Is Albert going to be your loyal app assistant?

Updated: October 23, 2020

A light comic book repartee, right there, ha ha. So. Let's say you have a Linux desktop. What's the one thing missing? Apart from all the other things missing? Well, it's an integrated application launcher. Now, what I just said is incorrect. Because if you're using the Plasma desktop environment, you have Krunner, and you're all set like. Unity also has some elements of this goodness available.

If you're using other desktop environments, then there's isn't such functionality in the operating system really. And so Dedo reviews Ulauncher. Dedo gets emails. Emails say Dedo wrong. Dedo should review Albert. Dedo ponders and decides to blaze forth. After all, nailing down the formula for an omnipotent and actually useful desktop assistant is very hard. Often, it's a fad, a gimmick, an extra, but never something you embrace with heart and loin. Maychance Albert will convince us otherwise. To the cave.


Setting up shop

Not trivial. The official Albert page is actually a GitHub page, neither a man nor a bat - I mean neither a proper website nor just a code repo. The information also seems to be scattered all over the place. For example, on the repo page, you won't see any install options. It's the docs that give thee what you need, but then, here, you will also hit a snag. First, there's a short list of distro repos (some of which are out of date). Second, there's a link to prebuilt binaries - but this in fact takes you to ANOTHER page (openSUSE build thingie), where you have links to yet more distro repos (which aren't listed on the GitHub page), plus the aforementioned binary builds.

This was quite wonky, but I was able to setup the Albert repo on Mint 20, and then proceed to test.

First run

Albert will tell you it collects basic telemetry. Written all nice like, why not. Then, it will detect that this be the maiden voyage, and hurl you into the Settings menu, where you can tweak a whole bunch of stuff. There's quite a lot of goodies available.


First run


Under General, you can configure a bunch of stuff, including the user interface look and feel, as well as the activation hotkey. Unfortunately, the hotkey setup isn't tied to the system shortcuts in any way, so the system ones will always take precedence. I had to try three different combos until I found a free one, to be able to use it with Albert.

General settings


This is the heart of the application really. Here, you can activate different functions, through which Albert will be able to give you value. It correctly identified that there's no Chrome installed on the box. For the other ones, each extension has its layout and options.

The official set isn't that large - and there are lots of unofficial extensions available, which presents a problem, both in terms of actual code integrity as well as discoverability. But then, this is the perennial Linux issue, and it won't be solved here.

Chrome extension

Firefox extension

System extension

Web extension

Using Albert

Now, the stuff what matters. I found out that there's a difference in how quickly Albert paints on the screen, depending on whether you launch it via right-click on the system tray icon or by using the hotkey. The former is sluggish (two seconds delay or so), the hotkey is instant. However, I've not discovered a way to keep Albert always visible, so any time you click away, it disappears.



The results are shown relatively quickly, and you also have the option of using fuzzy search, which makes things simpler. I tried doing some basic math, and it was okay. Nothing revolutionary. But then, I hit a fresh bucket of snags. One, Albert would never search through Firefox bookmarks - there's an old bug report on this one. Two, far more importantly, while the Albert page does show a translation example - there's no such functionality by default.

You don't get a translation extension, so this is an emotional rollercoaster. Reading some more, I found out that there is a third-party extension, which uses Google Cloud or some such. Well, if that's the case, then this isn't very useful. Besides, there are more accurate translation engines out there.

Fuzzy search


I played a little more, but then, I didn't find any great added value or significant boost to my productivity. Albert also paints in the center of the screen, which isn't the most convenient place, as it can obscure something you may be working on. But most importantly, because it didn't give me everything I wanted, I had to keep using other tools and applications, and then since I was already using them, there was really no need for a program that unifies basic functionality from several different applications.


Going into this experiment, I have to say I didn't expect to be mindblown. Because I know how difficult it is to create a really useful helper software. Even the mega-giants out there, with their multi-billion-dollar budgets can't do it right. But even if we keep our goal modest, Linux desktop wise, Krunner remains well ahead of the game, both in functionality and system integration.

Albert is okay. It works reasonably well, and it's no slouch. But the magic is getting the advanced functionality right. The basics are too trivial - and too overdone to matter. Also, I find the lack of a simple extensions management option tiring. I don't want to go about the net, manually downloading Python scripts and such. I don't have the time or the mental strength to commit to something like that, especially since the benefits aren't that big. The, there were also actual bugs and issues - like the hotkey binding, Firefox bookmarks and no built-in translation. For now, Albert is worth testing and playing with, but I don't see it becoming an indispensable household software any time soon.

P.S. All those who think I don't know the right name of Batman's assistant are wrong. It's Alf.


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