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It can't be easy to design an operating system that works equally well for every kind of person, from third-graders to researchers working on the Human Genome Project. An everyday tool for one person is a hopelessly irrelevant feature for another. But with QuicKeys X, you can customize your Mac so it's more in step with your specific needs.

CE Software's QuicKeys (800/523-7638, www.cesoft .com) is a macro program, automation software that lets you pluck your favorite Mac features from where they're buried in the operating system and park them where you can get at them more easily -- by pressing a key combination of your choice or clicking on a button in a custom-made toolbar, for example. For many people, QuicKeys represents the very first opportunity to actually use those function keys they've been staring at for years at the top of their keyboards.

QuicKeys X (which is for OS X only) offers fewer options than its OS 9 predecessor -- no logical branching, no IF-THEN statements, and so on. On the other hand, it's easier to use. This little software robot lets you string together long lists of tasks you'd rather not have to perform yourself.

For example, QuicKeys X is ideal for automating your morning Mac ritual: downloading your e-mail, opening the three Web sites you check daily, bringing another Mac's hard drive onto the screen from across the network, and backing up files -- all while you sit and sip coffee. (Before you begin, make sure you've updated to QuicKeys X 1.0.2, the latest version. The free update is available from CE Software's Web site.)

Set Up QuicKeys

If QuicKeys is to execute your every whim, it must be running in the background at all times, like a Mac OS 9 extension or control panel. In Mac OS X, of course, there's no such thing as an extension or control panel. But via QuicKeys' Preferences panel, you can make the program load automatically at start-up.

Open the QuicKeys menu and choose Preferences. To ensure that your macros are always available, turn on the Open QuicKeys At Log In option A. If you don't want to go through the hassle of hiding or minimizing the QuicKeys window every morning, deselect the Display QuicKeys Editor Window On Open option B.

For easy access to QuicKeys, turn on the Show QuicKeys Menu In Dock option C. Then make sure the Show QuicKeys System Menu option is selected D -- when it is, a menu of your automated tasks is displayed in the upper right corner of your screen.

When you're done, close the Preferences window. You're now ready to begin building your macros.

Launch Mail

You could construct your entire morning routine as a single, massive QuicKeys macro. But if you build it in chunks, you'll also have the option of triggering each task independently. The first step is to create a macro that opens your e-mail program -- Apple's Mail or Microsoft's Entourage, for example.

Open QuicKeys by clicking on its Dock icon. The QuicKeys Editor appears on screen with a list of your current macros.

You use the Create menu A to build all macros; the task you want to complete will determine the menu option you should choose. In this case, you want QuicKeys to open your e-mail program. From the Create menu, choose System; then select Switch Applications from the System submenu.

The Switch To window offers several options for moving between applications. If you're running several programs, for example, you can flip from one to another, perhaps to the most recently used one. Or you can switch to a particular program, which is what you want in this case. Open the Action pop-up menu and choose Switch To Specified B.

To tell QuicKeys which program you want it to switch to, open the Switch To pop-up menu C and choose Select Other. Use the file directory to navigate to your e-mail program, and choose Open.

Then turn on the Open If Not Running option D. This ensures that the macro will work even if the e-mail program isn't open.

Check Your Messages

Just opening your e-mail program doesn't get you very far; you'll also want the macro to retrieve your mail. When people send you huge files that take a long time to download, you'll be grateful that QuicKeys kicked into gear while you were still eating your breakfast cereal.

To tack a new action onto your macro, click on the Show Steps Drawer button; its label then changes to Hide Steps Drawer A. A new panel slides open at the bottom of the window, revealing the individual steps this macro will perform. We don't have a very long list yet.

The best way to execute an action such as checking mail is to use the program's keyboard shortcut for that command. From the Create menu, choose User Actions and select Type Keystroke from that submenu.

In Apple's Mail program, Command-shift-N is the shortcut for checking mail. In Entourage X, it's Command-K.

When the Type Keystroke dialog box appears, click in the Keystroke box B and press the appropriate keyboard shortcut. The action will be added to the Steps drawer.

