Program Launcher

How I Use Keyboard Maestro

When I first started reading about Keyboard Maestro, I was confused by what it was and what it could do. Was it a way to make shortcut keys? Was it a clipboard manager? Was it a text expander? Was it an app launcher? Most material referenced Keyboard Maestro as a way to record keyboard shortcuts. That was also supported by it's name.

After digging deeper I found the answer was simply "Yes." It was all those and more. Now using it for a year, keyboard macros barely scratches the surface of what Keyboard Maestro is capable of.

To give a simple comparison, Keyboard Maestro looks like a heavy duty extension or upgrade to the built in Mac Automator tool. It has a similar look and feel, where you have categories of functionality, including using "blocks" that can be tied together to create a workflow. It's certainly possible and very easy to create keyboard shortcuts, or automate an application through it's menus, but that is perhaps 1% of the power Keyboard Maestro offers. In actuality, Keyboard Maestro is an application that allows you to build other applications.

Like Alfred, Keyboard Maestro can be invoked using triggers, keywords, keyboard commands, mouse clicks, or a schedule. Triggers can also be system events such as changing WiFi networks, inserting a USB device, starting an application, when you login or when the machine goes idle.

Based on those events, Keyboard Maestro has hundreds of actions that can be taken. Those actions include opening or closing apps, copying something to the clipboard, changing an iTunes track, muting the sound, locking the system, or launching a search. This should sound familiar as these are features that overlap with Alfred. Again, type in "SQL" and all the apps you have related to SQL will open and be ready for use.

That is impressive, but Keyboard Maestro has more tricks up it's sleeve. Using the more complex Actions it's possible to build your own applications, complete with dialog boxes. There are actions to create Loops, IF statements, Switch/Case blocks, create and assign variables, and even execute other scripts for Shell, AppleScript, or Javascript. Java, Groovy or Python are supported as well.

The exciting thing is, these little applets can be created by dragging and dropping functionality blocks into place and chaining them together.

While it will take some learning, this is the true power of Keyboard Maestro. Using these blocks, I've written dozens of small applications to accomplish all sorts of tasks on my machine. As I've gotten better with Keyboard Maestro, I've actually replaced full blown applications or mimicked their core functionality.

To show what I mean, Keyboard Maestro provides the ability to display dialog boxes to get user input. This prompt can be a text field, checkboxes, dropdowns, a list of options, or selecting a folder location. The result is stored and can be acted on using Loops, Case, IF, Search/Replace, creating a folder, deleting a file, starting an application, etc.

As a simple example, I have a macro to create a repeatable directory structure for my automation projects. I select the parent directory, Keyboard Maestro creates the rest.

Using the FOR and SWITCH blocks, I have an applet that comes close to functionality of Hazel, or what I would use Hazel for. It moves files from my Download folder based on name or extension, so images, videos and documents are moved to different folders with ease. I trigger this manually, but it can be set to run on a schedule, or even when the folder changes. Taking that, when a new file comes in, it could automatically be moved and organized.

I have a small Shell command to find large files on my machine, 500MB, 1GB, 5GB, 10GB. The size options are listed in a dialog. That option is then passed to a script as a variable and the search is started. The results, including the full path name, are listed in a text dialog. Now I know where the files are so my 10GB cycling videos can be moved off to an external drive.

I have a script that mimics Mosaic to position and resize application windows across my monitors. I use this every day to keep my window arrangement tidy and consistent. I can move and resize apps as I work, then put them back by simply pressing a key. TextSoap, TaskPaper, 2Do, CopyLess and Mini Note will always be in the same place. A consistent workspace is an efficient workspace.

I have macros to rename a series of files based on different criteria. This is used to rename image files, audio files, and tutorial videos. There are lots of batch rename tools, but Keyboard Maestro can do the job as well.

I have macros that read the WhereFrom meta data and rename the file accordingly. In some cases files will have a GUID for the name or just say, "audio." Keyboard Maestro can read meta data and turn it into something useful.

