Activewords is a hard thing to describe ("like TiVo" when it first came out, according to PCWorld; see also Rick Talcott's article which describes ActiveWords in an allegorical way). So what is it?
ActiveWords is a system type of program. Some might call it a "macro-program," or perhaps a "macro-program on steroids." It matches "words" to "actions." Once you install it ActiveWords constantly watches what you type and is ready to act on any word (or phrase) that you have defined. If you match "google" to the action of "opening-your-browser-and-taking-you-to-the-Google-website" that that's what it does. If you define the word "believe" with the action of "replace-'beleive'-with-'believe'" then that's what it does. It lets you assign words to actions that insert or replace text, navigate to Internet sites, open programs, navigate to folders, open files, and basically anything that you can think of.
In short, it lets you use your computer in a way that is more natural, i.e. using words (as opposed to fishing around with a mouse). The only thing more cool than using ActiveWords would be if you could just speak to your computer and it would understand. A lot of programs are cool but you only use them sporadically to perform a specific task. This program is something that you use constantly, the whole time your computer is running. Its power is tremendous, and --unfortunately-- is the reason that many people don't "get it" until they first see ActiveWords demonstrated. Are you a blogger? Well, then...
You have to try it! It's free for 60 days and the tech support is incredible. You can E-mail them with questions and they'll get right back to you. You'll have questions because you're not used to your computer listening to you in this way. Like many trauma victims, you won't even notice you're in shock. It'll wear off in a month, and by then you'll be hooked and you will find that you can't live without ActiveWords.
I've been using it now for over a year now, and it has truly changed my life. In what way? Well by saving me time and letting me get from point A to point B fast. And I mean fast. If I want something from my computer I tell it and I'm there. But it also gives me control. I'm not locked into learning shortcuts for actions that may change with the next version of the operating system. If I decide to buy a new computer tomorrow I can take my ActiveWords Wordbase with me, pop it into the new machine and I'm set to go. If my law firm decides to switch E-mail systems, and go from Groupwise to Outlook, I don't care. All the issues about whether the consultants can actually convert my "frequent contacts" goes away. At least for me. Because I use ActiveWords to send E-mail (and it uses the "mailto" function with whatever program is my default mail handler) I keep the same shortcut commands to make my computer do what I want.
Basically, what ActiveWords gives me is a customized and personal operating system that interacts with Windows and let's me use my vocabulary to make my computer do what I want. This is a very profound and important concept. If the world worked the way it should, then ActiveWords (in some form or another) would be built into every computer device that was built. It's not right now, but so what? You can make the world the way it should be for you.
Do yourself a favor. Download the program now. Then download two "plug-ins" that are also free:
After you do that you'll be set. You're about to be saved. Relax, nothing's going to happen. It's just that your computer is going to become a whole lot more responsive to your needs.
After you've downloaded and gotten comfortable
...you'll want to tune up your system for optimal speed and ease of use
- Go to the ActiveWords Menu and choose "Options"
- Then pick the Tab Bar labelled "Confirmation"
- make sure to check the "Space Bar" box
and next is just a personal suggestion 'cause I like the monitor bar on the bottom
- Again from the "Options" menu pick the Tab Bar labelled "AW Monitor"
- and then select "Dock on Bottom"
Now you've got your monitor on the bottom which I think is easier to see when you are typing and you also can trigger your ActiveWords by simply typing the word and then spacing away twice. No more farting around with the F8 Key, which is the default choice (who's got time for that?).
Now you might ask, "well what happens if I want to put two spaces after a word that is an ActiveWord?" Don't worry. Remember that usually the only time you purposefully put two spaces is at the end of a sentence and then you'll have a period after the last word. The period will prevent the word from being a trigger for any ActiveWord you might have typed.
Also, it's good to know about the command where you hold down both CTRL keys simultaneously. That brings up the little "work pad" where you can type without fear of messing up your current document, and also it makes it easier to see what your ActiveWord is when you type it.
Establishing naming conventions
I said this before, but it took me a while to understand. ActiveWords will accept "phrases" as well as single words. So you can type the phrase "search google" and have it open your browser and go to the Google site. You can also just type the single word "google" and have it do the same thing. You have lots of choices. But at some point you are going to accumulate a lot of ActiveWords, and keeping track of them will be important (not critical, though, because there is search feature and other things that keep you from getting lost). Still, it helps if you have a good system in place.
But before talking about systems, it is very important to note you can have one ActiveWord for two actions. Let's take an example. Say, you use Google to search and you just decide to use the word Search to trigger a Google search (i.e. to open the browser and go to Google). But then a week later you decide you like another search engine too. You can have the same word (i.e. Search) navigate to either site. How? Well, because ActiveWords will open dialogue box when you type Search and give you two choices: Google, or the new search engine that you picked. Or you could have it so that every place that you shop at on the web is triggerd by the word "shop." So the only drawback to having one ActiveWord trigger two different events is that you will be presented with a list to choose from.