Assign a Trigger

You've now created a macro that opens your e-mail and checks for new messages. But QuicKeys doesn't yet know when you want it to do all this. To put your macro to work, you need to assign it a trigger, an external action that tells it to get started.

When you click on the Triggers tab A, the Available Triggers drawer slides out B. The list of available triggers shows that QuicKeys can be told to run a macro just after a certain program opens, at a specified time of the day, when you press a certain key, and so on.

If you plan to run your e-mail macro only as part of your morning routine, it doesn't need a trigger. The larger morning macro will initiate it automatically. But if you want to be able to run your e-mail macro independently at other times of the day, you must assign it a trigger.

You can assign a keyboard command to your macro by double-clicking on Hot Key C, in the Available Triggers drawer. This opens the When Key Is Pressed panel.

In the new panel, click in the keystroke box D and then press the keys that should trigger your mail-fetching macro -- control-M, for example, or F4. Then click on OK.

If you don't want to memorize a new keystroke, you can also double-click on System Menu E in the Trigger drawer. This places the macro's name in the QuicKeys menu at the upper right corner of your screen. Close the Switch To window.

Load Your Web Sites

Another common morning ritual is visiting a couple of Web sites for updates and news. QuicKeys can save you the time you'd spend waiting for those Web pages to download and open. It can have your favorite Web sites already loaded in different browser windows.

From QuicKeys' Create menu, open the Internet submenu and choose Web Address. In the Web Address window, click in the Web Address To Open box and type the URL of the first Web site you like to visit each day A.

If you'd like to have multiple Web sites up and run-ning, open the Steps drawer once again (so you can monitor your macro as you build it).

To open a second browser window in Internet Explorer, you might choose File: New using the mouse. But keystrokes are always more reliable than mouse actions in macro programs, so use the Command-N key combination instead. Choose Create: User Actions: Type Keystroke, just as you did in step 3. This time, click in the Keystroke box and press Command-N. When you're done, click on OK.

So what should happen in that second browser window? You want to pull up the next site. Once again, open the Create menu and choose Internet: Web Address.

Enter the next URL you want to open. Repeat this process as many times as you like, until you've ensured that all your favorite sites will be ready and waiting for you every morning. Your Steps drawer will look something like the one in our example B.

Opening these pages will be part of your master morning macro. But if you'd also like the option of triggering this macro independently, you can give it a keystroke of its own by repeating step 4.

Now you can click in the Name field and give this macro a name -- something like our example's Web Faves C. Close the Web Address window.

Bring Another Mac Online

If you're on a network, you might find it convenient to have instant access to another Mac's hard drive. Maybe you use it as a backup disk (see step 7), or maybe you just need to grab files from it occasionally. QuicKeys lets you dispense with typing in passwords and user names; you can summon the other Mac to your screen with a single keystroke.

The usual method for connecting to another Mac on your network is to open the Go menu and select Connect To Server. You then have to browse for the desired Mac, specify your name and password, choose the hard drive you want, and finally click on Connect -- not exactly a swift kick in the pants for your productivity.

It can be, though. Before you begin automating the process with QuicKeys, you need to find out the other Mac's IP address -- its network phone number, so to speak. In Mac OS X, open the Network pane of System Preferences. In Mac OS 9, open the File Sharing control panel. The IP address is a set of four blocks of numbers separated by periods.

Once you have the IP address, return to QuicKeys' Create menu, scroll down to Network, and choose Servers.

In the Servers window, type the other computer's IP address A, the exact name of the disk you want to open B , and the user name and password you would normally use to connect C. (To connect as a guest, you should leave the bottom two boxes empty.)

Now you can repeat step 4 to set up a keystroke trigger that will mount the other Mac on cue, or to add the macro to the QuicKeys menu in the screen's upper right corner. When you're done, close the Servers window.

Back Up Automatically

As long as you've summoned another hard drive to your screen, you may as well capitalize on its presence by backing up your stuff to it. For example, you may want to back up the current version of your novel manuscript before you begin your day's work on it. (You could also use this process to back up your entire Home folder. But because this might take a long time, making it part of an end-of-day macro may be better.)

