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AutoHotKey

Posted on Friday, January 06, 2006 at 11:26 AM by Randall

I discovered this wonderful, if somewhat geeky, program when the macro feature of PowerPro decided to no longer function on my computer after I upgraded to the latest version. Since I really liked being able to type =meg and have it automatically expand into my gmail address (like the glossary feature in MS Word, but it works in in any Windows program) I soon realized I needed to find a replacement or revert to an older version of PowerPro. As I really did not want to revert as the latest version of Powerpro had some features I wanted, I began to look around the web. Unfortunately, the programs I first found were all commercial and, in my opinion, overpriced for what they did. Then I came across a mention of AutoHotKey on a message board. According to AutoHotKey's web site: AutoHotkey is a free, open-source utility for Windows. With it, you can:

  • Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks. You can write a mouse or keyboard macro by hand or use the macro recorder.
  • Create hotkeys for keyboard, joystick, and mouse. Virtually any key, button, or combination can become a hotkey.
  • Expand abbreviations as you type them. For example, typing "btw" can automatically produce "by the way".
  • Create custom data entry forms, user interfaces, and menu bars. See GUI for details.
  • Remap keys and buttons on your keyboard, joystick, and mouse.
  • Run existing AutoIt v2 scripts and enhance them with new capabilities.
  • Convert any script into an EXE file that can be run on computers that don't have AutoHotkey installed.

As hotkeys, abbrevations, and scripts are all defined manually in text files, AutoHotKey is not the most user-friendly program out there. However, it is powerful and many of its everyday features like hotkeys and abbreviations are easy to define. For example, to configure the Windows key and N as a hotkey to launch Notepad, you would put this line in AutoHotKey's config file:

#n::Run Notepad

If you would like to have "btw" expand into "by the way" when you type it, you would put this line in AutoHotKey's config file:

::btw::by the way

You can do far more complex things if you wish, especially if you don't mind programming in a somewhat cryptic scripting language. But even if you never touch the scripting language, AutoHotKey is a useful tool. The ability to expand abbreviations in almost any Windows program alone makes this program worth the hassle of downloading and setting up.

Rating: 4 Stars
Operating System: Windows 2000 or XP (not all features work in 9x)
License: Freeware (Open Source)
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.0.36.06
Web Site: http://www.autohotkey.com/

[Originally Posted Fall 2005]

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