Productivity software is at all rage right now, and anyone is looking for the perfect solution that will shave a few seconds in their daily workflows.
There are a few undisturbed kings in that space, such as Things for tasks management or Alfred as Spotlight replacement.
Speaking of Alfred, its reign may be in danger. A newcomer called Raycast has entered the battleground.
What are Spotlight replacements?
Before diving into the comparison of the tools, let’s take some time to understand why some might want to replace Spotlight on macOS.
Although the functionality offered by the default search has increased in recent years, it is still limited.
It is possible, for example, to launch applications, make conversions or search for a file on your computer. However, it is impossible to customize the search bar’s display or particular results.
That’s where Spotlight replacement shine. They offer more controls over the results, a better user interface, and features not supported by default.
For example, they have a clipboard manager, snippets managers, or direct website search (no need to open Amazon instead of search from Spotlight).
Alfred has long been the reference in this sector because it was possible to create workflows in addition to all the features offered by default. Workflows allow users to trigger a series of events.
Alfred allows switching light and dark mode, getting cryptocurrencies prices, controlling Spotify, and changing Slack status… Workflow automated some aspects of computers, all that from the search bar.
What is Raycast?
Raycast is a company that was founded in 2020 that aimed to create a powerful Spotlight replacement for developers. The promise was simple, create a Spotlight replacement while offering an API that can be exploited to extend the features of the base software.
The decisive argument was the creation of the store. A place where every extension developed can be found and downloaded by anyone. On top of that, the software is available on Homebrew, and no account is required to use the service, meaning that setting everything up is blazing fast.
The team managed to develop an impressive piece of software in a short amount of time. This can be explained by several factors. First, Raycast took part in the W2020 batch at the Y Combinator. Being accepted into this prestigious 3-month program means that the project is solid, and the team believes in its future.
On top of that, Raycast raised 15 million in Series A funding. The prominent investors are Accel (funded Facebook, Slack, Spotify, Etsy…) and Coatue (funded Airtable, DoorDash, OpenSea, Spotify…). Both are prestigious and serious players in the industry.
All that combined shows that Raycast has plans for the future and money to support them. The proposed software is quite impressive and has shaken the niche market of spotlights replacements.
Why you should switch to Raycast
Claiming that a 2-year-old software can replace the most loved and developed spotlight replacement is pretty bold. However, I did the switch about one month ago and never looked back.
Here are some reasons why I find that Raycast is better than Alfred.
Better features out of the box
First, installing Raycast can be done either by downloading the executable on the website or with Homebrew. The same can be told about Alfred, but the similarities stop here.
Once installed, Raycast offers a tutorial that helps you understand and navigate. All the navigation can be done with keyboard shortcuts, and it helps to know as many shortcuts as you can since it will significantly impact how quickly you interact with the tool.
The tutorial is present, but not in an intrusive manner. You can do any chapter of the tutorial in any order in-between some working sessions, and I highly recommend doing it since it helps quite a lot.
Centralized store that helps find and manage extensions
Managing Workflow on Alfred is a mess. Users have to go on a forum and search on Google to find the workflow they are looking for. Some initiatives aim to create a central store, but nothing is official, and managing update is a mess.
The experience is very different on Raycast. Anyone can develop and publish an extension on the store, and you can find, install and manage extensions in Raycast directly.
Each extension must contain a description and a screenshot. You are guaranteed to get what you want without opening your browser. Raycast extensions can also be browsed from the website if you’re more comfortable doing so.
To this day, there are about 200 extensions. I currently have 11 extensions ranging from caffeinate utility, to links to NPM or to chakra UI documentation. Even a (working) extension can control Spotify or change Slack status.
It’s fair to say that this store is what makes Raycast shine. I didn’t try to create an extension myself, but the document looks pretty straightforward.
General UI and UX
I remember seeing Alfred for the first time. Even tho I was excited to finally try this software, I was pretty unimpressed with the UI and how settings are managed. Not a problem. One theme will make Alfred looks modern and fresh. However, I was still having trouble navigating the settings and finding what I was looking for.
That’s something that never happened with Raycast. The default look and feel is excellent, and settings are more straightforward than Alfred’s but better designed and easier to navigate.
Finally, the installation is dead simple. You install the application, and you’re ready to go. There is no account to create (only if you want to publish an extension) and no old-school license key to enter.
Where is Raycast heading?
Raycast business model seems to be focused on company plans while keeping a free tier for personal use. They started by attracting developers to the platform and building a solid extension ecosystem while improving the software.
They recently released the team feature in beta. The selling point is getting private extensions with unlimited team members and admin tools.
Instead of relying on centralized documentation software and manual interactions, teams could automate things and make them available for everybody in the team.
At my job, I often have questions like, «what is the development URL for this project? » «what’s the link for the bug-reporting form of this project? »… Having an extension that privately contains all the data my coworkers could use would be great!
Other use-cases such as deployment pipeline management, logs explorer, and password managers are developed and shared across teams.
It’s too soon to know if they’ll be able to have a profitable business. However, it’s fair to say that big players in the industry are betting on their success, and they are pretty confident about the future of their products.
Raycast was an instant win for me. It immediately replaced my default Alfred launcher and has stuck with me since then. The simple UI, packed (and centralized) store convinced me. I highly recommend anyone to try it, and it will make your life much easier.
I have to say that I’m not entirely optimistic about Raycast’s future. The project is still relatively young, and its future isn’t secured yet. I’m sure the team has plenty of ideas up their sleeve, and their team plan is now in beta and is paving the company’s future. It’s still too soon to know whether their strategies work or not.
I can only recommend that you try Raycast. I’m sure that, regardless of your workflow, you’ll be able to find some extensions that will make your life easier.