TextExpander 3.0

TextExpander is one of several Mac OS X utilities that make typing easier, by letting you assign abbreviations to blocks of frequently used text--URLs, addresses, HTML code, e-mail signatures, and more--and then inserting those blocks when you type the abbreviation. For example, while writing this review, I set up an abbreviation (in TextEpander parlance, a snippet) so that when I type tx then hit a special trigger key, the program replaces those two letters with the word TextExpander. These utilities are ideal for people who type a lot. TextExpander is one of the best.

Among TextEpander's many conveniences: It lets you organize your snippets into groups and then define how the snippets in those groups behave. For example, groups can be set to work with all applications, only in specific ones, or in all apps except those you specify. The program comes with some preset snippet groups for HTML and CSS tags, words with accented characters and more.

You can also use variables in TextEpander snippets, which can (for example) let you insert the current date or time within your boilerplate text. Other variables insert the contents of the clipboard or specify the position of the cursor after the snippet expands. You can also have specific keys--Enter, Escape, Return or Tab--into snippets; that can be particularly handy for filling out Web forms.

You can also nest TextExpander snippets within snippets; you might have a set piece of text (a customer letter) that includes within it snippets that occasionally change (the year, for example). That means you can update the little ones, and the big one will stay current.

TextEpander makes it easy to manage your snippets. It has hot keys that let you quickly enter new ones or to edit the last one you used. You can import and export snippets, and print them out for easy reference. In addition, the program has a menubar icon, from which you can create, choose, even search your snippets collection.

One of TextEpander's best features is its ability to sync your snippets to other Macs (and, if you have the TextExpander touch iPhone app, your iPhone or iPad touch too) via MobileMe or Dropbox. Unfortunately, you can sync only snippets; you can't sync program preferences. Since it takes a bit of work to get the program set up the way you want it (specifying triggers, for example), it would be nice to not have to do so manually on other Macs.

TextEpander 3 does have some other limitations. For starters, by default only three trigger keys (delimiters) are set up by default: Space, Tab and Return. You need to manually add others, such as periods, colons, closing quotes, and so on, to use the program effectively.

Also, I had trouble with some expansions. I tried embedding the Return key in some snippets, but it didn't always expand correctly. And for some snippets where I had set the cursor to be placed in a specific location, it would appear a few characters away from where I wanted.

But all in all, TextExpander 3--particularly with the addition of syncing--is a worthwhile upgrade. Just be forewarned that it'll take some time to set it up so it works just the way you want it to.

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville.

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