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Simple Ideas: the Big Bang & Universal Actions

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Approximately 13.8 billion years ago the universe exploded from a hot, dense soup of sub-atomic particles and has been expanding ever since. You are part of the expanding universe.

Approximately 32 months ago Universal Actions exploded from Alfred 4.5 and have been expanding ever since. You can also be part of expanding Universal Actions: find out how—and why—it's better not to remain in a hot, dense state.

There are few skeletons (just one) in this tiny cupboard in the universe: we don't start with a skeletal workflow. We have—horror—a non-standard layout for this "Simple Ideas” post.

What are Universal Actions?
At its most basic a Universal Action is an action in Alfred that acts on something you have selected: a file, a URL or text. However a Universal Action can also act on Alfred's results, file navigation or clipboard history (see below).

Alfred has a large list of inbuilt Universal Actions. You can see them by opening Alfred Preferences → Features → Universal Actions and clicking on the Actions tab. While you're there you can un-check any that you don't want to see.

How do I use a Universal Action?
1. You can first select something (a file, a URL or some text) to use a Universal Action. When you have done so you can use your Universal Actions Selection Hotkey (go to  Alfred Preferences → Features → Universal Actions: it's ⌘/ by default) and that will display a list of Universal Actions relevant to what you have selected (i.e., text, file or URL).
2. You can also use Universal Actions on Alfred's search results, File Navigation and Clipboard History. In those cases, simply use your Actions shortcut to show the Universal Actions relevant to the appropriate item. (The Actions key is set in  Alfred Preferences → Features → Universal Actions under Show Actions: and is by default.)

Here's what I see when I use Alfred to go to my ~/Downloads folder and then use :

(Your view will not be identical because you'll not have the same Universal Actions. Note also that Alfred remembers which Universal Actions you last used so the results will be ordered accordingly.)

If I use Clipboard History, choose an item with text on the clipboard and press I see this:

Note that Alfred knows whether what you have selected is a folder or text (or, indeed, a URL). The beauty of Alfred's Universal Actions is that they're omnipresent (the clue may be in the name), intelligent and instantly accessible.

I want to live in my own universe: how do I create a Universal Action?
This is very easy. Here's a really simple example which converts text to lower case <produces following skeleton from cupboard>:

We start with a Universal Action (which is probably not a major surprise to alert readers):

We give it a name (remember, that's what's going to appear in our list of Universal Actions whenever, one way or another, we select some text), choose Text as its target and Single Input Arguments. (The alternatives are Single, Single and Multiple and Multiple: you can imagine the latter two are particularly useful when we're dealing with files, for example.)

2. Connected to the smart little Transform Utility

3. …we simply then copy the result to the clipboard by using the Copy to Clipboard action in its default state.


The result, of course, is that any capital letters in the text are now converted to lower case (you don't really need another screen shot, do you?).

In conclusion
27% of the Alfred workflows I use (numbering just over 100) are Universal Actions (or use a Universal Action in addition to another trigger). Those of course, are in addition to Alfred's inbuilt Universal Actions. Perhaps that's some indication of their usefulness…and it didn't take (even) me 13.8 billion years (or even 32 months) to build them.

P.S. Alfred's File Action Trigger is important in the context of Universal Actions but you will be relieved to know there is a limit to the amount that should be crammed into one post so that will be the subject of a separate post…at some time.


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