What makes Raycast special?

I’ve been using Raycast religiously for several months now and love it! Hearing the latest MPU got me thinking again about what makes it different for me. IMO, it stands out from the other launchers for three basic reasons:

  • cmd k: having multiple actions available to you under this little keyboard shortcut provides a lot of power in a progressively revealed set of options if you need them.
  • Text-based custom scripting: You can write any custom scripts using common scripting languages or programming languages. If you do any light development with node.js, for instance, you can write a script for Raycast for your personal use without having to learn anything about Raycast. Use all your normal npm libraries, etc, and that’s it! Yes, you can hook scripts up to Alfred, but for whatever reason the GUI editor has always been off-putting for me. As a part-time dev, writing everything in a normal text editor is much more comfortable. (I may be misremembering how Alfred works here; let me know if I am!)
  • Tech stack of store extensions: Official store extensions are built on one of the most popular web dev stacks: React and Typescript. There’s a fully-developed Raycast API for creating extensions using this stack and it makes all official extensions work and look very similarly. While devs will need to understand the Raycast UI library, etc., there are thousands of thousands of developers who write in React and Typescript every day and writing up a quick integration with a popular web service is not difficult to do. This encourages integrations with web platforms and massively extends Raycast without requiring much from either Raycast or the extension creators. That’s not to say Raycast is only web-focused, but it begs to be connected to nearly any service with a web API because of its stack.

What else would you add to this list?

2 Likes

I was wondering this as well, but from the opposite angle.

As an Alfred user, I nonetheless have downloaded Raycast, and am trying it out in conjunction with Alfred. But I’m struggling to find much that it can do, that Alfred can’t?

The Cmd+K option that Viticci also mentioned, is a core part of Alfred functionality as well. You set the additional shortcut-key, but triggering it reveals a host of further, context-dynamic actions that can be taken on the selected (or whatever) file/instance/selection etc.

Obviously, both have workflows. Raycast seems to be the current hotness at the moment, so no doubt much is happening on the extension side of things — but then again — I’m not too clear on how far ahead(?) Raycast is (if al all), since I haven’t yet worked through the 40-odd pages of extension on the website.

You no doubt make a compelling point about the language being used, and the ease of transferring/adapting extensions for many current programmers. This would never have occurred to me. And Alfred saw plenty of older workflows that were dependent on Python 2 break, when Apple Silicon arrived. So, Raycast having less “legacy” dependence is a definite plus.

But my current summary is that Raycast by all accounts works really well with Shortcuts, and is apparently super with window resizing. And the extension’s library is growing. But for me, this isn’t good enough to offset my muscle memory of using Alfred (currently), and given the former’s maturity — there are (for me, again) still core workflows available that work with Alfred, that don’t (yet) function in Raycast.

I hope you will forgive my posting here from a contrasting viewpoint, but am sincerely interested in your question. I feel I am missing something key, about what Raycast brings over Alfred. Or maybe not. So looking forward to seeing what comes out here!

11 Likes

I think that’s a great take! I was never a big Alfred user and I think the inertia to change for people who are is much greater! If you’re dependent on workflows you can’t yet do in Raycast, you’d have no reason to switch.

I do think the language support is the biggest thing in Raycast’s favor. It takes away the “magic” if I can just go read the code and make my own tweaks without having to learn a bunch of syntax or drag and drop GUI blocks. It feels more transparent to me (or maybe I was just too lazy as a light Alfred user took look through the code?).

1 Like

I’ve just started using Raycast, and so far I like it. It doesn’t feel special compared to Alfred, it just seems a bit fresher and it does the simple tasks I love reliably:

  • Launch apps
  • File search (I prefer Alfred here, but maybe I’ve not set Raycast up properly to do automatic file searching)
  • Emojis
  • Calculator
  • Conversions (this stopped working for me in Alfred)
    I never got the hang of Alfred scripting, but Raycast looks more approachable for me. We’ll see.

It’s not special for me, but it’s marginally better.

3 Likes

I think my post could have been better titled, “What could make Raycast special?” because I think it’s more about the likelihood that future scripting will make it special for devs.

But this is a nice list.

The nice thing about Alfred, Raycast, etc., is we have so many great tools for the mac! Either will serve you so well! It’s a great time to be a mac user!

