Programmers are a curious bunch. We’ll spend hours or days working on a solution for ourselves that’ll save us mere minutes. Part of it is just the challenge of stripping down tasks to their bare minimum, even if the total time we save from ever running that task adds up to just a small fraction of the time we spent on the solution. But overall, we do save hours, days, and weeks from the mundane. It’s the 80/20 rule, I guess. Overall, we spend about 80% of our effort on the 20% of the tasks that save us, uh, 80% of our mundane work? Anyway…

Several years ago (I’m talking the DOS days), I used to write elaborate batch files to whittle down tasks to a couple of keystrokes. I used to carry around these tiny utilities on 5.25″ floppies (yep — pre- 3.5″), so whatever machine I’d have to use, I wouldn’t feel like a fish out of water.

But then the mouse was born…hatched…whelped…whatever. And I became a mouse-clicking zombie. I’m sure it felt like a new kind of “control” back then for us control freaks. But we were misled. Or just found a new hammer. And it took some of us years to realize the error of our ways. Sure, the mouse and other more “modern” input devices have an indispensable role in many applications, but as many of us have discovered and blogged about ad-nauseam, the keyboard is still king.

I rediscovered the keyboard a couple of years back, when a colleague of mine reintroduced me to SlickRun. I had tried it out about a year or so earlier, but never made it a habit, so I never reinstalled it when I upgraded to a new PC. But this time, it took. And now I feel completely out of sorts when I have to use a machine without it.

But something about the UI for adding keywords has always bugged me. As intuitive as using the tool is, the dialog for maintaining keywords has always been seriously lacking and unintuitive. And I need to be able to mindlessly create new keywords and shortcuts. As long as there’s a barrier between the keywords I already have, and the creation of new keywords, I’m never going to take full advantage of the tool. It’s sort of like what David Allen of GTD fame teaches: If you don’t have the right tools close at hand, like having to roll your chair across the room to get to your file cabinet, you’ll never really make use of that file cabinet.

Eliminate the friction.

And I really, really wanted to take advantage of SlickRun’s full power, and start creating shortcuts for exotic scripts. So now I’m on the search for my SlickRun replacement. It’s great that it’s free and it still may be the launcher of choice for many people, but I’m willing to pay a bit for something closer to my ideal.

I’ve been aware of ActiveWords for quite a while, and it’s gotten some great press, so I’m finally giving that a try on my main home computer. My initial reaction is more positive than SlickRun, but there’s still something a bit clunky about adding keywords — especially for web pages. It does NOT recognize Firefox. Sorry, but that’s inexcusable. Strike one.

At the same time, I’m probably going to test run DirectAccess at work, unless it starts getting too confusing to switch between the two. I tried Enso Launcher several months ago, but something about it wasn’t quite right. It seemed a little too “wordy” for me. It has a great pedigree behind it, so I may want to revisit it to see if I missed anything, but not quite yet. I also tried Launchy a while ago, but found it a bit buggy, and it didn’t feel as flexible as I wanted for creating keywords. I considered trying DashCommand, which looks very promising, but until they wise up and change their extremely paranoid trial limitations, I’m going to pass on it.

These are all cool looking utilities, but only one will win my heart for at least a couple of years. I have many automation plans, but my first step is to speed up access to the tools already at my disposal. I will report on my findings.