At a Glance
Ever since the OS X–native QuicKeys X appeared almost two years ago, we've longed for the feature set of QuicKeys 5, which let us automate almost any task on a Mac running OS 8.5 or 9. The Jaguar-compatible QuicKeys X 1.5.4 update brought a few welcome improvements but fell short of the mark ( ; June 2003). QuicKeys X2, which also requires Jaguar, offers even more ways to control your Mac, with an interface that's more thoughtfully organized. To tap into QuicKeys' added power, though, you'll have to spend considerable time debugging and tweaking your shortcuts.
A New Look
QuicKeys' revamped shortcut editor has a ton of enhancements that make the program more logical and less cumbersome. Instead of showing each step's actions and triggers in separate tabs (as in the previous version), QuicKeys X2 displays both in a single window. A slide-out pane on the right lists the shortcut's steps, which you can rearrange by dragging. (We thought that the dynamic resizing of the shortcut-editing window as we clicked on various steps was a bit annoying.)
To make programming shortcut triggers less confusing for novices, QuicKeys has two new user modes. In the Simple Triggers mode, you can program a shortcut to activate only when you press a specified key or key combination, or when you select the shortcut by name from the QuicKeys menu. The Advanced Triggers mode adds more choices, including the ability to launch shortcuts at certain dates and times or a specified amount of time after QuicKeys launches.
As before, you can define a shortcut's scope, which determines the applications it will play in. (You can assign more than one scope to a shortcut, but only in the Advanced Triggers mode.) For the first time, QuicKeys lets you prevent a shortcut from functioning in certain programs. That's helpful if you have a shortcut that checks your e-mail when you press F1 in any application, but you don't want to activate it if you accidentally hit the key while zapping aliens in your favorite game.
Also new to QuicKeys is a separate win-dow that lets you create and edit QuicKeys toolbars -- application-specific palettes that let you activate shortcuts by clicking on buttons. Other good new features include options for vertically orienting your toolbars, adjusting the size of button icons, and displaying shortcut names.
Simple shortcuts -- maximizing your word processor's document window when you press F3, for example -- are as easy as ever to program. To automate a complex operation, however, you have to break it down into a series of steps that QuicKeys can emulate. Although that seems straightforward, the Mac isn't always as predictable as we'd like it to be.
Say you want to create a multistep shortcut that launches Safari and logs in to an online discussion forum. If your Internet connection is slow, your browser may take several seconds to display the forum's login page. Previously, if QuicKeys couldn't find the not-yet-loaded fields, the shortcut would fail. But QuicKeys X2 offers a powerful option that forces a shortcut to wait until a specified window or button appears before continuing.
You can also tell QuicKeys to pause and wait for you to press specific keys or click on a certain button before it continues with the next step. Other useful new features include options that let QuicKeys select and activate buttons or pop-up menus by name or location, display custom dialog boxes in the middle of multistep shortcuts, repeat a series of steps, and store text or graphics in a QuicKeys scrapbook.
Shortcuts often play back too fast to follow, and it can be difficult to know what went wrong when a shortcut fails or does something unexpected. So we're especially fond of QuicKeys' new debugging mode, which lets you execute shortcuts one step at a time.
With some effort on your part, QuicKeys can overcome an application's inherent limitations -- for example, we used QuicKeys to automate a timed slide show in Apple's Keynote, something Keynote alone can't do.
Despite QuicKeys X2's improved shortcut repertoire, however, we were occasionally stymied in our attempts to automate some steps, such as selecting pop-up menus on some Web sites. And it wasn't always obvious which shortcut would achieve a desired result when there were several alternatives. For example, we learned by trial and error that simulated keystrokes were much more reliable than mouse clicks in one of our shortcuts, even though both options seemed equally appropriate. QuicKeys' extensively rewritten manual does a good job of explaining each individual option and some possible uses for them, but it could use more how-to examples.
We also obtained mixed results with a new feature that records a user's actions and turns them into a multistep shortcut. Some of our simpler automated shortcuts worked right away. However, many either were unusable or required extensive tweaking, especially if they involved waiting for windows or other interface elements to appear.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Although programming complicated shortcuts demands patience and experimentation, QuicKeys is excellent for replicating many of the repetitive tasks that you perform every day. If you're a QuicKeys X 1.5 user, we strongly recommend the upgrade -- you'll get a greatly improved program.
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