Raycast: How to use it and comparing to Spotlight and Alfred

Lately, an app called Raycast has been earning attention as one of those options, competing with one of the community’s long-standing favorites, Alfred.

Most Mac users encounter Spotlight, Apple’s built-in tool for searching through apps and files, to suit their requirements just fine. But power users who want nearly total control over their computers have often looked for alternatives.

When you instead open Raycast after downloading it from the firm’s website, it’ll stroll you through a quick overview, which encourages you to assign it a keyboard shortcut. The default is Option-Space, though it presents instructions on using Command-Space instead, which is the default shortcut to get up Spotlight.

After you create it through the setup screen, you’ll be greeted with Raycast’s main screen: a search bar with several recommendations on what you can do. Start typing, and those suggestions are substituted by whatever applications and commands Raycast encounters on your system.

Raycast can do a lot alone out of the box. It does, of course, do the basics: takeoff apps thru keyboard shortcuts give you answers to simple math questions and search files. But, it is unlike Spotlight. For example, Raycast doesn’t automatically lump the files it finds in your applications — you have to tell it specifically that you like to search for a file.

Here’s how you can accomplish some of the basics in Raycast:

  • To search for an app: write the app’s name and press enter to launch it.
  • To do fundamental math calculations: type them in as you would typically, e.g., “365/50” or “square root of 25.” Pressing enter copies of the result.
  • To search the web: type in your question, and highlight the Search Google option. Pressing enter will unlock it in your browser.
  • To find a file: type in File Search and press enter. Then put in the name of the file you’re looking for.

While that’ll bring you up and running with Raycast, let’s look at some fantastic elements that make it worth getting into.

SEARCHING, CONVERTING, AND MORE

If you type something like “12 PM EST to PST,” “1LB to KG,” or “20 BTC to USD” into Spotlight or a default install of Alfred, it’ll encourage you to search Google for the solution. Raycast does the transformation for you without having to send you to a browser.

SPEEDING UP SEARCH

In my experience, Raycast is about as quickly as Spotlight and gives you more control. For example, if Apple’s search tool lists what you’re looking for as the second result, you must employ arrow keys or a mouse to choose it, moving your fingers away from the home row. With Raycast, when you’re peeking at your search results, you can keep down the command key, which will list digits along the side of each outcome. Then press the number that corresponds with the result you want open.

TAKING ACTION

Pressing Command+K in Raycast unlocks a host of other actions you can carry with a search result, each with a complementary keyboard shortcut. While the number of activities in the menu can be overwhelming, there’s a “search for action” bar in the lower right-hand corner of the Raycast window to help you discover the one you want.

MANAGING RESULTS

The complexity of the app’s standard search bar is hard to escape. Using Raycast for the first time can be overwhelming because of just how many things it offers to do for you. For example, apple’s Mail app may be the first result it shows you when you search “Mail,” but underneath it are suggestions: “Do you want to search for this using Google? DuckDuckGo? Your contacts book?” You may also get unfamiliar results if you’re coming from Spotlight. In addition to your applications, Raycast also surfaces system settings like a dark mode toggle, System Preferences panes, and other controls.

USE RAYCAST’S BUILT-IN TOOLS TO MANAGE YOUR APPS

Typing Window into Raycast gives you a whole host of commands that let you manage the shape and size of the app you’re currently using. You can maximize it, set it to cover the left half of the screen, make it smaller, and more. There’s also a built-in notes app for jotting quick thoughts into a floating window. There’s even a command built into Raycast that makes a shower of confetti appear on your screen. If you delve into Raycast’s store (which you can access merely by typing Store into the search field), you can find community-built extensions that let you manage music playback, translate the text with Google Translate, or start a Zoom meeting.

ADDING YOUR COMMANDS

You can also add custom functionality to Raycast yourself without having to develop an exclusive extension for it by using Quicklinks and Script Commands. Quicklinks are relatively straightforward: they let you take what you’ve typed into Raycast and search for it on the web. Script Commands are more powerful, allowing you to write out your mini-programs and sets of actions in various languages.

MANAGING KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS

One big thing to note with the entirely customizable keyboard shortcuts is that they’re universal — they’re active even when you haven’t explicitly activated Raycast. For some purposes, that’s useful; you could assign keyboard shortcuts to Raycast’s window management tools and not even have to open it to switch an app to full screen. However, it cannot be enjoyable if you want to avoid having complex keyboard shortcuts.