Review: QuicKeys 3.5.2
Requirements Mac II or later
Mac OS 7.5 or later
8MB RAM (about 600K for QuicKeys)
Have you ever wished that your Mac could do a little bit more on its own, without you having to tell it every step of every process? Don’t you love those applications that let you assign custom keyboard shortcuts to any of their built in commands? If all your applications could be customized like that, you’d be more productive. QuicKeys is part of a class of software called macro programs that allows you to assign keystrokes to application commands and automate (sometimes very long) repetitive tasks. Besides saving you the drudgery of clicking the same sequences of menus and icons each day, macro programs offer another advantage: additional speed. After all, most of your Mac’s processing power is wasted, while it waits for you.
QuicKeys is probably the most popular Macintosh macro program. It’s also one of the most powerful and easy to use. Its commands are always available from the QuicKeys menu which can be placed either in the main menubar or as a submenu in the Apple Menu. From the menu, you can access the main QuicKeys dialog, where you create and edit macros; a quick reference card, which lets shows you the key commands you’ve assigned for your various macros; controls for displaying and editing Toolbars; and any macros you’ve chosen to include at the bottom of the QuicKeys menu. This menu is also where you access the QuicKeys recording tools.
The recording capability is probably the single feature that makes QuicKeys such a popular macro program. While manually creating macros with QuicKeys is easy, recording is even better. The Record One Shortcut command is useful for assigning custom command keys to menu items. After selecting “Record One Shortcut” from the QuicKeys menu, and selecting the item that you want to make into a shortcut, QuicKeys brings up a dialog box asking you to name the macro you’ve just created and assign a key command for it.
”Record Sequence” and “Record Real Time” both let you create a sequence, the QuicKeys term for a multi-step macro. In either case, after selecting “Record,” QuicKeys watches what you do with the mouse and keyboard up until the time when you press the stop button. “Record Sequence” records only your actions, so when you execute a recorded sequence QuicKeys eliminates user pauses and lets your Mac complete the macro’s task faster than you could if you were doing it yourself. “Record Real Time” records your actions and pauses, so replaying a “Real Time” macro will take the same amount of time as if you did the task yourself.
Most of the time, when you record a macro, playing the macro back simply works. Sometimes, though, QuicKeys misinterprets some of your actions, or mis-times them. A good way to make your recordings as precise as possible is to use the keyboard, instead the mouse, when recording them. If part of your macro involves clicking the Ok button in a window or dialog, use the Enter key instead; that way, the macro will work even if the button doesn’t appear in the same location when your replay the macro. If you are writing a macro to fix a typo, such as the transposition of letters, use the arrow keys to move the insertion point, holding down shift to select the text. This works much more reliably than if you use the mouse to select the text when recording the macro.
If you find that you need to edit or debug a macro that you’ve created, you can do so from the main QuicKeys window. From there, you can also choose the key-command for activating the macro (if any), whether the macro appears in the QuicKeys menu, and if the macro is automatically run at a specific time (or system event such as startup or shutdown). The QuicKeys editor displays a list of the macro’s steps. You can double-click on one of the steps to edit it, and you can use cut and paste to reorder them. You can also add additional steps, such as sequences controls for conditionals and repeats.
You can also use the QuicKeys editor to create macros entirely from scratch. When creating macros manually, all available commands are accessible from the “Define” menu. This makes sense, except that most of the useful tools, especially the ones for managing repeats and conditionals in sequences are buried beneath a mountain of submenus. As a result, creating macros manually in QuicKeys feels like a very slow process, especially because it involves so much mouse work.
Whenever you insert a command into your macro, it can be configured completely via dialog boxes. This visual process makes QuicKeys feel like an extension of your Mac, rather than a programming language, and encourages experimentation.
Unfortunately, after creating steps, it’s cumbersome to reorder them; you must select a step, cut it, move the insertion arrow to where you want the step to go, and paste. In this day and age, drag and drop support is sorely missed.
There are five ways to execute macros that you’ve recorded or written:
- Pressing a user defined keystroke.
- Selecting the macro name from the QuicKeys menu.
- Clicking the macro’s button of a user-defined QuicKeys palette (which comes in three styles).
- Opening a QuicKeys icon, a macro that’s been saved at as an individual file.
- Scheduling the macro so it is automatically run at a specific time or event.
There are a number of reasons why QuicKeys is one of the most popular Mac macro programs. Without a doubt, the number one feature that separates it from the comptetition is its recording ability. With it, a beginning Mac user can create powerful macros for automating his or her work, without writing a single line of code. However, there are also a number of reasons why QuicKeys does not feel as polished as a product of its age should.
The QuicKeys editor has its own menubar and uses many tabs, some of whose titles are also menus. Also, some of the sub-dialogs have their own menubars.
This is frustrating and confusing. The main QuicKeys editor should be an application and should use the Mac’s global menubar. Within the editor, better use of the main menubar or scrolling lists could replace the many levels of menus. Palettes, like those in Photoshop, could replace the seemingly endless layers of modal dialogs. QuicKeys is a resource hog. It uses almost 600K of RAM, even when only a few macros are defined, and slows down Mac OS’s response times. Finally, the macros don’t seem to execute as quickly as they do with competing products such as KeyQuencer and AppleScript.
Despite these shortcomings, QuicKeys is a very useful program. The feature set is strong. It supports subroutines and conditionals in macros, though not variables. It’s not as fast at executing macros as KeyQuencer, but the speed is acceptable. QuicKeys is pretty much the only way to go if you want to automate you Mac without learning an arcane scripting language. The good documentation can help explain some of the less intuitive interface oddities. The best part is that once you’ve created the maros you need, you can forget about QuicKeys and enjoy the time it saves you. After you’ve used a macro program for a few weeks, you’ll forget how you ever got by without one.