QuicKeys makes it easy to copy files or folders to a predetermined spot. In QuicKeys, open the Create menu. From the Files submenu, choose Manage Files.

In the Manage Files window, tell QuicKeys what you want it to do with the files. Because you're creating a backup, choose Copy from the Action pop-up menu A.

Next, specify which folder you want to back up. Select Specified B, and then drag your Manuscripts folder (or whatever you want to back up) from your Home folder directly into the Target Item well C.

Tell QuicKeys where to copy that folder. The easiest way, once again, is to drag the icon of a backup folder from the networked Mac (whose hard drive you brought to the screen in step 6) into the Destination Folder well D. You'll also want to turn on the Replace Existing Files option E to make sure your backup disk always contains only one set of files -- the most recent set.

Adding a keystroke trigger for this step is -- as usual -- optional. To finish, give the macro an appropriate name and then close the Manage Files dialog box.

String Together the Pieces

Now that you've built all the individual pieces of your morning routine, you're ready to string them together into one massive, overarching, self-running macro. Then you can stand back and enjoy the ride.

Open the Create menu, and then open the QuicKeys submenu. Choose Insert Shortcut. The Insert Shortcut window will appear A. This will be the master shell into which you'll import all the individual macros you've built so far.

First type a name for your morning macro B. Position the Insert Shortcut and the QuicKeys Editor windows on screen so you can see both of them at once. (If the QuicKeys Editor isn't visible, choose it from the Window menu to bring it back.)

In the QuicKeys Editor window, find the first macro you'd like to run -- the e-mail one C, for example -- and drag it into the well D in the Insert Shortcut window. Open the Steps drawer so that you can see your ladder of tasks grow.

To add a second task to your morning macro (for example, Web Faves), go back to the Create menu and select Insert Shortcut from the QuicKeys submenu again. This time, you'll drag your Web Faves macro into the well.

Repeat this process for every macro you want to include in your morning routine. When the macro is complete, your Steps drawer should look something like our example's E.

Click on the Trigger tab. This time, instead of selecting a keystroke to trigger your entire morning routine, you want to set the macro to trigger automatically when you log on to your computer in the morning. In the Available Triggers panel, double-click on After Open F. A new panel appears, asking how many seconds QuicKeys should wait before initiating the macro G. Type a number, such as 15, so that QuicKeys will run the master macro just after your Mac turns on and QuicKeys loads.

For testing purposes, add your macro to the QuicKeys System menu by double-clicking on System Menu in the Available Triggers panel. Close the Insert Shortcut window.

Test and Debug

You may not be aware of it, but you've just become a programmer. And part of writing self-operating software is, of course, testing and debugging it.

Quit all your programs except QuicKeys. From the QuicKeys System menu in the upper right corner of your window, choose your master morning macro.

As you watch, QuicKeys should open your e-mail program, download new messages, open the windows in your Web browser, bring up your networked Mac without bothering you for a password, and copy your Manuscripts folder to it.

If something goes wrong along the way, you have a few troubleshooting tools in your arsenal.

For example, sometimes QuicKeys needs to cool its jets for a moment while it waits for the Mac to complete one of its commands. If your Mac isn't the latest and greatest G4 attached to a cable modem, QuicKeys may be slow to open three Web sites simultaneously and may need to pause between windows.

To insert a pause, open QuicKeys and double-click on the problematic macro in the QuicKeys Editor. Open the Steps drawer. Se

And here's another good debugging tactic: tell QuicKeys what to do if it can't complete one step before proceeding to the next. For example, if you connect to the Internet via a dial-up modem and Mail can't connect, you don't want QuicKeys to interrupt the flow of your magnificent macro.

In the Steps drawer, double-click on the Result icon C for the problem step. In the resulting dialog box, choose the If Step Fails, Continue To Next Step option D, and then click on OK.

Finally, note that you can confine a certain macro so that it works only when you're in a certain program (instead of working systemwide, as the macros in this tutorial do). In the macro's Triggers tab, use the Add Application pop-up menu E, to choose the program that the macro will apply to.

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