You've Got to Get This Program!

Have you ever been so enthusiastic about a product that people figure you must be a shill for the company? Well, before I continue, let me assure you that I am not expecting to make a single penny from this review...

If you use Windows and you do a lot of typing, I strongly recommend the product Macro Express. As the name implies, it lets you define keyboard macros. You may think that your fingers are nimble enough that you don't need such a thing, but even though I type at a respectable 90 words per minute, I still use it. In fact, I can't get along without it: when I upgraded to my new computer, the order in which I installed programs was as follows: Windows, Outlook, Norton AntiVirus, Macro Express, then everything else.

Let me backtrack a bit. I first used a keyboard macro program during the 1980's. It was Borland's SuperKey. I loved it immediately. However, when I was forced to move to Windows, the only similar program was the detestable Windows Recorder, which was so bad that I'd wear out my thesaurus if I tried to describe it to you. Actually, I can think of a quick way to indicate how truly awful it was: even Microsoft (who have given us the same old Paint program since the early days) stopped including it in Windows!

So I hobbled along for many years without my beloved keyboard macros, until I read a glowing review of Macro Express. (I'd abbreviate this to ME to save time, but it might sound odd if I keep telling you how badly you need ME.)

Macro Express (incidentally, I just put that name into a macro) gives you various ways to get a whole bunch of text by hitting a few keys. There's the obvious way: Alt/Shift/Ctrl combos. For example, if I hit Alt-Shift-Q, it types out "Macro Express". This is nice for commonly used functions, but (as I discovered with SuperKey), once you've got a hundred or so of these definitions, you start to forget the ones you don't use every day.

The technique I use most often is called "ShortKeys". This recognizes a two-character sequence followed by a letter sequence (which you can make mnemonic). The default sequence is, I believe, "##", but I find that a bit awkward, so I use "fj", which just happen to be two of the home keys for touch typists (and also never occur in that order in English).

My system is to use the "fj" ShortKey sequence followed by a two-letter category (I'll give examples in a moment) then a short abbreviation. I have over 150 macros defined in this way and I can use them without thinking twice about it. (I also have about 20 Alt/Shift/Ctrl combos for some very common functions.)

I have a lot of different email addresses for my various projects. I get tired of typing, say, tim@tc123.com (my general correspondence address) so I simply type fjemtc – that's the "fj" ShortKey sequence followed by "em" meaning "email address" and then "tc" meaning "Timothy Campbell".

Similarly, I use "fjur" for web addresses (the "ur" is short for "URL"). So fjurbl types out http://www.tc123.com – the address of my blog. By the way, one big advantage of this technique is that I never make a typo when writing my URL.

I also have other categories: "fjid" provides identification text (how often are you asked to type your full name on the Web?); "fjdr" is used for commonly used directories on my hard disk, and so on.

If that's all there was to Macro Express it would be pretty neat, but it can do all kinds of other great stuff. I won't give you the whole list of features except to say that there are a lot of them.

Incidentally, to italicize a word in HTML as I just did, I press Ctrl-Shift-I, type whatever needs to be italicized, then press Ctrl-Shift-H to skip over the closing </I> tag. Embedding links (the HTML <A> tag) is also a piece of cake: Macro Express prompts me for the descriptive text and the URL, and then puts it all together for me.

If I have one complaint about Macro Express, it's that they've added so many features that the editor interface has, of necessity, become a little bit awkward compared to the older versions. There's little they can do about this, though, since the macros can do text comparisons, display multiple-choice menus, access the clipboard, open other programs, manage files, and even do arcane and hairy things like updating the system Registry!

Astute readers may have noticed that I have been focusing on the fact that Macro Express is a keyboard macro utility. You may well ask, "Does it also work with the mouse?" Yes, it does, but I personally find it easier to use the keyboard shortcuts and tabbing that most Windows program support. (Mind you, I once used Macro Express's mouse capabilities to create a wrist-relieving shortcut for an online game, but I was shut out with a warning along the lines of, "Players may not automate any functions in this game!")

I can't think of any way to spend US $39.95 that will make your computing more efficient. But if you don't believe me, you'll be glad to know that they let you try it free of charge on a trial basis.

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