4 Likes

I spent a couple weeks using Raycast over Alfred. I even ported an extension from Alfred to Raycast, and vice versa. Overall I still prefer Alfred, but the gap is narrowing.

Alfred excels (for me) at:

  • Searching for files, narrowing searches, and finding content within files.
  • Taking action on files/text from anywhere in the system.
  • Taking action on items you find within Alfred.
  • Snippets are far superior (but Raycast is making a major overhaul so likely won’t be the case in the next 2-3 months).
  • Clipboard manager is more functional with rich-text, image, and file support.
  • Themes. Raycast is visually hard to look at at times, and I can’t quite pinpoint it. Sometimes it’s too small, other times things feel too cluttered. I like being able to customize Alfred’s visuals.
  • Some extensions are better integrated: 1Password 8, Apple Music, etc… They just show more useful information and seem to be more well rounded.
  • Missing extensions: This will get solved over time too, but some extensions just don’t exist for Raycast, like Default Folder X, DEVONthink, OmniFocus, etc…
  • Syncing support. I can sync Alfred between Macs. Right now that’s not possible with Raycast. It’s a manual export/import process.

Raycast excels (for me) at:

  • Multi-step workflows. The hacks in place to make multi-step workflows work in Alfred are kludgy at best. Where as Raycast has beautiful descriptive window views that allow you to step through and take multiple actions and view different types of content. They can even include form elements.
  • A centralized extension store. Alfred is in need of this badly. Having to wade through forum posts, Github repos, blogs, etc… to find extensions is a chore. Then you have to figure out whether it’s the latest version or not, and what dependency does it require that you’ll need to install.
  • Extension API. I think this is the key to Raycast’s success so far. There is a specific Raycast API that developers can tap into that allows you to essentially make an app within an app. It doesn’t feel like you’re duct taping scripts together.

All that said, I think Raycast might be the future for launchers. Unless Alfred can solve some of its limitations with extensions and future-proofing their functionality, and making them more easily accessible, I think Raycast will eventually overtake them. The starting point with Raycast seems to be to fix the shortcomings with apps like LaunchBar and Alfred first, and then improve on the staples. I think they’re on the right track, and making huge strides with every new release. So we shall see.

Ultimately I’m sticking with Alfred for now, but may make the switch to Raycast eventually.

16 Likes

What a helpful breakdown! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up! Very helpful to hear from someone who’s used both so in-depth!

1 Like

I’m concerned with the future of Raycast and how they plan to monetize, and whether it will be enough. Currently, they seem to be planning some sort of team plan, priced per user, but I don’t see shared snippets being a game changer for teams and warranting the price. I also am struggling to think of anything that would add more value to a team plan, but that’s why I don’t work for Raycast.

Alfred, on the other hand, costs more, but they seem to be doing well as a company and aren’t receiving VC funding as far as I can tell.

I’m wary of adopting new tools by startups these days, only to get burned a few years later.

2 Likes

I’m an Alfred user testing out Raycast. My take on it is that it is fantastic, but cumbersome and without a clear future. Despite the VC funding and pricing model, I find it annoying to have to navigate through the Raycast menus. For one, it doesn’t allow default searching for files, like in Alfred. Next to app launching, this is my most common use of an app launcher. The fact I have to take an extra step to select file search and then search for my file interrupts workflow. Many people have praised Raycast’s window resizing features, but I don’t find them to be anything special given the plethora of apps already out there that do window resizing which I’ve trained muscle memory for.

1 Like

This was one of the biggest muscle memory breaks I had to make between Alfred and Raycast. Raycast doesn’t expose anything without a modifier (alias / command). So you have to get into the habit of doing one of the following…

Looking for a file?

  1. Type search query: folder name → Select command to use: File Search
  2. Search for command: File Search → Type search query: file name

Looking for a contact?

  1. Type search query: name → Select command to use: Contacts
  2. Search for command: Contacts → Type search query: name

Where as with Alfred, you can have all of that exposed by default, so all you have to type is folder name or person's name and then you can immediately see what you’re looking for, and then tab to take action on it.

Raycast does work, but I do find the initial friction of remembering the reverse (more specific) order to be laborious at first. After I got used to it, it wasn’t quite as bad of a transition.

2 Likes

After reading this post, I felt like Alfred’s UI was a bit old. But, I did remember that you can customize it and now Alfred looks slick and spam brand new.

