November 2, 2006

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Hotkey heaven
Five steps to keyboarding nirvana
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

I don’t know about you, but I hate using a mouse.

It’s not that I long for the command line days of yore; I’d just rather not take my fingers off the keyboard to do some simple task like pause my music, navigate a Web site or make my text bold.

Fortunately, keyboard shortcuts offer a way to wean yourself off the mouse. Hippo now presents five steps to faster, more efficient carpal tunnel syndrome.

• Step 1: Survey the landscape Built into Windows are many pre-existing keyboard shortcuts. You probably know about Ctrl+C to copy things and Ctrl+V to paste them. You might even hit the Windows key to access the Start menu. But did you know that pressing the Left Alt, Left Shift and Print Screen keys together shifts Windows into its high contrast display mode? Yes, that and many more useful commands are listed at support.microsoft.com/kb/126449. Many Web pages document those shortcuts as well, but their addresses are even more ironically long to type.
• Step 2: Customize your shortcuts If all you need is a quick way to launch your favorite programs, you’ve probably already made desktop shortcuts. Right-click one of these and select “Properties.” See that empty space next to “Shortcut key”? Ooh yeah! Type any letter, number or other character you like in there and it’ll automagically generate a key combination for launching that application — something like Ctrl+Alt+Q or whatever.
• Step 3: Install a hotkey manager There are literally dozens of little programs out there that let you define your own keyboard shortcuts, or “hotkeys,” for doing stuff. Many are even free, which is good. Personally, I like Hotkey Helper from www.wpgsoft.net. It helps you launch any Web address or program from a hotkey of your choosing. You can also control Windows Media Player or Winamp even when they’re not the top window, quickly shut down your PC and automate a few other functions. What’s really nice is that text briefly flashes up on your screen whenever you hit a hotkey. It just looks slick and well thought out with a focus on a simple user interface, unlike a lot of freeware.
• Step 4: Record some macros Many programs — like Microsoft Office since, like, forever — allow users to record macros, or specific actions that can then be assigned a keyboard shortcut or even a toolbar button. Basically, you find “Record New Macro” in your menu bar (usually under Tools), hit the record button, then do whatever action you want to automate. When you’re done, hit stop. It can be as simple as assigning a keyboard shortcut to a menu option that doesn’t have one or complex formatting jobs that normally take ten minutes.
• Step 5: Go code crazy This is sort of an extension of step 3, but AutoHotKey (www.autohotkey.com) is definitely two steps above Hotkey Helper or any of its kin. Each of those steps is about a mile high, too. You can assign a hotkey to pretty much anything, from automatically moving files around to making your mouse cursor click at specific coordinates in any window. To get these things done, though, you have to edit a script file, so you might be paging through the online help system for a while. If you’ve done any kind of programming before, this should be cake for you.

When you’re done with these five steps, you will have wasted far more time than you could ever hope to gain by actually using keyboard shortcuts. Welcome to a world of productivity!


10/26/2006 Computer to go

10/19/2006 Tech news roundup
10/12/2006 A different drummer
10/05/2006 Who needs TiVo?
09/28/2006 Disk drives without disks
09/21/2006 Movies, just click your mouse!
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08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
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08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
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