Do you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again? Do you open the same program, then start another utility to help with that program, time after time, day after day? Are you visiting the same websites, or checking your email so many times a day that you lose count? Do you type the same text information so often that you could do it in your sleep?
For those of you who answer “Yes” to any of those questions, there are programs that make those tasks fast, simple, and easy to perform called Hotkey and Macro Recorder utilities.
Real time-savers, and let’s face it, who has enough time to do everything we want nowadays? With the right utility and a small amount of effort to learn and set up the program to suit your needs, you can enjoy your computing experience in a much more pleasant and productive way, and never be bored with those repetitive tasks again!
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Before we discuss hotkey utilities I should note that it is perfectly possible to create hotkeys from within Windows itself. You can find full instructions how to do this in our article How to Create a Custom Hotkey for Your Favorite Application or Folder.
AutoHotkey needs to be mentioned up front, and separated from the rest of the pack. It is not a hotkey utility, technically it is a macro utility. What this means is that it automates tasks by playing back a 'recorded' sequence of inputs, either directly into the OS or by controlling the behavior of HID (Human input devices) such as your mouse, or keyboard. It is built around the AutoIt scripting language which enables users to write a script, or download and modify others to their use.
Its technical learning curve is somewhat steep for complex use, but for basic automation it's very usable, requiring only a little patience, and some willingness to practice. In good conscience it can't be recommended as a simple hotkey utility, because it's like using a bazooka to swat a fly. However, at the same time for those looking for a much more powerful solution to their needs that cannot be solved with any of the more conventional hotkey utilities, then so long as you can do it by hand AutoHotkey can do it through a script.
Still another choice, which is not really a hotkey utility at all but achieves the same result by using "magic words", is SlickRun. SlickRun does what some users have always used a simple Windows hack to do. It enables defining aliases in Windows. It's possible to edit the environment variables to add a special folder to the paths variable, and the lnk extension to Pathext variable. Then you would just put links named intuitively into that directory, and execute them from the run dialog. For example, dls could take you to your download directory, and docs to your My Documents folder. This program does all of that for you, without having to edit environment variables, and with autocomplete thrown in for good measure, nor is it restricted to things you can create links to within the OS. If you're looking to speed up your ability to access to common parts of your computer or websites, and are keyboard oriented, then this is a great program to look into.
For average users a good choice is PS Hot Launch VVL. This is a free utility that allows you to define your own hotkeys so that a single key press can launch an application, insert commonly used text, change your audio volume, or just about anything else. The program requires Win95/98/ME or WinNT/2000/XP, and is an excellent performer even on slow machines. PS Hot Launch is the perfect alternative to the Start menu and the Quick Launch panel.
A second option for average users is Qliner Hotkeys. It's strength is ease of use, wide support for international keyboard layouts, plus a handy reminder key that flashes up your current hotkey assignments. Just hold the Windows key for three seconds and up pops an on-screen keyboard display with icons on the keys that are configured. You can use this not only to remind you of hotkey combinations, but also for Drag and Drop configuration. On the minus side, it's not quite as flexible as PS Hot Launch. It runs under Windows 2003, Windows XP, and Windows Vista, but requires that Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 be installed.
Other Products to be Reviewed
- Remote Keys
You might want to check out these articles too:
PS Hot Launch VVL
hotkey, hot key, macro recorder, macro utility, free launcher, freeware