Review: Keyboard Maestro

Posted on Jan 25, 2010 in Featured, Mac, Reviews


If you use your Mac professionally, chances are you often find yourself typing out certain bits of text over and over again. Whether it’s a URL, a file path or email snippets, typing these snippets over and over again can waste a lot of time. That’s where utilities such as Keyboard Maestro come in handy: they allow you to define keyboard shortcuts that will type out phrases or execute commands for you.

Unlikea more general-use utilities such as LaunchBar or Quicksilver, Keyboard Maestro is designed primarily for text manipulation and keyboard shortcuts rather than general purpose file system actions and macros. Having said that, it can also replicate some of the functionality those programs offer as well, giving it a bit of an advantage over more basic text replacement tools such as Typinator or TextExpander.

Performance

If there’s one thing you need your text-replacement utility to do, it’s reliable text replacement. You want it to work immediately, regardless of which application you’re working in. If it causes any extra delay, it would interrupt your thought and you would probably be quicker off typing things out yourself.

Keyboard Maestro performed very well in this regard and worked instantly every time, regardless of which every application I tested it with.

Advanced Commands

Once you’ve become accustomed to basic text replacement, you start thinking about more advanced things.

I for instance use a number of text replacements that allow me to create URLs based on file paths I’ve copied. So by copying the path “/images/example.jpg”, I can simply type the shortcut “..imgloc” to turn that file path into the URL “http://jetplanejournal.com/posts/images/example.jpg“.

But Keyboard Maestro can also trigger non-text events, such as mouse movements, system events (e.g. volume, disk ejects etc.) open URLs etc. The Keyboard Maestro website has a number of ideas and suggestions to help you optimize your workflow.

But there’s more…

So Keyboard Maestro is a text replacement utility, a keyboard hotkey tool and a time saver. What other tricks does it have up its sleeve?
Well, it can also:

  • Store your clipboard history and manage multiple clipboards
  • Remote control your Mac from your iPhone using its built-in macro trigger webserver
  • Run regular scripts and jobs for you
  • Record GUI-based scripts

Gripes

Keyboard Maestro is a very powerful utility, but manages to be easy to use thanks to a fairly simple and straightforward interface. However, the UI could do with a little bit of extra polish here and there and one or two Macros that are enabled by default may be confusing:

  • Some of the icons could be more obvious, e.g. you enable and disable macros by clicking a (stateless) check mark. A “no entry” icon is used for delete instead of the conventional “—” icon.
  • To finish editing a new macro, you can either close the actions pane, or click the “+” icon, neither of which is particularly obvious.
  • By default, Option+backspace is remapped to forward delete, which left me scratching my head for a few seconds, as I generally use that shortcut to delete entire words.
  • Similarly, Ctrl+Tab is remapped to Keyboard Maestro’s own application window switching function (which is similar to the Dock expose feature in Snow Leopard) – I use that shortcut extensively to switch between tabs in Safari.

But these are all minor gripes that won’t annoy you at all once you have everything set up the way you want, so I offer them mainly as feedback to the developer.

What about the tools built-in to OS X?

I know a lot of users prefer to use the tools and functionality built-in to OS X whenever possible, so you might ask what’s wrong with those tools…

Well, although text substitution service has been beefed up significantly in 10.6, it’s still lacking the customizablity you’ll find in utilities such as Keyboard Maestro. You could also replicate a lot of the functionality in Automator, but in my experience, Automator is so slow to execute a command, it’s not worth the effort.

Conclusion

Keyboard Maestro is a great utility for anyone that spends a lot of time working with text on their Mac. Whether you might be thinking of using it to help you quickly answer repetitive email, create blog posts or just to map certain mouse-based actions to a keyboard shortcut, it’s definitely worth checking out.
I’ve tried a number of similar utilities, but in terms of extendability and scope, Keyboard Maestro seems to take the cake. At $36, it’s not cheap for a utility, but considering the time it’ll help you save I think it’s a fair price. I’d recommend you try it out and see how well it could fit into your daily workflows. A free demo is available.

Recommended.

Disclaimer: Peter Lewis, maker of Keyboard Maestro kindly provided me with a license for this review. All opinions are however, of course my own.

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