Automation Program AutoHotkey Works Well, But Takes Knowhow
By Jim Norris
At a Glance
Complex command language
Write time-saving keyboard and mouse macros with this free, open-source utility.
When I contacted Chris Mallett, the creator of free utility AutoHotkey, about writing this review, I received an interesting reply: “Please feel free to write whatever you like about AutoHotkey, even if it isn’t all positive. AutoHotkey is something of a power user tool, so it isn’t for everyone.”
Chris knows what he’s talking about. Some types of software, no matter how useful, aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a GUI-based hot key assignment program with an intuitive interface and short learning curve, AutoHotkey will be more than you need. Best you take Chris’s advice and move on to a package like Macro Recorder or Macro Scheduler.
Simply put, there is no user interface. There are no menus. AutoHotkey parses script files that you create using an internal command language and save with any text editor. These scripts are assigned to key combinations which can be activated by the user at any time. The command language is easy to grasp and the syntax is straightforward; however, requiring the user to create scripts to use the software is a line in the sand many will not cross, no matter how the process is structured.
The engine behind AutoHotkey is impressive. The software is miniscule, lightning fast, and stable. Then again, since it has no user interface of any kind, it doesn’t have to do much other than crunch scripts. It’s more of a development environment and coding language than an application. For example, the package can be used to create self-running EXE files that will execute macro scripts on systems that do not have AutoHotkey installed. This is essentially a compiler.
This behavior also puts some virus scanners on alert. Due to the nature of their interaction with the operating system, AutoHotkey macros regularly provoke antivirus software. While the scripts are often innocuous, containing a few simple lines of plain text code, they still trigger alerts when converted into EXE format. It’s a problem we’ve seen in PCWorld Downloads with programs such as Better Paste. If AutoHotkey’s learning curve weren’t enough to put off casual users, these berserk false-positive virus alerts certainly will.
There’s no question AutoHotkey is useful and considering the price (free), it’s almost unique in capability. With the exception of packages like AutoIt, not much else out there is like it. You’ll have to commit to some work up front and put up with some frustration to get what you want, however. Whether or not that’s worth the result is a question only you can answer.