Work More Efficiently With Free AutoHotkey Tool

Say hello to my little friend, AutoHotkey. This small--and free--utility can accomplish big things. It's one of the best ways I know to make your PC work exactly the way you want it to.

Specifically, AutoHotkey (AHK for short) is a macro recorder, meaning it stores a sequence of keyboard, mouse, and/or joystick (remember those?) commands and then lets you play them back.

That may not sound like a big deal, but trust me, it's incredibly handy. For example, a simple AHK script can remap any key on your keyboard. Want to, say, turn your Caps Lock key into a Mute button? It's a 60-second job.

The first time you run AHK, you'll see a sample script with some instructions. Feel free to read them, keeping in mind that this tool can be a little daunting at first. That said, I'm all about diving in headfirst.

Auto-Complete Text as You Type

Hotstrings are keystrokes inserted whenever you type a designated abbreviation. For example, you type fwiw, and AHK replaces it with "for what it's worth." Hotstrings are great for, say, adding different signatures to e-mail messages (sig1, sig2, etc.), or saving time when typing repetitive bits of text.

Here's how to set up your own hotstring with AHK:

  1. Run AutoHotkey.
  2. On any open area of the desktop, right-click and choose New, AutoHotkey script.
  3. Enter a name for the script (in this case something like fwiw.ahk) and press Enter.
  4. Right-click the new file and choose Edit Script.
  5. Find a blank line and type ::fwiw::for what it's worth
  6. Select File, Exit, making sure to save your changes.
  7. Right-click the file and choose Run Script.

Now, whenever you type fwiw followed by a space or punctuation, AHK will replace it with "for what it's worth."

Restore the Backspace Key's Folder Function

If, like me, you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts, you may have noticed that in Windows Vista and Windows 7, the Backspace key doesn't work like it used to. It still erases the character to the left of your cursor--but when you're viewing folders in Windows Explorer, Backspace no longer moves you "up" a folder in the hierarchy like it did in Windows XP. Instead, it takes you back to the previous folder you were viewing.

It's a minor hassle, to be sure, but one that shortcut purists will undoubtedly bemoan once they make the move from XP. Fortunately, there's an AutoHotkey-powered solution.

Over at the How-To Geek blog, there's an AHK script that makes the Backspace key function in Windows Vista/7 the same way it did in XP--from a folder-navigation perspective, that is. I won't regurgitate the steps here. Suffice it to say, if you want your Backspace key to work the way it used to, AutoHotkey offers a free and easy answer.

Strip the Formatting From Pasted Text

As a full-time writer, I do a lot of copying and pasting. Unfortunately, text copied from, say, a Web page to a blog tool or from Word to a Web form often comes with a lot of unwanted formatting. Drives me nuts.

AutoHotkey to the rescue! One of my absolute favorite AHK scripts comes from Lifehacker's Adam Pash, whose aptly named Better Paste automatically strips the formatting from text copied to the Clipboard. When you go to paste it, you get fresh, clean, plain text.

Best of all, Better Paste is keyboard shortcut-friendly. It works with good old Ctrl-V, the shortcut for Paste. And on those rare occasions you want the original, formatted text, just tap Ctrl-Shift-V. Brilliant.

There are two ways to get Better Paste. First, you can visit Lifehacker for Adam's code, create a new AHK script, and copy/paste Adam's code. Second, you can download Better Paste as an executable file, meaning it runs like any other program.

Delete Microsoft Outlook E-Mails With One Click

You can also change the function of your middle mouse button for individual programs. Amazing, right? Over at Lifehacker, there's a script that enables you to delete e-mails from your Outlook inbox just by middle-clicking them.

Behind the scenes, the script monitors the Outlook window for a middle-click (which on some mice means a click of the scroll wheel). When it detects one, it reproduces a left-button click (to select the message) and a press of Ctrl-D (to delete it). Clever, huh?

This also works with the calendar: Just middle-click an appointment to delete it.

The instructions at Lifehacker are very clear, so I won't reproduce them here. I will say that if you're an Outlook user, you're about to fall in love with AutoHotkey--and your middle mouse button.

Rick Broida writes the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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