension
⌘ + ENTER to install or Enter to view the extension
Other Little Ditties
I have listed some other capabilities that come with Raycast below. I didn't feel they warranted their own sections but they were still worth a mention.
Convert time zones
Make quick notes
Define a word
I have been using Raycast as my default app launcher for maybe a month or so and although I wouldn’t say I am an expert I have found a few useful tips to improve how you can interact with the app and get it set up correctly (In my opinion anyway).
Check your access and security
For some reason when I first installed Raycast it didn’t set up some of the Security & Privacy settings that enable features such as being able to search for files or folders and providing access to my calendar. A little frustrating but very simple to solve.
Open the Security & Privacy options from System Preferences
Unlock the settings by clicking the Padlock in the bottom corner and entering your password
Select Full Disk Access from the menu on the left
Find Raycast in the list to the right and check the checkbox next to it
Next, from the left-hand menu find Accessibility
Again, Find Raycast in the list to the right and check the checkbox next to it
Set up your Aliases & Hotkey
To get Raycast working the way you want it, I suggest getting your Aliases set up. These aliases are somewhat like keywords but within Raycast and can be used to define actions, speed up your workflow and customise it to your specific needs.
They work by allowing you to define a word or character that Raycast can link to a specific operation/Extension. As an example, you could have it so that when you type the word ‘Left’ into Raycast it automatically moves the active window to the left of the screen.
An Alias I have set up is to replicate an Alfred workflow which is to use the apostrophe (‘) symbol to search for files and folders. I found the default method too slow.
Very similar to an Alias but these are triggered by a keyboard shortcut. However, you do have to open the Raycast widow to be able to trigger them
To define your Aliases and Hotkeys:
Open the preferences ⌘ + ,
Select the Extensions tab
Define your Alias/Hotkey for an extension
Command - K
This is a Raycast-wide shortcut and it can be used to display all of the currently available commands to Raycast.
Below is a screenshot of me using the Command + K shortcut after having searched for the Safari application.
Below are a few of the extensions I have installed to tailor Raycast to my workflow.
Raycast enables you to define Favourites. These favourites appear on the home screen when launching Raycast to make them easily accessible.
Add a favourite using the Command - K shortcut.
After having used Raycast for a month or so I have a pretty good understanding of what it has to offer but I am sure there is still more to learn. Overall I have found the experience to be good and the application runs smoothly without it once crashing or failing to achieve what it was supposed to. There was a slight learning curve to the app and it has taken a while to shift some of that engrained Alfred muscle memory but once I had gotten passed that I enjoyed the features Raycast has to offer. And all for Free!
Great feature set
Extensions offer a wide range of capabilities and customisations
Open Source Extensions
UI can feel a little dense compared to Alfred
Without configuring Raycast to your way of working simple operations can take multiple steps
Having to define extra access in system preferences is annoying and not particularly clear (I understand this may be Apple at play and the same for Alfred, it’s been a long time since I installed it)
Hopefully, you found this little peek into my experience with Raycast useful. As always, if you feel this post warrants a like, share or comment please do so! I am curious to hear if any of you have tried Raycast and what your thoughts are?
I love hearing from my audience so feel free to drop me a private message straight from the homepage if you want to.