Recently, I received a phone call from a potential client who wanted to learn more about my computer consulting services. When I arrived at the office for my appointment with the company’s owner, I was told the owner was running a bit behind.

While I was waiting, the owner’s assistant offered me a cup of coffee and a tour of the office. I observed several folks performing what I would call tedious data entry procedures. From what I could see, the operations involved a lot of repetitive keystrokes and copying and pasting of data from one form to another.

During the interview, the owner mentioned that he was always looking for ways that he could improve performance of the overall office operation with computers. At that point, I saw my opportunity and seized the moment.

While he paused, I told him that for a minimal investment I could increase the productivity of the office’s data entry operation by 50 percent or more. I explained that a lot of business operations that people perform with computers, such as data entry, involve repetitive tasks that can be very easily automated with macros. With just one keystroke, a macro can instantly perform several operations that represent painstaking manual work.

I went on to describe how a macro program, such as Macro Express from Insight Software Solutions, could automate just about every task performed with a computer, regardless of the application, and make his office staff more productive.

After a few more questions about macros, the owner asked me how soon I could start implementing this macro strategy. I didn’t have anything scheduled, and I told him I could start the next day.

Once I began using the newest version of Macro Express to create macros to automate my new client’s data entry operations, I quickly discovered that Macro Express had a lot more power than I had suspected. Within the first day, I had created a series of macros that not only saved the office staff a lot of time on data entry operations, but I was able to create other macros that automated a whole series of common tasks. You might also find this little program of value in your consulting work. Here’s a look at what it can do.

Downloading Macro Express
You can download a free 30-day trial of this program from the Macro Express home page. Keep in mind that after the trial period is over, any macros you have created will no longer run. However, if you license the program after the trial period is over, the macros will work again.

If you decide that you want to keep Macro Express, you can purchase a license on the site or over the phone. A single user license costs $39.95 and multiple user licenses are available at a discount. For example, my client purchased a five-user license for $150—$30 a seat.

Versatility is the key
Once I began creating macros with Macro Express, its versatility really amazed me.

You can create a macro in four ways:

  • Launching the Capture tool, which records your keystrokes and mouse movements
  • With the Quick Wizards tool, which walks you through a series of questions and builds a macro based on your responses
  • With the Scripting Editor, which provides you with an easy-to-use interface for manually creating a macro
  • With the Direct Editor, which provides you with access to the bare bones commands in a macro

Of course, you can use any combination of these tools for creating your macros. For example, when creating the macros for automating the data entry procedures, I used the Capture tool to record the macro. I then used the Scripting Editor to fine-tune the macro.

The versatility of Macro Express also extends to its playback options. You can create macros that you manually launch by pressing a hot key combination, by typing a special set of characters called ShortKeys, or by clicking the mouse. You can also create macros that launch automatically at a scheduled time or whenever a specific window appears on the screen.

Furthermore, Macro Express’s editors come with an extensive set of built-in commands for automating a whole slew of common operations. For example, if you need to create a macro that copies or pastes text from the Clipboard, you just open the Clipboard command category and select from the list of available commands. If you need to create a macro that opens a folder in Windows Explorer, you open the Explorer command category and select the Open Folder In Explorer command.

If you want to create advanced macros, you’ll be glad to discover that Macro Express provides you with the ability to create basic dialog boxes that you can use to prompt users for choices as well as simply display messages. When prompting for choices, Macro Express allows you to store the selections in variables that you can then test for using conditional statements such as If…Then…Else and Case.

Taking a tour
Once you install Macro Express, you’ll discover that the program consists of the Macro Express Player and the Macro Express Editor. The Macro Express Player runs in the background and appears as an icon in the notification area of the taskbar. This is the portion of the program that takes care of running the macros.

The Macro Express Editor, shown in Figure A, is the interface you use to create and manage your macros. As you can see, the Actions bar on the left allows you to easily switch between the macro creation and editing tools.

Figure A
The Macro Express Editor is the interface you use to create and manage your macros.

When you first launch the Macro Express Editor, it displays the Macro Explorer, which lists all the macros you’ve created. To make it easy to keep track of your macros, the Macro Explorer allows you to assign categories and even icons to your macros.

As I mentioned, the Scripting Editor provides an easy-to-use interface for manually creating and editing macros. Figure B shows the Scripting Editor and a neat little macro that I created for one of my clients that opens and closes the doors on a pair of CD drives.

Figure B
The Scripting Editor presents an easy-to-use interface.

As you can see, the Commands section on the left of the Scripting Editor tool provides you with a list of common commands that you can easily insert into your macro. The Macro Script section lists the actual macro itself. For the sake of comparison, Figure C shows the same macro in the Direct Editor.

Figure C
The Direct Editor provides access to the base level commands in the macro.

The CD macro

In this situation, the computer was located under a desk, which made accessing the eject buttons to open and close the CD drives difficult. When run, this macro displays a dialog box that prompts the user to select a drive letter for one of the two CD drives. The selection is then stored in the variable T1.The macro uses If statements to test the variable and determine which drive letter the user selected; then, it opens the appropriate drive. Once the user inserts or removes a CD, the user can press [Enter] and the macro closes the open drive.

When my client asked me whether he would be able to create his own simple macros once I was gone, I introduced him to the Quick Wizards tool, shown in Figure D. You begin by selecting a category for the type of macro that you want to create and then simply work your way through the wizard, which prompts you with more detailed options based on the category you’ve selected.

Figure D

Macros all around
Since I discovered what a great tool Macro Express is, I’ve successfully used macro automation as a selling point for my consulting services on several occasions and now have a number of new clients who are reaping the benefits of Macro Express. I’ve even found a multitude of operations that I can automate in my office with Macro Express.