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Best Free Hotkey or Macro Recorder Utility

 
Introduction

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!

 
In a Hurry?

Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion

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

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

AutoHotkey
5
 
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.
http://www.autohotkey.com/
1.1.11.01
2.51 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95-Vista

v1.1.11.01 released 25 June, 2013
View the changelog here

SlickRun
4.5
 
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.
http://www.bayden.com/SlickRun/
4.1.3.0
643 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 2000 to 7

View the changelog here
v4.1.4.0 beta available now

PS Hot Launch VVL
3.5
 
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.
1.1
711 KB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95-Vista
Qliner Hotkeys
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Simple hotkey launcher tool
Requires .NET Framework
2.0.1
3.50 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP-Vista

Requires Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0

 
Editor

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

 
Tags

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

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Comments

by crombierob on 15. March 2014 - 4:33  (115023)

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 ?
Rob
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 ?

by Stamimail on 14. March 2014 - 14:00  (115009)

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.

by crombierob on 22. December 2013 - 12:30  (113115)

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

by MidnightCowboy on 22. December 2013 - 15:55  (113119)

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

https://www.virustotal.com/en/url/e7af141c573b7629ab7d2abc937ed310c34c02...
http://www.urlvoid.com/scan/pssoftlab.com/

by crombierob on 3. January 2014 - 16:04  (113387)

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.

Thanks,
Rob

by Louie G on 8. December 2013 - 13:50  (112842)

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.

by dlibertine on 23. October 2013 - 15:56  (111698)

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.

by Stamimail on 21. October 2013 - 20:45  (111651)

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

by Louie G on 6. September 2013 - 4:24  (110548)

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!

by MidnightCowboy on 6. September 2013 - 4:57  (110549)

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.

by superqaz on 1. April 2013 - 14:03  (106725)

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

by Merovingian (not verified) on 3. July 2012 - 21:24  (95694)

I am still looking for a good way to use a 2nd keyboard for macro's, I mean to completely strip it down so none of the keys will go back to their default action. I'm not sure how or if it's even possible with autohotkey. I would expect so since all hardware has its own ID. But how to make a script that only works for a specified keyboard and not on my default keyboard.

For exaple, linking a secondary keyboard directly to a game, or skype. So it is not nessesary to [alt]-[tab] to another window from a fullscreen aplication or so.

by From Australia (not verified) on 8. July 2012 - 11:05  (95899)

Interesting concept, but possibly Windows recognises all keyboard input as the same thing, regardless of how many keyboards you have connected.
If you find a way to have the input from two different keyboards being recognised independently, you would be very clever indeed

by Dennis Go, MD (not verified) on 11. June 2012 - 15:37  (94688)

I've always used Autohotkey on my desktop. On my Fujitsu tablet, it has never worked using Dragon Medical (voice recognition) or using the onscreen keyboard and stylus. I've just discovered Texter appears to work using the onscreen keyboard and stylus input.

by J_L on 15. October 2011 - 21:48  (81478)

I've added more Macro utilities at 22.10. (http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/probably-best-free-security-list...) in case anyone's interested.

by KAI (not verified) on 15. October 2011 - 12:47  (81445)

how about hotkeyP ?

by Beagle (not verified) on 8. October 2011 - 10:41  (81103)

Clavier is all I need. Easy to learn and use.

by Redted17 (not verified) on 17. March 2012 - 7:56  (90740)

Except that it doesn't work on Windows 7; even though it allows you to specify start-up with Windows, it steadfastly refuses to do it.

by dfiljdfj (not verified) on 4. October 2011 - 22:34  (80893)

Okay none of these worked for me. Not. One.

I do not want to learn a new programming language; in the time that it would take, I could have just typed in the text manually over and over and be done with it. I just want a program that does this:

Define hotkey
Hotkey does this: insert predefined text

That's it. Not one of these programs is capable of doing this.

How hard could it be?