I have a trigger that sets up my machine for a VPN connection. When connecting to the Corporate network, I close down noisy network apps, turn off RSS feeds, turn off any downloads, close DevonAgent, open the VPN client or set the network in System Preferences.

Using the Rsync Shell command and the schedule trigger in Keyboard Maestro, I sync my DevonThink Office Pro files and Documents from my work machine to an external drive each Friday at 3pm. Keyboard Maestro prompts me to connect the drive, closes DevonThink Office Pro and runs the shell script with the sync commands. When the work is done, I get a notification and DevonThink starts back up.

To keep things tidy, I have a small Action that empties the system trash every Friday. Using the actual keyboard automation features, there is another that empties the trash in DevonThink Office Pro.

I do a lot of clipboard manipulation for work, so using the clipboard manager feature and the Search/Replace functionality, I manipulate copied test before pasting it. This can be removing or adding a URL to what I just copied. Or removing text so I only have the SKU. I can copy the whole line, but only paste the text I'm interested in. This is also great way to take a piece of text an convert it to a URL or Markdown code block. This saves a whole lot of time with tedious copy and paste functions which is the hallmark of QA work.

True to the name, I do have keyboard and mouse shortcuts programmed, such as triple-click for the mouse and using the Razer number pad for paste. It's not right-click, select Paste, or Command-V. I press a button and the text is pasted.

Along with that, I do indeed have macros that manipulate apps. As mentioned, I have a couple for DevonThink Office Pro, DevonAgent, and Amberlight. Keyboard Maestro repeats a series of keystrokes in each app, and does it very nicely, so it doesn't always have to be an applet. As an example, I've had Keyboard Maestro control Amberlight to make hundreds of desktop wallpaper images.

With these features, Keyboard Maestro also offers Clipboard Management and Text Expansion functionality. I have CopyLess, but it's entirely possible to create and use dedicated clipboards as well as the system clipboard.

The "Insert text by typing" action is similar to TypeIt4Me. Enter a "keyword" and it will be replaced with a block of text. It takes a bit of work to set up, but it's absolutely there. Again, Keyboard Maestro could replace two other tools.

Truth be told, Keyboard Maestro has a learning curve. It's not something you pick up and 5 minutes later you are productive. You will need to put the building blocks together. There is development involved. However, there is a wealth of information on the Keyboard Maestro Wiki and lots of helpful users in the forum, so you can absolutely do it.

It will take some reading of the Wiki to understand variables and how they're used. It will take some time to understand how the blocks fit together. It may take some digging to find the right option within the many choices available for an Action. It will take some practice to build the right kind of dialog box.

However, that patience and practice will be rewarded. Keyboard Maestro is incredibly powerful and flexible. It opens up a whole world of automation possibilities. It offers the power and ease of Automator, but takes it 100 steps forward.

In this last year, Keyboard Maestro has proven to be one of the most amazing applications I've used. It has incredible depth and power. I've written dozens of applets using it's building blocks. It's saved me hours of time doing repetitive tasks, has put extended functionality at the click of a button, and saved me quite a bit of money by allowing me to build applications for my own needs. In a word, it is indispensable and quite honestly, a reason to buy a Mac.

To me, it makes the perfect compliment to Alfred. Between the two, there is very little I can't accomplish with a little time and coding effort.

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How I use Alfred

As first glance, Alfred is a program launcher. That's entirely true, but doesn't speak to the productivity and efficiency Alfred brings. There is a lot more to the story.

Further, when reading what Alfred can do there are references to Keyboard Maestro. While similar, and overlap in functionality, they are quite distinct in how they work. I have both, use them both daily, and do different tasks with each.

From the start, Alfred has a lot shortcut functionality built in. This comes in the form of hotkeys and trigger words. When the Workflow feature is unlocked, Alfred can be extended in all sorts of ways.

Keyboard Maestro has some of this function built in functionality where it can launch apps, control system settings and perform actions based on hotkeys and trigger words. It closely resembles the built in Automator tool and has the same building blocks to build your own solutions.

