AutoHotkey for Windows – a Review

I've recently started to use my mouse a lot less. I find the keyboard is much faster, and the added bonus is, I don't have to move the mouse, which takes time, and eye hand coordination, to get to that one spot on the screen you need to click. I've started playing a game with myself to see how much I can do without picking up the mouse.

It's actually a fun game, and as you get better at it, you find, you amaze your friends with your keyboard virtuosity. They think your really good with a computer, and don't know how you got that web site to pop up with the press of a key. It's magic. It makes you feel good, and more in command of your computer.

To amaze your friends, I found a little unknown program that is indispensable, AutoHotkey for Windows, and yes it works on Windows7.

In a nutshell, the way you use the program is to put it in your start up directory so it will load when you start your computer. The program loads a script, that you edit, more on this in a bit, that you can assign any key combination on your keyboard. If you press that key combination, wahlah, the programs starts, or a long password or user name is added to a field, or a browser is started, or a particular web page is loaded. It's magic.

Actually, it's sort of fun. How do we get started and set everything up? Go to the AutoHotkey web site and download the program. Go to the Download page, and click the first "Installer for AutoHotKey _L". This will download an executable, that you can click on when the program is downloaded, and it will install it on your system.

AutoHotkey Icon

A green H icon will appear on your desktop. You're all set. To run the program, double click the icon, and nothing will happen. What's going on. Well, you haven't told the program what hot keys you want to set up yet, nor have you pressed any keys. You should see an H icon in your lower right, task bar. Right click on the task bar icon and a menu will appear. The choice you want is "Edit This Script." A text file will appear in Notepad for you to edit to put in your desired keys strokes.

AutoHotkey Right Click Menu

Here's a quick tutorial. I assign my keys in a consistent manner. If I want to start a particular web location, I use the Windows Logo key, Win, followed by a letter. To go to Amazon books, for example, I would type Win-A. That's just two keys. What happens is my default browser opens, and the Amazon books page loads. Cool.

To set this up in my scrip start a new line and type:

#a::Run www.amazon.com/books-used-books-textbooks/b?ie=UTF8&node=283155


What that says is when I hit the Win key, a "#" in the script, followed by a lower case "a", load this page. Notice the "::Run", that's what makes AutoHotkey go, the browser starts, and loads the page you want, after you type Win-a. We can do this with any web site you visit. I have one for the Washington Post, that I use to read the morning paper, like so:

#w::Run www.washingtonpost.com

Easy.

Suppose I want to launch a program on my computer. I always assign programs to the Ctrl-Alt key combination with the letter I want to use to start the program. For example, Ctrl-Alt-O, I use to start Opera. In the AutoHotkey script the Ctrl is a "^", and the Alt is a "!". To start the Opera browser, I would set my script up like this:

^!o::
IfWinExist Untitled - opera
	WinActivate
else
	Run C:\Program Files\opera\opera.exe
return

Ok, I fooled you a bit. What this hunk of code says, if Opera is already running don't reload it.

Copy this code for any program you want to start. Change the first line, the "^!o" to what ever letter combination you want, ^!f, for Firefox, for example. Change the name of the program on the second line. Change where to start your program after the "Run", and your done. By the way, a quick way to find out where the .exe file is to start a program, is to right click on the icon for that program on your desktop, and you will see it in the pop up shortcut window, copy and paste that long file name into the AutoHotkey script, after the "Run" in your script. Don't forget the "::" on the first line that tells AutoHotkey to go.

Do the same set up for any program. Yes, it takes a little bit of work to enter a program in your script, but, now, when I type Ctrl-Alt-O Opera starts. A very good browser, you might want to try, by the way.

And finally something that I really like, it will fill in a long string of text for you with a couple of letters. Set this up in a separate line in your script like so:

::fr::fred.lastname@comcast.com

Simple. When I type "fr" followed by the space bar the following is substituted, "fred.lastname@comcast.com." You can use this with letter endings, usernames, passwords, and a long block of text. This alone is a huge time saver. How often do you have to type your email address into web browser forms followed by a password. You could assign both to hot keys and save yourself a lot of time typing the long form. This alone should make AutoHotkey a must have.

That's about it. Edit your script to your heart's delight. Save the script, and real important, "Reload This Script" in lower task bar right click menu to see it work immediately.

Oh, if you ever forget what keys you assigned to what, just reopen your scritp and take a look.

AutoHotkey can do a lot more, including your mouse click, that you can read about in the documentation on their web site, but this will get you started amazing your friends. Great program.

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