Spotlight Search is Mac’s built-in search feature. It shows up when you use the Command + Space keyboard shortcut, or when you click the Search icon in the menu bar to hunt for a file somewhere on your machine.
As built-in search features go, Spotlight Search is pretty good. It does a fine job of opening applications, files, and folders. You can use it to search the web, do calculations and conversions, look up definitions, and more.
While that’s great, there’s a whole wide world of keyboard launchers for the Mac that offer novel features, plugins, and endless customisations. If you use your Mac to get work done, or if you’re a Mac power user, you’ll appreciate how these utilities can help you be more productive without taking your hands off of the keyboard.
These utilities can help you trigger automations, manage clipboards, expand text, perform custom searches, change system settings, and even arrange windows. But first…
How to disable Spotlight Search keyboard shortcut on Mac
You don’t need to disable Spotlight Search to replace it with something better — you can still keep it around and use it from the menu bar, if needed.
However, in order to take full advantage of one of these alternatives, you’ll want to disable the Spotlight Search keyboard shortcut (Command + Space) by following these instructions:
- On your Mac, click the Apple icon in the top menu bar and choose the “System Preferences” option. (You can also hit Command + Space to open up a Spotlight Search and type “Settings” for old time’s sake.)
- Click the “Spotlight” icon (which looks like a blue circle with a magnifying glass), and then click the “Keyboard Shortcuts” button in the bottom-left corner.
- Make sure “Spotlight” is highlighted in the left-hand column, then uncheck the “Show Spotlight Search” option in the right-hand column.
After doing so, when you use the Command + Space keyboard shortcut, nothing will happen.
Now for the exciting part: replacing Spotlight with a better third-party app. Each app in the list below can take over your default Command + Space keyboard shortcut, and you can also use alternative shortcuts to take advantage of more than one of them.
Alfred has automation at its core (free, or a paid version)
Alfred is available in both a free and a paid version. Its free version can be thought of as a simpler, easier-to-use version of Spotlight Search. It does all the things that Spotlight Search does, but better, and faster. It’s especially great at finding and launching files and folders (with a separate modifier just for searching folders).
But if you buy the Powerpack (which costs £29, or around $53), Alfred transforms into an automation machine, unlocking features like clipboard history, text expansion, hotkeys, and most importantly, automations (which Alfred calls “workflows”).
You can create workflows using a visual, flowchart-based builder in the app itself. The workflow engine allows you to you integrate system features, third-party actions, and even web APIs to perform everyday tasks with a single click. But the beauty of Alfred is that you don’t really need to do all the work of building your own workflows — there’s a thriving online community that creates and shares workflows that you can simply install on your Mac.
Raycast is developed for working on the web (free)
If tools like Alfred have existed for a decade, Raycast is a relatively new entry in the space, but one focused squarely on the future — a future in which we all spend most of our time working in a web browser.
If that sounds like you, take a look at Raycast. The app is currently in beta, but it’s developing quite quickly. Raycast has a slick, modern interface and covers all the basic features like application launching, unit conversion, file search, and web search. Its file search and web search capabilities are not instant, as they do require you to first select a search option.
Where Raycast shines is in its web integration and productivity-related features. Raycast integrates with Github, Asana, G Suite, Zoom, Jira, Calendar, and more. allowing you yo perform actions in connected services without ever leaving Raycast.
To work better with your Mac, Raycast also has a built-in clipboard manager and a window management tool. Raycast also plans to release its own API, which will allow developers to create custom integrations that will let you perform additional common tasks right from Raycast. Because they will be based on a native API, these features will likely function better than community workflows in apps like Alfred.
LaunchBar is what Spotlight Search should have been ($38, 30-day trial)
LaunchBar is like a spiritual successor to Spotlight Search. It looks great, has basic functions, and is just freaking fast. It’s tooled around speed, and designed for people who work natively in Mac. LaunchBar has the steepest learning curve of all the three apps listed here, but once you climb it, you can just fly.
LaunchBar offers one of the best implementations of local file search and file management. It lets you easily search, move, or copy files, without ever opening Finder.
In addition to performing search functions, LaunchBar can act as a replacement for app switcher. After opening LaunchBar, just use the Spacebar to switch between open apps. Using the abbreviations feature, you can open an app by typing a single letter (for instance, “S” for Safari).
The Instant Send feature lets you import any file or text to LaunchBar, then decide what to do with it by choosing from available options, including sending them to a folder, app, or email contact.
Which keyboard launcher is right for you?
If you’re just starting out with keyboard launchers, start with the free version of Alfred. If your work life is integrated with web services like GitHub, Asana, and Jira, using Raycast as a secondary tool will be worth it (you can always assign it a different keyboard shortcut).
If your aim is to work faster on the Mac (and you don’t care about plug-ins), you can’t go wrong with LaunchBar. Its combination of speed and shortcuts for searching, moving files, and manipulating clipboard are the best around.