Raycast doesn’t allow for this kind of customization and I’d really like to see this in the future.

Additionally, when you move the Raycast search window around, it doesn’t reset to the centre and I can’t find a setting for this. The window also doesn’t respond to centring window commands so, we’ll, not it is perpetually off centre for me…

1 Like

This prompted me to shorten it slightly for Raycast.

Route A:
I set a single space as the alias for file search.
Now, I launch Raycast, press space then return, simply space space, and I’m in file search.

Route B:
I set option-space as the hotkey for file search.
Now, I can get straight into that.

I still like Alfred’s fallback system better, but I might grow to prefer this.
I’ve also set Raycast to “Pop to root search” immediately, since I (think) I prefer always starting from scratch. Maybe I should give the default 90 second delay a chance though.

3 Likes

Thanks to all the Alfred users on this thread for confirming why I don’t need to look at Raycast. Yet, at least.

People have been talking about the challenge of changing from something you’re used to. For me, the challenge still is making myself take advantage of all the features in Alfred, many, many years after I bought it. I’ve recently started relying on the clipboard manager again. I think I do this every few years or so. :laughing:

Now after reading the thread, I’m thinking it’s time to train my muscle memory to use Universal Actions regularly. I took a brief look when they launched but had forgotten about them!

7 Likes

+1

1 Like

I think that’s a valid criticism. Although I have grown to love Raycast, it still needs to prove itself. Alfred, on the other hand, doesn’t.

As to the funding, I think because of the reasons I mentioned up top (especially because extensions are built in Typescript and React), any standard web dev today could build tons of custom tooling for their company using Raycast. I say this as someone who convinced my company to buy Keyboard Maestro for everyone on my team and has custom coded probably 25 admin tools for my team (this was one, FWIW: Custom HTML Prompt to search Zendesk Articles - #2 by Cpenned). The problem is that my code is mostly hacked together using random web technologies and KM actions, so you have to know KM and have access to my original files to update it. If I would have written these tools using Raycast, the custom apps would be available and alterable by nearly any web dev today. I built most of our tooling using my preferred web tooling, built the files, and then added them as custom HTML prompts in Keyboard Maestro. While powerful, that path obscures the source code and isn’t easy to alter without ME doing something—not a great selling point for a company. I’m getting into the weeds too much, but I think my original reasons up top (especially number 3) are the hope for the company-funded route. If companies can have web devs on their team quickly spin up tooling for their company in such a common dev stack, it might make an investment make sense.

Time will tell if Raycast will hang, but for now I’m excited about its future and direction.

3 Likes

This is my exact approach! And pop to root is my preference, but maybe I’m not doing it right? :man_shrugging::joy:

Totally, fair. Alfred is the standout classic in my mind and already has support for nearly everything—either through native or community actions.

After interacting with all you great Alfred users today, my sense is if you’re getting into the launcher game today these are the choices that make the most sense:

  1. If you want your launcher to do nearly everything and be completely customizable, go with Alfred. It’s the standard for a reason.
  2. If you are a dev and want to write your own custom extensions and scripts or use custom extensions and scripts using modern tech stacks you already know and are comfortable with, go with Raycast. I already code daily and Raycast takes nearly zero effort to write my own powerful custom integrations. I’d love more customization, options, etc., but I’m more interested in a launcher I can make my own using tools I already know and love. And that’s why Raycast has connected so well with me.

You really can’t go wrong. And that’s the beauty of it. :smile:

1 Like

Admittedly I never got too far into Alfred, but for me I feel like the tech stack is the biggest deciding factor. Myself, I love Raycast’s support for powerful extensions with nice UIs from a React/TypeScript API. I also feel like Raycast is a lot less “entrenched” in the macOS power user community and is also open to expanding support across platforms in the future (this is not intended as a criticism of Alfred).

You can use the “Reset Raycast Window Position” command.

1 Like

Completely agree about the tech stack! I think that is the feature of Raycast. That definitely won’t and shouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I’m a huge fan for exactly that reason! :slight_smile:

1 Like

I should also add that publishing an extension to their store is a great process from a user perspective; their reviewers have a lot of useful feedback to improve the UI/UX of your extension and the back-and-forth during submission is fast and friendly :slight_smile:

1 Like