As you may have read, I’ve been testing several “key launcher” type of utilities for about two weeks so far. Although a key feature (sorry — no pun intended) of several of these utilities is an “autotext” feature, this is the least of my needs for this type of app (coincidentally, “app” was just expanded to “application” as I was typing this ). I’m mainly focused on launching applications. This is just a short update about my first impressions. I still want to dig more deeply into each before I decide which one(s) to stick with. I’m trying several out on both my main home and work PCs, and I have to say that all of these have impressed me so far:
When I first started, I was most impressed by the ease of use and clean UI of DirectAccess. I love the drag and drop capabilities for adding new keywords from any browser’s address line, desktop icons, and files in explorer. Although there are a few cases where this doesn’t work (ie: Start menu shortcuts; but it does work from the Start menu’s MRU list), it saves me many keystrokes and navigation steps for adding shortcuts. I changed the default “confirm” key from F8 to SHIFT, which I find to be a lot more convenient. I have noticed a potential problem while renaming files on the desktop (I can’t type at times), but I’m not sure if DirectAccess is entirely to blame. Closing and re-opening seems to solve this, but there’s something going on.
I’ve received great feedback from the ActiveWords team. They are aware of the competition, and want to explain how I can do similar things that I can do with DirectAccess. For a few days, I was enjoying my experience with ActiveWords a little more than DirectAccess, but soon realized it was mainly due to the ability of preceding my keystrokes with an “activator” keystroke, which I’m used to with SlickRun. I’m a bit leery about just typing anywhere, because I don’t believe that these utilities cleanly remove the keystrokes. Within some apps, these keystrokes actually perform a function (such as navigating down a list). “Unmodified” files I’ve had open when typing commands for DirectAccess or ActiveWords get their “dirty bit” set, even though they delete the keystrokes when acting upon the commands. Most editors revert open documents back to their saved state when keystrokes are “undone”, but the act of deleting keystrokes doesn’t always work like that. I’m just afraid of unexpected modifications to documents. So I’m now using the “activator” keystroke of SHIFT-SHIFT in ActiveWords before entering a command. It’s still easier than the chord keys I have to press for SlickRun, though, and I know explicitly when I’m about to enter a command. If DirectAccess had this feature, it would likely be the leader for me so far. An issue with ActiveWords is the delay before it processes keystrokes, but I have to dig through the settings more to see about adjusting that. The UI seems to be showing its age, also.
This is was introduced to me by Jarvon, who commented on my original post. This is a pretty impressive utility, with very strong documentation for free software. But even though it has support for launching apps, its major strength is in autotext; low priority for me. I still want to play around with adding keywords, but it seems a bit clunky in that department.* Again, I’m not its main target audience.
*Comment, added 2007-09-20: I just want to clarify that the “clunky” part is adding application launcher types of keywords. Adding autotext is simple.
This is very similar to Launchy (which I still want to revisit), but I haven’t been using much. It’s pretty slick, popping open a command window on an activation keystroke and constantly scanning your system for changes, with several built-in commands. But it still feels like I have to type a little too much (like Launchy) to find and trigger applications. I can tell that this is one of those utilities I’d have to make a habit of using to even remember that I have it running. Only then can I give it a fair evaluation.
So, the jury is still out. I have to do deeper dives on these, and my loyalties may change a few more times before I settle. All of them are worth a look, and I recommend using at least one on a regular basis. The gains in productivity can be enormous no matter which you choose.