Best Free Hotkey or Macro Recorder Utility


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

  • AutoIt
  • Clavier+
  • Actionaz
  • HotkeyP
  • HotKeyz
  • HoeKey
  • Remote Keys
Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide


Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Heavily customizable, more a programmable automation utility than simple macro utility.
Has a steep learning curve.
2.51 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
v1.1.11.01 released 25 June, 2013 View the changelog here
Windows 95-Vista


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Enables defining aliases which are entered into a text box. Has autocomplete for defined aliases.
Does not allow hotkey definitions, only aliases.
643 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
View the changelog here v4.1.4.0 beta available now
Windows 2000 to 7

PS Hot Launch VVL

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple program that performs well even on slow machines.
More a start menu/quick launch replacement.
711 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95-Vista

Qliner Hotkeys

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple hotkey launcher tool
Requires .NET Framework
3.50 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Requires Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0
Windows XP-Vista

This software review is copy-edited by Ian Richards. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.


hotkey, hot key, macro recorder, macro utility, free launcher, freeware

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I vote for HotKeyP.

HotKeyP meets all of my needs including superseding native Windows Win+ key assignments. It is light weight and simple.

Thanks to Stamimail for the recommendation.

What I like in a Hot Key Utility is that ability to supersede native Windows Win+ key assignments.

I had been using WireKeys ( for years. Other than occasional cursor changing to a dot, it is great. It has many other features, but I seldom use them.

PS Hot Launch VVL and WinHotKey are OK, but neither can supersede native Windows Win+ key assignemnts.

When I created a script, following the exact directions in the Help file, it quit with the message "unrecognized command in Line 1." I'm not a dope or a neophyte--I'm a retired professor whose first computer was a TRS-80 bought in 1978. It seems to me that the instructions, followed to the letter, should not result in an error right off the bat.

I feel slightly guilty, as I downloaded Qliner, and installed it, and -
(a) forgot about it, and
(b) failed to read the site editor's review of it.
Bearing that (I knew not what it do'ist) in mind, I was thinking what would be a cool program (in the Hotkey/Launch category, Stamimail).
Being a VB6 programmer, I started analyzing what could I write (and perhaps share with you guys) in that category. So I says to myself, what about something that appears in your face, when you hold down some key for a few seconds. I then was curious as to what would happen if I held down the Windows key, and Lo and Behold Qliner popped up in my face. Looks like "I missed it by that much".
The program I was contemplating creating, would have been more of a Launcher (documents, programs, web pages etc), and I would probably be intending users would click the desired action, with their mouse. But allow some hot keys as well.
Is that sounding interesting to you guys ?
Are you aware of some free program, that does all that already ?
PS I note that Qliner, does NOT allow you to click an action. I reckon it should.
PPS Does the rising of the Windows menu after Qliner closes, annoy any of you ?
Can anyone suggest an alternative key(or combination) for holding down ?

I never use the Windows key alone to bring up the Qliner keyboard. I use either Windows+Z or Window+Q to bring it up. Doing it this way never brings up the Windows menu for me. And if you haven't checked it out by now, you can check out how to use scripting with qliner at their website, though I haven't had a need to use it myself.

Hi crombierob,
I think HotkeyP works a little different, but still...
What is the advantage of what you have in mind, on HotkeyP?

To site editor:
I think you cannot put all those apps in the same category.
Each very different from the other..
AutoIt and Autohotkey looked to me as Automation and Scripting Language, while Qliner and HotkeyP are looked to me more as kind of Hotkeys Applications.

PS Hot Launch VVL
McAfee Site Adviser was very alarmed
Anyone downloaded it recently, and had it checked by your 'checkers' ?

McAfee Site Adviser is so riddled with false positives as to be IMO next to useless. :) MC - Site Manager.

Thanks for checking that out for me.
Sorry it took time for me to get back to it.
I have just installed it.
I like my Sys Tray icons to respond to a single click, but apart from the lack of that, it might be OK.
I will report back, if anyone is interested.


In case someone wants to use Qliner on a Windows 7 64 bit system, just type in the words "bits and beers" in quotes. And also the word Qliner. They explain how to do it.

Ditto, the clipboard extender is fine for my needs. I assign quick paste numbers to saved bits of text. I hit Ctrl~ then hit a number and it's pasted.

My Favorite right now is HotkeyP.
Support Win key and mouse.

QLiner is by far my favorite of all the shortcut programs I've used. The pop-up black virtual keyboard is beautiful, easy to use and just a whole lot of fun! What works best for me is to associate shortcuts with certain keys, like assigning the Recycle Bin to the Delete key, my chess game to the C key, YouTube gets the Y key, MoffSoft Calculator to the Enter key, not to mention certain documents, photos, etc, etc. I don't have any icons on my desktop thanks to Vista Start Menu and QLiner Hotkeys (a desktop with icons on it and the taskbar showing is not very appealing to me, and definitely not enjoyable to work on). All of the shortcuts are easy to remember because they are each associated with the Windows key only, and therefore very, very easy to remember. Personally I think QLiner is one of the best programs ever made! Oh, the short tutorial is on their website. I'm using version 2.0.1 for Vista. The over 90 possible shortcuts are more than sufficient for me. Ethervane ActiveHotKeys tells me there are something like 2000 shortcuts on my computer (not all of which are active of course). I have no intention of memorizing hundreds of shortcuts. Just the essentials please!

Frank Tracy

I know some people have a problem with the .NET Framework, but my computer is six years old and runs like brand new, so for me, it's no problem. And I use my computer a LOT!

Thank you for your comment Louie G. I agree about .NET Framework. There is so much paranoia about it. I have it on two desktops and a laptop and I'm still living. :D None of these machines have top end specs either. MC - Site Manager.

which one will best post an ad on the Gumtree website. i have to copy and paste text into a box, copy and paste a photo, enter address, preferences etc, but no captha security code