You can put together custom hotkeys in a number of different places, but nothing beats the flexibility of our favourite global hotkey manager, AutoHotkey.
- Automate just about anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks, scripting them by hand or by using the macro recorder
- Create hotkeys for keyboards, joysticks and mice. Virtually any key combination can become a hotkey.
- Convert any script into an EXE file that can be run on computers without AutoHotkey installed.
Although this feature list is incredibly short, don’t let that fool you into thinking there’s very little AutoHotkey can do. Read on for more examples. It’s incredibly powerful.
We’ve talked about AutoHotkey a lot around here, and that’s because it’s one of our all-time favourite Windows programs. You can use it to turn nearly any action into a keyboard shortcut, including plenty of useful system tasks. For example, you could:
- Launch an app
- Control your media player with any keys (and even pause it for a specific period of time)
- Type long messages with just a few characters (using text expansion)
- Shut down, log off, or sleep your computer
- Quickly show or hide hidden files and file extensions
It’s remarkably easy to use, too, even though it’s basically a scripting language. AutoHotkey’s documentation is fantastic, and even if you’ve never coded before, you can pick it up very quickly and start writing basic scripts. And, of course, if you’re more advanced, you can write entire programs in AutoHotkey, like our own Adam Pash’s Belvedere and Texter.
AutoHotkey doesn’t have many downsides. It is a scripting language, so it isn’t as dead simple as some of its competition (see below), but it’s honestly not that much more difficult — and I am far from what you would call a coder. To perform simple tasks, you only need to know its extremely basic syntax:
hotkey::action, and as I said before, the documentation is incredible. If you only need a few little hotkeys, it might be overkill, but once you start playing around with it, you’ll probably think of stacks of awesome things you can do with it that other programs wouldn’t be able to accomplish.
Hotkeyz is a bit more traditional of a hotkey program, offering a window that lets you assign hotkeys to command line commands. It isn’t quite as powerful as AutoHotkey, but it’s still pretty darn useful, and if you’d rather not mess with scripts, Hotkeyz gives you a bit more of a visual interface to work with (though you’ll still need to learn the commands for what you want to run). It’s completely free and portable, too, which is great.
Some app launchers like Executor and Find and Run Robot, two of our favorites, have built-in hotkey managers. With them you can launch apps, run scripts, run commands and more, which is nice for those of you that don’t necessarily want to deal with command-line commands for everything. Plus, if you already use an app launcher, you don’t need to install anything new!
Lastly, if you’re looking to do something specific, apps related to that action probably have hotkey support built-in. For example, if you’re looking to turn a window management action into a keyboard shortcut, something like Dexpot or DisplayFusion probably has the feature built-in, with customisable hotkeys at your fingertips. It’s not quite the same, but a lot of times it can be just as effective.
Got a favourite hotkey manager that we didn’t mention? We don’t care. Try AutoHotkey. (Just kidding! Share it with it in the comments.)
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