So the big issue when you are setting up your naming conventions is: do I want the action to be triggered immediately, or am I willing to pick from a series of choices. I think the best criteria for making that decision is based on how often you expect to perform the action. If I might visit someone's 'blog site once a week or less often then I'm not likely to remember the word I associated with it when the time comes to take that action. Hence, it is better to just associate the word "blog" to a bunch of blogs and make sure that the description let's me know whose 'blog it is.
On the other hand, if I want ActiveWords to help me with emails then I need a formal convention. I could make it so that the convention was "email [person's lastname]". Then when I typed "email Smith" the computer would pull up my E-mail program and address an E-mail to Bob Smith. And, again, if there were several people named Smith that I needed to E-mail then the program would simply give me the opportunity to choose the one that I wanted to communicate with.
Two important commands
Remember I told you to download and install the AWControls module? If you didn't then do that now. One of the things that module does is allow you to contol ActiveWords itself with words that you assign. For example, let's say you want to add a new ActiveWord. Instead of using your mouse to go to the little ActiveWords menu and choosing "Add new ActiveWords" you can just type the word "add" and space twice and have that dialogue box pop up quickly. You can even make it so when you type "add web" it will pull up the box that lets you add a web site. That is useful and I use it all the time. If I'm at a site that I want to "bookmark" I just type "add web" and then I hit ALT + U to have the current site automatically added, and then I list some description and assign the word I want and I'm done. It takes me about 5 seconds to add a site if I want to.
The other ActiveWord command is the "find" command. If you type that it will automatically pull up the ActiveWords console to let you search for a term or ActiveWord that you are looking for. This is a good reason to make your "descriptions" as verbose as possible. The search works quickly and will pick up any ActiveWords or descriptive terms.
Temporarily Disabling ActiveWords
After about a month of using ActiveWords (if you are vigorous about adding to your "wordbase") you get to the point where you encounter situations where you want to type a word that you have told ActiveWords to perform a text replacement on, but now, in your current situation, you don't want it to do that. At this point in your development you are used to having to use the mouse and it pisses you off that you have to navigate over to the menu and make a choice or whatever...(these days I get pissed if I can't immediately make my computer do what I want).
Anyway, let' use a concrete example. I have my ActiveWords set up so that if I type "Sun" it will replace it with "Sunday", and same for all the days of the week and months etc. But what happens if I want to write a sentence like "the sun came out early." Well, ActiveWords will automatically replace it to read "the Sunday came out early." I have to fix this. The obvious thing is to not make it so ActiveWords will replace the word "sun". And that is what I did. But when I first encountered that problem I wanted first and foremost to just finish the sentence without having to fight ActiveWords for the right to type the word the way I wanted. Fortunately, I had learned the "nap" command. Whenever I type "nap" and then two spaces ActiveWords will erase the word "nap" and then ignore just the next word that I type. So, without having my hand leave the keyboard I was able to continue typing without losing a beat.
If, at any time I want to disable ActiveWords so that it ignores everything I am typing and just basically goes to sleep, I type "sleep" and then two spaces. To "wake up" ActiveWords you have to go to the little face icon in the middle of the ActiveWords taskbar.
Text Substitution - It's not just a breakfast food...
The power of the text substitution feature of ActiveWords is easy to underestimate. But it is one of the things that I find myself constantly using, and also constantly trying to use in new ways. The basic use was obvious to me right off the bat. I am not the greatest typist in the world. I make a lot of mistakes. I often type "teh" when I mean to type "the"... and same with "taht." These days (because of ActiveWords) I just keep typing when I make that mistake because ActiveWords will replace it. Anywhere. Anytime. Emails. Website form boxes. Typing the name of a file. Whatever.
But I have also made ActiveWords for all of my family's social security numbers so that when I type their initials and the letters "ss" it replaces them. I have made ActiveWords for the credit card numbers that I use often. As an attorney, I constantly have to come up with the file number for a case so that I can bill it or put it on correspondence. I used to fish around for the piece of paper that had the list of file numbers for my cases. I have thrown that piece of paper away. In short, there are a lot of ways to use just the text substitution features. I'm sure that programers could make great use of it by creating short letter combos for a particular lengthy command (which, of course, has to be spelled correctly to work properly) If you are clever you can think of a thousand uses for the text substitution features.
© Copyright 2003 Ernest Svenson.
Last update: 6/5/2003; 10:07:20 PM.