[edit] Poor taste comment about a medical condition removed.

by uktech (not verified) on 7. November 2011 - 12:24  (82854)

Hi - Texter will (sort of) do this - it's from Lifehacker. Texter is very simple and dedicated application for exactly this purpose: you define 'strings' to be replaced with text - so you could define "addr" to mean your address and texter would replace the letters 'addr' with your full, multi line address, for example.

I find this actually easier than a hotkey - mainly because you can define your own letter combinations, that actually mean something.

It's Windows only, I'm afraid.

I'm not affiliated with Lifehacker in any way - I just use Texter to get things done!

by oblivion on 14. October 2011 - 7:10  (81390)

Save something like this in a textfile with an ahk extension:

!j::hello world{enter}

That does what you want (assuming alt-J) and the learning curve consists of a relatively tiny amount of reading and thinking.

Autohotkey has a steep learning curve IF you want to use it for more than defining hotkeys to do straightforward things. Otherwise, it could hardly be easier.

by J_L on 10. August 2011 - 21:07  (77407)

http://fungusware.com/index.php/products/filesavvy/

Never tried it myself, but it should fit on your review.

by From Australia (not verified) on 9. August 2011 - 12:14  (77291)

I recommend Hotkeyz, after trying PS Hot Launch VVL, and Clavier

Hotkeyz does all the important things, including loading a webpage, inserted user defined text, even shutting down the computer, even for the novice

Clavier may have a faster text entry function (ie hotkey copies user defined text into a field) than Hotkeyz, but isnt as comprehensive

Note: I had initially tried AutoHotKey - probably a good program but way too complicated for a novice who just wants basic functions, like loading a webpage ! Learning curve too high for novices who dont have time to learn programming. The website also has too few step by step tutorials and programming CODE examples, for the basic 10 functions most people want.

PS Hot Launch VVL was fine, but not as comprehensive as Hotkeyz

I avoid anything that needs NET framework. If a program isnt elegant enough to stand on its own, its not worth it. I try to avoid bloat on my computers. Thus I avoided Qliner's Hotkeys

by TapanVerma on 7. August 2011 - 17:03  (77092)
by Paul M (not verified) on 10. June 2011 - 18:04  (73607)

GREAT stuff. I've been looking for a really great hotkey prog since moving to w7. I used to use one simply called "Hotkeys" in my XP days. Your website - and all the comments - have been very helpful.

Right now I'm trying Clavier+. It's actually very close to "Hotkeys", and works in w7.

Thanks so much.

by Tony Isn't a Phony (not verified) on 8. April 2011 - 4:03  (69716)

Autohotkey might be malware. I read elsewhere that it lets script writers write to registry.

And because it lets script writers make compiled versions (.exe), anyone with evil intent could bundle a rootkit with an .exe version of the script.

Once the .exe gets launched, the bundled rootkit could write to the registry, a boot entry to part of the hard drive hidden from the Master File Table and the Windows APIs used to detect running processes.

In short, Autohotkey might be too dangerous to risk using it.

by Ian (not verified) on 20. January 2012 - 8:21  (87456)

"Windows might be malware. I read elsewhere that it lets programmers write to registry. Anyone with evil intent could bundle a rootkit in an .exe. In short, Windows might be too dangerous to risk using it."
/sarcasm

Come on, seriously? ANY .exe can do something malicious; don't download compiled versions of AHK scripts if you're that concerned, but then you'd better not download any compiled software at all. As with anything online, good judgement is all that's required.

by J_L on 10. August 2011 - 20:54  (77405)

You can say the same to all programming languages.

Also, since the scripts are compiled, it doesn't matter if you're using it or not to get infected.

In short, it's a foolish reason not to use it.

by Shahar (not verified) on 8. April 2011 - 16:02  (69769)

Does the fact that you can write malicious scripts make AutoHotKey itself malware?
I wouldn't think so.

by Juergen (not verified) on 11. February 2011 - 12:20  (66185)

Was looking for a simple shortcut utility, Clavier+ is my favourite, light and easy but powerful, just smart!