QuicKeys X3, by Startly Technologies
Posted: 30-Mar-2005

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Startly Technologies Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mike Lloyd Class: UTILITY

Overview
QuicKeys X3 is a powerful macro program that supports a wide variety of mechanisms that reduce the complexity of daily or routine tasks to a simple keyboard shortcut or menu selection. QuicKeys provides a powerful editor to develop and maintain these macros. It also sports a powerful debugging capability that provides a clear and unambiguous display of the results of each step in the macro process. The vendor, Startly Technologies, also provides a comprehensive User's Guide and a user forum to share macros and help debug problems.

NOTE: Startly Technologies was formerly CE Software.

Requirements

  • Mac OS X version 10.3 or later
  • 128 MB RAM
  • 20MB of free hard drive space (you will need more as you build a library of QuicKeys shortcuts and clips)
  • Certain features, such as automatic checking for QuicKeys updates, require an internet connection
  • System Accessibility must be turned on


Price
QuicKeys retails for $99.95.

Evaluation Configuration
The evaluation configuration consisted of a 17" G4 iMac with 768 Mbytes of memory, an internal 80 Gbyte hard drive, a 200 Gbyte drive connected using Firewire 1394a and running Mac OS x 10.3.

Installation
Open the CD or disk image and drag and drop the big blue "Q" icon labeled "QuicKeys" into your Applications folder on your hard drive. You can also download a free trial version from
Startly's web site.

Usage
To understand the usage of QuicKeys, one must be familiar with QuicKeys concepts first.

Shortcuts
A shortcut is QuicKeys term for what is generally view as a macro or script. In essence, a shortcut converts a single keyboard action or menu selection to a series of tasks. You are able to define the series of tasks and the trigger to initiate the process. QuicKeys is delivered with a set of predefined shortcuts that range from iTunes controls to opening a set of common applications and folders. The predefined shortcuts allow the novice user to gain a better understanding of the capabilities of QuicKeys and its use.
Triggers
Triggers are defined as a user-specified signal that causes QuicKeys to initiate a shortcut. One or more triggers are assigned to a shortcut when it is first created. Triggers can be attached to a user-based action, such as a menu selection or a hot key. The can also be assigned to a date and time, a device event, such as a mouse button press, or an application event, such as an open or quit. QuicKeys also supports speech recognition, which allows spoken phrases to be used as triggers. Shortcuts can also be invoked from within Applescript.
Scope
The scope of a trigger is can range among all applications, which means that the shortcut can be activated regardless of the application that is current active or its state. The scope can be restricted to only be available when a predefined application is active. Subscopes can be established to handle separate states within the application environment. The scoping rules establish the precedence of application specific rules over the general application rules. An exclusion list is also provided to remove applications from a shortcut's application list.
Step Results
The success or failure of a step is known to the shortcut. As a default, a shortcut will continue to the next step in its process if a step is a success and will terminate the shortcut if a step is a failure. This behavior can be overridden by assigning a specific action to perform if a step fails.


QuicKeys provides a powerful editor that is basically an Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The editor has a number of different features that simplify the development of shortcuts.


Figure 1 - The QuicKeys Editor

As shown in Figure 1, the initial editor display provides a master list of the available shortcuts based on the scope selected in the Scope area. It is important to be aware of the scope that you are operating in. When I first started using QuicKeys, I thought I was operating at the specific application level, , but I was operating at the "all application" level, which meant when I deleted the default shortcuts, it was deleted for all applications rather than just for Retrospect (which was my intent). This error was easily corrected by reloading the default shortcuts from a provided backup file. The editor also provides a toolbar that allows the user to create, record, or edit a shortcut. It also provides direct access to the QuicKeys community web forums.


Figure 2 - QuicKeys Shortcut editing window

Figure 2 above shows the Shortcut editing window. The "Scopes & Triggers" pane is used to define the trigger to invoke the shortcut (see Figure 3 below).


Figure 3 - Setting the Scope and Trigger for a shortcut

The "Steps" pane is the list of steps (and description of steps) for the shortcut. Steps can be inserted manually using the toolbar or the menu. The menu features a pull down menu that contains all of the possible commands that are available in QuicKeys. The user can also insert additional steps using the recording process. Overall, I found the editor intuitive and very easy to use. Unfortunately, the performance of the editor left much to be desired. Sometimes it would take an extremely long period of time to move from step to step or to scroll through the shortcut's steps. I am not certain whether it is a problem with the editor or the speed or memory on my machine, but this problem is a major annoyance and impediment to the use of this software.


