Text Expansion

Buying an iPhone 3 in 2009 turned into a more expensive exercise than I’d expected. From a modestly capable Microsoft Guru, I became an Apple ecosystem addict and mostly abandoned the Microsoft world in which I’d been immersed since before they even thought of Windows.

I only missed a couple of things in switching to the Mac: Windows, true to its name, allowed managing program windows more easily with keyboard shortcuts or by mouse clicks, but I really miss Windows’ excellent text expansion capability.

In Windows you have access to a tiny, free, and outstanding program called:

AutoHotKey

AutoHotKey is a “text expansion program”. If you spend time pounding a computer keyboard, it’s a blessing. Here’s how it works; in the program, I set up shortcuts.

For instance, if I type:

  • kkb, AutoHotKey writes “keyboard” in its place.
  • I have it replace hhome, with my street address, complete with new-line returns.
  • nnz becomes New Zealand.
  • eeml becomes my email address,
  • wwh becomes my tongue-twisting suburb, Whangaparaoa; and
  • ddmob is my wife’s phone number.
  • Remember your passport number? You don’t have to. Just type ppn.

Apple fail — almost

Apple also have a free text replacement facility. It’s built-in and available in System Preferences under Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement.

And it works.

Sort of.

For commendable security reasons, Apple don’t allow independent developers to delve as deeply into the nuts and bolts of the Operating System (oos) code as Microsoft (mms) do; as a result, keyboard shortcuts (kkbs) don’t work universally throughout the system.

Even the expensive subscription-based commercial text expansion programs for iOS and MacOS like Text Expander and aText don’t work everywhere within the OS, or in all programs.

Autohotkey rules

The free, Open Source Windows utility AutoHotKey—a scripting language for desktop automation—created by Chris Mallet and others wipes the board with Apple’s relatively anaemic equivalents.

So what about Apple?

Keyboard shortcuts have the useful advantage of working in both MacOS and in iOS. As long as you’re signed into a Mac, iPad, or iPhone with your Apple ID, the keyboard shortcuts are synchronised between all of your devices.

Happy Days.

Not.

Not only did keyboard shortcuts not work everywhere but, infuriatingly, the synchronising was so patchy and unreliable that in the end I just gave up on it in frustration.

Until now

Thank you Apple Updates, thank you.

There was no fanfare, maybe they didn’t want to admit how bad it had been, but I’ve noticed recently that, suddenly, Apple’s Text Shortcuts synchronise flawlessly across my devices. And they work more widely throughout the system.

It’s great. The facility doesn’t have the power of AutoHotkey, but for simple shortcuts which don’t need macros, and special key inputs using Ctrl, Cmd, Return, or Shift, it does a good job.

Autohotkey

logoAutohotkey is free. It’s also the best text expander known to man – free or otherwise.

If you don’t know what a text expander is, read this JustWondering post before you delve any deeper, but if you do any typing on a computer you do need a text expander.

Mac and Linux users, you’re out of luck. For the Mac I recommend the excellent Typinator, and for Linux the only alternative is the clunky but effective Autokey.

Getting started with Autohotkey

  1. Download Autohotkey from the first link on this page.
  2. Run the downloaded exe file.
  3. Right-click anywhere on your desktop, or in a Windows Explorer folder of your choice.
  4. In the pop-up menu, select New » AutoHotkey Script. (or select New » Text Document.)
  5. Give the file a name, ensuring that it ends in .ahk. e.g. mykeys.ahk
  6. Right-click on the file and choose Edit Script. Continue reading “Autohotkey”

You really need a text expander

AutohotkeyText expanders take something you type and turn it into something more, considerably more if you so desire. Trust me, if you use your computer for any significant amount of typing, you need a text expansion program. New York Times technology correspondent and Missing Manual writer David Pogue—for my money, the best IT writer on the planet—estimates that a text expander cuts his typing effort in half.

A text expander does just what the name implies. It expands text. For example, you can set up your text expander so that when you type addy, it outputs your address complete with carriage returns.

Some examples from my Autohotkey script: Continue reading “You really need a text expander”