Review: ActiveWords

ActiveWords Plus 1.9
ActiveWord Systems, Inc.
Winter Park, Florida

It's pretty easy to describe what ActiveWords does: it monitors everything you type in Windows, and if it sees a certain series of keystrokes, it intercepts them and does something. For example, if I type "fb2k" and hit the F8 key, ActiveWords opens the FooBar 2000 music player on my system. It doesn't matter whether I'm in a Word document, a text editor, or just looking at the Windows desktop at the time.

OK, pretty simple idea, but these guys have built it out into a well-rounded program with lots of features. One of the keys is that it's really, really easy to create new ActiveWords. There's a little wizard that walks you through the most common things you'd like to do:

  • Substitute text (ideal for form mail or fixing typos)
  • Launch a program
  • Open a document
  • Navigate to a Web site
  • Send e-mail
  • Open a folder
  • Manipulate a Windows setting

But beyond that, there's a full scripting langauge lurking here. For example, to open a browser on our internal SharePoint server, and have it automatically dismiss the credentials prompt, I wrote a tiny ActiveWords script:


The scripting language can do all sorts of things: type characters and special keys, manipulate the shift keys, call functions from DLLs, chaing multiple ActiveWords together, prompt for user input, find special folders, and so on. To get a sense of what it can do, ActiveWords provides a number of "applications", which are groups of ActiveWords put together into libraries. One, for example, automates a whole batch of common Microsoft Outlook tasks, while another has shortcuts for C++ programming. (In that respect, ActiveWords resembles many other text template expansion products - except that it works everywhere).

ActiveWords comes in several editions; the Plus Edition that I looked at is the middle of the road one. There's also a slightly stripped ActiveWords SE and an ActiveWords Enterprise that lets you share ActiveWord lists across users. You can download a trial version from the company's site and use all of its features while you decide whether ActiveWords fits in with your own way of working.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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