Figure 4 - QuicKeys Recording Tutorial

Recording in QuicKeys is very easy. The user simply turns on the recording and is presented with the window (shown in Figure 4 above) which provides a short tutorial for using the recording feature. The recording process is in some ways too easy. Generally, I found that the recording process generated many more steps than I expected. This problem is described in the User's Guide under the vagaries of recording (e.g., leaving the keyboard for five minutes to brush your teeth would be recorded as a five minute pause). It is still much easier to record a set of steps and then edit the script rather than entering the steps from scratch.

Debugging
The QuicKeys debugging tool is very capable and useful in identifying and correcting any problems in a shortcut. The debugger presents each step in sequence during a shortcut's execution. Under some conditions, such as a button press, the debugger will highlight specific information, such as the button to be pressed, and ask you for confirmation. This feature simplified the identification of timing problems in my shortcuts. The debugger does not have the ability to start the step-by-step execution of a shortcut in the middle of a shortcut (aka, set a breakpoint). Many debuggers allow the developer to tag a step at which the execution process could be paused so that the debugging process could start at that point. Providing this feature would allow the developer to run the ten steps that are functioning properly at real time and start the step-by-step execution on the eleventh step where the problem is occurring. Since QuicKeys does not provide this feature, the developer is forced to go through the ten good steps on a step-by-step basis before reaching the eleventh step where the problem is occurring.

Shortcut Development and Usage
Retrospect was the application that was used as a platform for the bulk of my shortcut programming in QuicKeys. I was trying to automate a process to reset the Windows client that was on the backup list. This is a multi-step process that results from an a consistency check error and was proving to be an annoyance due its frequency of occurrence. Retrospect does not provide a mechanism to automate this process, so it seemed like a good candidate for exercising QuicKeys. I split the problem into two shortcuts. One shortcut removes the client from the backup list and adds it back in. The second shortcut rebuilds the backup volumes that were lost when the client was removed. Overall, the shortcuts were fairly easy to develop using the recording feature, and then the shortcut editor to clean things up. They ran very quickly and were generally robust. However, one problem that is endemic to this type of tool did occur. Since selection of items in many of the Retrospect windows is positionally based, changes to the location of these items (due to added or deleted items) caused the shortcut to fail. This is not a flaw in QuicKeys capabilities, but simply a limitation.

In another test, I wanted to automatically retrieve email from my POP server using Entourage, but did not want to leave Entourage running continuously. I was able to easily develop a shortcut to launch Entourage, run the Send/Receive task while pausing the execution of the shortcut, and then terminate Entourage. The shortcut was attached to a set of timed triggers. This worked very well.


QuicKeys can be used to automate a wide variety of mundane tasks, such as using a hotkey to type your mailing address, and so on. It can be used to transpose two characters using a single key combination. Several other examples are provided in the QuicKeys documentation, such as setting hotkeys to open the Documents folder to read or save to depending on the dialog. Overall, I found the development and usage of QuicKeys shortcuts to be very easy and fairly robust.

Documentation
Startly Technologies provides first class documentation in their User's Guide. The QuicKeys User's Guide provides a thorough treatment of the tool and its usage. It is systematic in its organization by providing a well thought introduction and tutorial. In fact, one of the strengths of the guide is that the authors provide tutorial with each major section. This tutorial reinforces the material that was covered. This User's Guide also provides a comprehensive review of the menu structure of the tool by taking each menu item with its sub-menus and provides a detailed description of each item and how to use it.

I did find one serious omission in the documentation. Their advertised Password Vault was only given very short mention in the text entry portion of their User's Guide. There is no mention of the protection mechanisms that are used for this information. I was apprehensive about using this feature without the appropriate information. I did contact Startly technical support, and they indicated that the information stored in the vault is encrypted using the Blowfish algorithm. The vaulted information is not displayed in the editor or viewer. Based on this information, the risk with the use of this tool is no greater than Apple's Keychain product .

Summary
QuicKeys X3 is capable automation tool that provides a great deal of flexibility and richness in the commands that it can automate. The development environment is easy to use and shortcuts are easily developed. The command structure provides a robust platform for developing complex shortcuts. The tool provides a wide variety of mechanisms to trigger shortcut execution, ranging from keyboard command to a scheduled execution. QuicKeys includes a password vault feature, but it is not documented in the User's Manual. QuicKeys may be a bit pricey for the average home user. I would definitely recommend QuicKeys for environments where process automation is required.

Pros

  • Strong User's Manual
  • Interfaces to multiple scripting languages
  • Recordable scripts
  • Script debugging
  • Speedy Execution

Cons

  • Sluggish Editor
  • All steps must be executed when debugging a macro (aka, no breakpoints)
  • No documentation on the Password Vault security features
  • Pricey for average home user


Overall Rating:

4 out of 5 Mice