Wednesday, June 20, 2007

ActiveWords...Making Notes (and More!) Easier To Use

In my post from a few weeks ago, I briefly talked about one of my favorite productivity tools, ActiveWords. In this post, I want to introduce you to ActiveWords in a little more detail. At the end, I'll hit you up for some ideas that we can use to make ActiveWords even more compelling for Lotus Notes users.

First, a little about how I use ActiveWords in my daily work. The program is set to load when I start my computer, so as soon as I jump into my work it is ready to go. Usually, the first thing I do is start launching programs and ActiveWords is perfect for this task. It doesn't matter where I am within Windows (at my desktop, in another program, etc.), I can trigger an action just by typing its ActiveWord and using the activation key (by default it is F8 but there is an option to use 'space' 'space' as a trigger, which I really like). So, as soon as my PC loads up, I type 'n' at the desktop and hit the spacebar twice. This command launches Notes. The really powerful part comes into play when I am actively engaged in a work task. Let's say I'm typing an e-mail and I want to pull up Microsoft Excel. As I'm typing (directly in the memo where I get the thought), I can enter 'xl' and then double space. As soon as I type the first space, ActiveWords is aware that I used one of my words and the next press of the spacebar actually activates the action. Excel then launches as I desired and the letters I typed in the memo to trigger the ActiveWord are deleted (pretty smart, eh?). The screenshots below show you some of the options you have when setting up such a trigger word.

Just with the option to launch programs by keywords wherever I am, ActiveWords provided me with a productivity boost. However, ActiveWords is no one trick pony. It can do far more than just act as a program launcher. "What else?", you may ask. How about:

- Substitute a word you type with a another word, phrase or even multiple paragraphs
- Navigate to a specific Windows folder
- Open a website (or any URL really...think notes://)
- Open a document (this is what I use to launch .ndl files)
- Open a Windows Setting
- etc., etc.

You really need to experience it for yourself (hint: download the free trial), but here are some examples of ActiveWords that I use for the categories shown above.

Test Substitutions
* I now have my e-mail/message board signature line defined as a text substitution (multiple lines complete with a quote and all). My ActiveWord for this is 'sig', so I just type this and hit the spacebar twice to insert my signature wherever I am. No longer do I have to keep a signature line defined in multiple programs.
* I have ActiveWords for my 'name', 'address', 'phone', etc. If I need to enter those values in a field, I use the applicable ActiveWord, which is a lot faster than typing the whole thing.
* When I am doing application testing, I absolutely hate typing dummy text in fields. I put the opening couple paragraphs of the Gettysburg Address into an ActiveWord called 'test' and voilĂ , instant development testing text.

Opening A Website
Well this is pretty self-explanatory, but very useful. Example ActiveWords in my WordBase include 'bank', 'wiki', 'gm' (Gmail), 'r6' (Notes 6 & 7 forum...i.e! :-) Since this function within ActiveWords supports any URLs that are registered in Windows (*I think*), the notes URL protocols work too!

Navigating To A Folder/Opening A Windows Setting
I use this for quick access to My Documents and other folders on my hard drive ('projects', 'expenses', 'pics', etc.), Opening a Windows setting allows me to launch the control panel ('cp'), add/remove programs ('add'), etc. with just a couple keystrokes.

I think you get the idea.

Now, imagine extending these basic uses. For example, what if you wanted to quickly send a link to your calendar to another user? Maybe you do this often and it would be worthwhile to create an ActiveWord for the action. There's not an option for this out of the box, so what do you do? Being the really cool program it is, ActiveWords provides you with a scripting language that you can use to automate many tasks. Basically, if it's something you can do in Windows, you should be able to write a script to accomplish it. So, how could we automate the calendar link? Something like the following would do the trick:

You can see here that there are several commands built into the scripting language. Commands in the scripting language are delimited by < and >. In the example here, I am navigating to the Calendar view, pausing for a second, then emulating the press of the 'alt' key, followed by e (Edit), n (Copy As Link) and v (View Link). I then use the shortcut to create a new memo (Ctrl-m), tab down 4 times to get to the body and then do a Ctrl-v to paste the view link. Of course, this could be extended to include standard text, a signature line, etc.

The scripting language is quite advanced and allows you to use compound commands as well. As you can imagine, this can lead to some very complex actions that you can control with just a key or two. If you are concerned about being more productive and you are an ActiveWords user, you owe it to yourself to explore this feature in more detail. I'm really just starting to discover the power of ActiveWords scripting and I'm loving it.

That's right, Bob...there IS more! If you are a Tablet PC user like I am, you might find it a little difficult to trigger ActiveWords by using the keyboard when there's no keyboard available to you (i.e. when the tablet is in slate mode)! Enter the ActiveWords InkPad. This totally cool, totally free addition to ActiveWords provides you with a little floating widget that you can use to enter the trigger words with your pen! There are several options available for placement of the widget, size of the InkPad, etc. I have mine set to always be visible on the screen (whoops...sorry for leaving that on during my presentation at bad!). The ActiveWords icon floats on top of all windows (I've got it set to be semi-transparent) and only when I hover over the icon does the InkPad input area appear. Then, I simply write in my ActiveWord and move my pen out of the input area and the command is triggered. This is a very valuable addition to this program, since I maintain all of my standard ActiveWords functionality without having access to my keyboard!

In addition to all of the functionality built in to ActiveWords, there are several free modules available as add-ins that help extend the power of the tool even further. In ActiveWords lingo, these add-ins are known as "WordBases". Available WordBases include one that makes taking advantage of Google search and services very easy, an emoticon replacement function (e.g. type 'flower' and get @}->--), in-place spelling corrections, standard Windows commands and automation, etc. You can see all of the available add-ins here.

So...all of this leads me to a couple of calls to action. First, I encourage you to check out ActiveWords and see if you find it as compelling as I do. They have a 60-day trial available, so this gives you plenty of time to get a feel for the application and explore how it can make you more productive. Second, if you already use ActiveWords or if I've intrigued you enough to try it, you might want to participate in helping the fine folks at ActiveWords make a standard WordBase for Lotus Notes. Since I'm always harping on the UI of the client, I have a keen interest in leveraging ActiveWords to make using Notes easier. I've seen this in action in my own work and I think we could do the community of users a great service by helping in this space. If you want to explore what I've done so far and offer any of your own ideas, critiques, etc., please check out this post on the ActiveWords forum.

Ready? Go...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to mention/describe how you use ActiveWords. I'm downloading a trial now for my TabletPC!

mike leahy said...

Great job explaining the product Chris.I am looking forward to the demo