Switching to AutoHotKey

Since late 2005 I have been using the ActiveWords utility on all my machines. This allows you to type a trigger word followed by F8 in any Windows application to open web sites, launch applications, open files and folders and so on. I found it such an invaluable tool that I actually purchased the Pro version. However there has been no update of the software since May 2006 and development seems to have stopped. ActiveWords is somewhat intrusive during reboot and there is no option to alter this. On my tablet PC it even loads an ink version which never need.

I had tried the free AutoHotKey some time ago as being a useful utility for assigning Windows hotkeys to common tasks, but the command word approach of ActiveWords is definitely superior. Remembering obscure key combinations is not productive. However, as a result of reading the Lifehacker blog with its invaluable ‘Geek to live’ motto I discovered AutoHotKey also supports ‘hotstrings’ that provide the ActiveWords equivalent features.

The scripting language for AutoHotKey is very idiosyncratic but can be grasped in an hour or two. It provides powerful and detailed control for accessing web sites, launching apps, controlling active windows, generating its own GUI windows, and manipulating text files and their contents. Being opensource there is an active AutoHotKey community that provides numerous repositories of both useful and esoteric AutoHotKey scripts.

I now have AutoHotKey installed on all my machines and share a master script between them. AutoHotKey is much more lightweight than ActiveWords and consumes fewer resources. The only downside is that AutoHotKey lacks the easy interface for creating hotstrings, you must edit the script file(s) by hand. Nevertheless the change has been beneficial and I can continue shortening my faculty’s name to ‘fob’ which generates the memorable text ‘Faculty of Business, Technology and Sustainable Development’!

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About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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