Saturday, August 11, 2012

Quick Macros Review: Core Programs 1

For us, computer users, there is a group of four or five core programs that are so useful that figuratively we cannot live without. Each of us has different preferences and needs which  reflect in what we use. The rise of mobile devices and applications has shifted the focus towards smartphones and tablets, but there are still some persons, like me, that prefer the larger screens and more computing power; that is why my core programs are still run on a PC. I thought to review them for anyone out there who is listening, because these might prove useful to them too. I'll start in this post with my macro program.

I'm a man of routine. No, I don't mean that I'm boring, but that I lean towards a more ordered life. Part of that is trying to eliminate wasted time. Doing the same things over and over again can take big chunks of your life. Now, that's boring. Even with computers, most people still have to fire up the machine, open the browser, open the several favorite webpages one reads daily, navigate within those, write several mails with perhaps identical headings if the job requires it, and once in a while process a large number of items, such as files or filenames, cell contents in Excel, or the like. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one could achieve this and more with just the press of a button and more efficiently to boot? Well, this is what a macro program can do for you.

My favorite macro program from the start, bar none, is Quick Macros. Quick Macros is developed by Gintaras Didzgalvis and as of this writing is in version I first began to use it back in version 1. It is lightweight yet powerful. For my purposes I only use a sliver of its potential, yet, I doubt that anyone who gets deep into it will be disappointed. It is accessible, requiring from you just some basic programming concepts.

Writing a macro script is fast. You can write something useful within a minute or something more elaborate if the task requires it. The language is clear and intuitive. The code itself is color-coded for easy navigation. For those less inclined to programming, there is a handy integrated recorder that lets you record the precise mouse movements and keystrokes you wish to replicate in the future. With  just that you are good to go. There are several triggers for launching a macro. You can trigger one with a keystroke, mouse click or movement, window event, and even by time. The macro runs until it finishes, gets stuck, or if you decide to end it prematurely by pressing the pause key.

If the need arises, you can export/import the macro files or even make a .exe file to run on another computer that doesn't have quick macros.

The documentation is a bit abstruse, but by looking at the examples one can figure out what each function does most of the time. There is a forum at its homepage with active participation of Gintaras. Answers to most questions can be found there, which sometimes take the form of "how can I…?".

Probably the biggest caveat is that you cannot run two macros simultaneously. Yet, most of the time one can think of a workaround. Also, do not assume that the macros work instantaneously. They do take their time following the script you give them, which can take a while for longer ones. This is normal and still a much better deal than doing the tasks by hand. If I remember rightly, it takes a 10th of a second to pass from instruction to instruction; what takes a longer while is waiting for events to happen, such as waiting for a window to be created.

So far I have used it to launch Internet radio at a certain time, install media players and other programs quickly, resize several windows to a preferred layout, automate futures order entry, play chess with just my voice (more on that on a future post), fill in databases easier, kill pop-up windows, and even edit other macro codes within the same QM screen.

The most obvious alternative is Autohotkey which is free. I tried it a couple of times, but I found the learning curve much much too steep and the flow of writing and launching more difficult. Nonetheless, it also has great capabilities. AHK once could pull off something that I just couldn't  get QM to perform.

Quick macros

This is paid software ($40), but you can try it out free for 30 days. If you're in need of something of this sort, it is well worth it.


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