Hardware

Product Review: ActiveWords

ActiveWords increases productivity by reducing the mouse clicks required for common tasks


If you’ve been reading my columns on TechRepublic, you know I’m a keyboard person—I’d rather type than click. And I believe in teaching end users the fastest ways to accomplish routine tasks.

The folks at ActiveWords.com share my passion for working smarter and faster, and once you and your end users try their product, you may never reach for the mouse again. I’ve been using ActiveWords on a regular basis for a couple of months now, and it has saved me thousands upon thousands of keystrokes.

Surf, launch, or expand with ActiveWords
I used to type the word TechRepublic a hundred times a day in writing e-mail messages and articles for the site. In Word, I set up an AutoCorrect entry so that whenever I typed tr, Word would expand that shortcut into TechRepublic. I love AutoCorrect, and over the years, I’ve used that Word feature to save countless keystrokes.

The problem with AutoCorrect, of course, is that it only works in my Office applications. When I’m replying to an e-mail note or typing something up in Notepad, I have to spell everything out. At least I used to. Then along came ActiveWords—the “autocorrect” tool that crosses all application borders.

ActiveWords runs in the background, monitoring everything you type (much the same way that AutoCorrect works within Office applications). With ActiveWords, I was able to define a shortcut named tr that expands to TechRepublic no matter what application I’m running! I just type tr, and as soon as I type a punctuation mark or press [Spacebar], ActiveWords recognizes that shortcut and replaces it with the full word.

But there’s more. You’re not limited to using ActiveWords as a global text-expander. You can create keyboard shortcuts that launch your Web browser and open a specific Web page. You can launch applications, open folders—just about any process that would otherwise require several keystrokes or mouse clicks to accomplish.

Working in an MS-DOS window? Here are some of the things you can do from the command line with an ActiveWords shortcut:
  • Create an e-mail message.
  • Open a Web page.
  • Launch any application.
  • Execute a series of “scripted” actions.

When you choose Add New ActiveWords from the program’s main menu, you’ll see the options shown in Figure A. The wizard leads you through the process of defining the shortcuts and actions associated with those shortcuts. The process is easy to customize. You can have the program leap into action as soon as you type a shortcut, or you can tell it to wait until you press a “hot” key.

You say you want to know just how much time (and how many keystrokes) ActiveWords is saving you? The main menu’s Productivity option displays a report that gives you as much information as you ever want.

Figure A
ActiveWords lets you define shortcuts for all of these activities.


Miscellaneous notes
The program isn’t without its quirks. It’s a little slow to load on bootup. (I’m using a measly 350-MHz system, so it may not be as noticeable on a faster machine.) And some of your end users may not like the fact that its menu bar by default docks at the top of the screen. However, you can move or hide the menu.

When I first started using ActiveWords, there was one annoying little behavior—the program tried too hard to please. It kept displaying prompts saying, in essence, “Hey, we noticed you’re going to techrepublic.com a lot, would you like to create a shortcut for that URL?” Fortunately, you can tweak the settings so that it lets you decide when and whether to create a shortcut.

Overall, though, it’s a sweet little program with plenty of great tools for making short work of routine tasks. I let it run all the time, and I’ve never noticed any ill effect on system memory or performance.

Getting ActiveWords
When you visit the ActiveWords site, you can download a free version of ActiveWords for the Internet as well as a trial copy of the fully-featured application. At this writing, the suggested purchase price is $29.95.

This program is the greatest time-saver since Doskey. Once you get in the habit of using ActiveWords shortcuts, you’ll be hooked, and the cost of the program will be more than made up in the time and keystrokes it will save you and your end users.
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