Spotlight is the default system-wide search functionality that lets you find files, search system settings, look up definitions, and perform calculations. While it’s pretty reliable, it has a bunch of features up its sleeve and performs most of these tasks well; it’s far from perfect.

best Spotlight alternatives for Mac
IMAGE: Bram Naus (Unsplash)

Here’s where third-party application launchers come into play. With them, not only can you search for files and apps, but you can also perform a range of other operations. For instance, depending on what launcher you’re using, you can use it to access your clipboard history, expand text snippets, automate repetitive tasks, and search more efficiently, among other things.

Best Spotlight Alternatives for Mac

If you’re interested in replacing Spotlight with something more powerful, or you’re not much reliant on Spotlight—due to lack of features—but would like to start using an application launcher, here are the best Spotlight alternatives on Mac.

1. Alfred

Alfred

Alfred is the most popular application launcher for macOS. It’s one of the must-have productivity tools that helps you supercharge your Mac and increase your productivity.

In its simplest form, with Alfred, you can launch apps and find files on your Mac or on the web. It learns your usage behavior and prioritizes results accordingly. All the results against your queries are presented instantly in a list, from where you can browse, preview, or take actions on them, right from your keyboard.

As additional features, Alfred gives you clipboard history: to view items you’ve copied to your clipboard previously; and snippets: to expand a text snippet or abbreviation into its longer equivalent.

Talking about advanced operations, Alfred is feature-packed with powerful workflows, which allow you to perform tasks more efficiently and automate the repetitive ones. You can either create these workflows yourself or download the ones created by the community.

Alfred Feature Highlights

  • Check spellings and find definitions of words
  • Quick previewing
  • System commands to help you perform system operations quicker
  • Hotkeys
  • Custom themes
  • Shell integration to run shell commands
  • Run macOS shortcuts

Free, Paid
Download Alfred

2. Raycast

Raycast

Raycast is a free application launcher for Mac. If you’re overwhelmed with Alfred and don’t want to spend on its powerpack to unlock all its features, Raycast is the best alternative to Spotlight and Alfred—albeit with a limited feature set—you must check out.

One of the things that stands out about Raycast, compared to Spotlight, is that it’s lightweight and snappy, which lets you look up things and perform operations quickly. Plus, you can use quick links to quickly open links in browsers or open projects in their respective programs.

Besides, similar to Alfred, Raycast also offers system commands to help you quickly perform certain system operations on your Mac. If required, you have the option to write scripts to control various apps and connect to the web APIs to simplify your daily workflow.

Raycast Feature Highlights

  • Access to clipboard history
  • Ability to create snippets to type faster
  • Commands to organize desktop and resize windows
  • Perform calculations
  • Create floating notes
  • Quick access to your daily schedule

Free
Download Raycast

3. LaunchBar

LaunchBar

LaunchBar is another great alternative to Spotlight search. It packs in plenty of features to ensure you perform most of your day-to-day operations quickly and efficiently.

LaunchBar lets you look up documents, apps, and bookmarks using short abbreviations, albeit it isn’t as fast at returning results as the other two app launchers. In addition, it has a powerful file manager, which lets you query file metadata and perform operations like copying, moving, and renaming files and folders easily.

Similar to Raycast, LaunchBar also shows you your reminders and lets you manage your events, so you never miss out on what’s on your agenda for the day. And, you get the ability to create or use custom scripts to extend Raycast’s functionality and use it for automating repetitive tasks.

LaunchBar Feature Highlights

  • Adaptive abbreviation search
  • Access to clipboard history
  • Instant Send to share items quickly
  • Calculator
  • Perform quick file manipulations

Free (30-day trial), Paid ($29)
Download LaunchBar

4. QuickSilver

QuickSilver

QuickSilver is one of the oldest application launchers for Mac. Even so, it’s still a better application launcher than Spotlight and does more than Spotlight can currently do. However, there’s a catch: it isn’t as effective in its simplest form, so you need to install plugins to make the most of it.

In terms of usability, searching for items in QuickSilver is a little different than most application launchers. Rather than entering your query in the search window, here, you need to first enter the query in the search tab and then enter an action you want to perform on it in the action tab. Then, based on the available options, choose an action and hit return to perform it. As you use QuickSilver, it learns from your search behavior and shows more relevant results next time.

What further adds to QuickSilver’s highlight is that you can perform extended searches on it, meaning you can search for a folder on your Mac and then look up items inside it while you’re in there.

QuickSilver Feature Highlights

  • Extended search
  • Search-based action recommendations
  • Plugins to extend the scope of use
  • Ability to set triggers for frequently-used commands
  • Support for AppleScript to let you attach triggers to scripts

Free
Download QuickSilver

Search Mac and Perform Operations More Efficiently

Over the years, Apple has introduced changes to Spotlight to make it a better and more functional search utility. However, these changes have been slow to come out and weren’t strictly intentioned to extend Spotlight’s functionality, which provoked the need for a better search utility for Mac.

As a result, if you want to make the most of your Mac as of now, wherein you can find items quickly, execute advanced workflows right from the search, and perform repetitive operations efficiently, you need to replace Spotlight search with third-party app launchers, such as those mentioned in this list.

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