But, back to the original point. Alfred is fantastic as a program launcher. Press the hotkey, enter the name of the app and it will start. This is efficient and time saving. Not to mention there are dozens of apps that live in the menubar to perform this same task.

Just as easily, Alfred can close apps using the "quit" command. Further you can empty the trash, mute the volume, put the machine to sleep, lock the system and launch targeted searches without taking your hands off the keyboard.

My most common shortcut is launching and closing apps. Next, is target searches. There are built in query shortcuts for Amazon, Google, eBay, IMDB, Wikipedia, YouTube and a dozen others. Type in "ebay Mac Pro 128gb 1tb" and Alfred opens a new browser tab, goes to eBay, enters the criteria and starts the search all in one action.

You can create your own query links. I have searches set up for Katalon Studio, StackOverflow, the Keyboard Maestro forum, and several others. Again, this saves time.

I use that same ability to search within Jira on a daily, even hourly basis. I have a keyword set up for the prefix of the project. The ticket number is then appended and that is sent to Jira in the correct format to open the ticket. When I type "abc 1234" that ticket is opened in Jira within a new tab. I have this for the two projects I work on daily. I don't have to search, I don't have to find the link, I don't get derailed. The ticket is right there and I keep working.

Alfred also provides and extremely convenient way to search for files. Type "find" followed by some part of the file you want, and it will search it's index to locate matching results. Very similar to Spotlight, but this sticks to files in locations you specify, which I feel is more convenient. I can locate files across the 4 drives in my system very easily.

One of the biggest uses for me is the Workflow feature, which is unlocked with the paid version. From this I create "workspaces." This is a way to launch multiple apps together so I have related tools open at the same time. For example, when I start Katalon Studio, Alfred opens SnippetLab, CodeRunner, TextSoap, the GitHub client and opens the project folder on the drive.

The same is true for Valentina Studio. SnippetsLab is opened, TextSoap, my working folder, and my other SQL tools.

I don't have to go looking for a tool, it's open and ready when I need it. When done, they all close down together. I have found this to be extremely convenient. I get a consistent workspace that saves me dozens of steps each time. I don't have to stop and open a folder. I don't have to stop to start another tools. All that has been done. Each step saved is more time saved.

I use this to close all my apps for screen sharing either through Slack or Zoom. This keeps all the dings, notifications, and other interruptions to an absolute minimum. This also prevents bringing a side conversation, document or email to the fore.

Workflows can be written using some of the built in tools, AppleScript, as well as Javascript. But, along with writing your own, there are dozens of Workflow applets available for download. There is an entire site dedicated to just that.

Alfred can integrate into tools like DevonThink Office Pro and SnippetsLab, so results are displayed inline within Alfred without having to open the other application and perform the search. Again, this saves time.

Along with Workflows, Alfred has both a Clipboard and Snippet manager. Just like TypeIt4Me, Alfred can be used to expand text as you type. Snippets can be organized into collections so SQL code is separate from Java which is separate from Emojis. That alone is a massive time saving as I discussed before.

The Clipboard manager works in a similar way. Use the hotkey to copy text, then when you need it, Alfred has a list of items you can paste from.

Workflows, Snippets and Clipboard are in the paid version, but the free version offers plenty of efficiency gain. The launcher is a great time saver. The web search and file search are excellent tools and will be used dozens of times.

I will admit, it takes a bit of time to get yourself into the habit of using Alfred. Not because it's hard to use, but because there is the habit to click LaunchPad to start an app, or to grab the mouse and find Quit from the menu. However, in just a few uses it becomes second nature. If you switch to Mac a without it, you'll wonder what's wrong.

Alfred is a fantastic app, and I use it on my home and work Macs dozens of times per day. Workspaces are a part of my daily routine. I rely on Alfred to get apps up and running together. I use it almost exclusively for Google, Wikipedia and Amazon searches.

Using Alfred becomes a time saver and makes so many shortcuts possible. It took just a couple of days use to see the benefit of the full version. I had no qualms on the Lifetime Upgrades package.

I will also say, it's not a matter of choosing Alfred over Keyboard Maestro or vice versa. It's a big yes to both.

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