Time-Saving AutoHotKey Scripts

Many of you are probably already familiar with AutoHotKey. This small and free utility lets you automate tasks and make your PC work exactly the way you want it to. The program is driven by a custom scripting language that’s easy to understand — even for someone with little or no programming experience.

You can write a macro using a simple text editor, like notepad, or use the included macro recorder to create hotkeys for virtually any button or combination of keys. That may not sound like a big deal, but once you start grasping its potential you’ll see it can be incredibly handy.

For example, you can assign a hotkey to launch any application you use regularly, or just switch to it if it is already running; assign abbreviations that expand as you type them; save time on repetitive tasks by setting the computer to auto-click a confirmation screen; or make the ‘Scroll Lock’ and Pause/Break keys do something useful for a change. The best part is that scripts can be compiled into an executable file and run on computers that don’t have AutoHotkey installed.

Today we’ll be looking at three simple time-saving scripts that can make your life easier and more productive.

 

Set any window to show ‘Always on Top’

There’s an endless number of scenarios where it can be useful to have a window show “on top,” however this functionality is usually crippled by how inaccessible it is depending on the program. For example, say you’re trying to use the Windows Calculator and a PDF file at the same time, need to copy data from one document to another, or simply want a chat window visible while working on other stuff. Some programs have this option built in them, but if you simply can’t be bothered with looking for it every time then a simple script can save you from constantly shuffling back and forth between windows.

 

Just create a new text file on Notepad, enter “^SPACE:: Winset, Alwaysontop, , A” (without the quotes), and save it as plain text with the .ahk file extension. Double-clicking this file loads the script on AutoHotKey. Now you can select any window and press Ctrl+Space to keep it on top even when it’s not the active window. You can change the “^SPACE” portion to whatever you like if you would prefer to use another hotkey, just remember to reload the script.

 

Toggle hidden files and extensions visibility with a shortcut

If you regularly need to access hidden files or change file extensions but don’t like the extra clutter that comes with leaving them always visible, there’s an easy way to toggle them on or off without the hassle of going into the Windows Explorer options every time.

Create a text file and paste the following code: (credit How-To Geek)

 

; WINDOWS KEY + Y TOGGLES FILE EXTENSIONS#y:: RegRead, HiddenFiles_Status, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, HideFileExt If HiddenFiles_Status = 1 RegWrite, REG_DWORD, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, HideFileExt, 0 Else RegWrite, REG_DWORD, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, HideFileExt, 1 WinGetClass, eh_Class,A If (eh_Class = “#32770″ OR A_OSVersion = “WIN_VISTA”) send, {F5} Else PostMessage, 0×111, 28931,,, A Return

; WINDOWS KEY + H TOGGLES HIDDEN FILES

#h:: RegRead, HiddenFiles_Status, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, Hidden If HiddenFiles_Status = 2 RegWrite, REG_DWORD, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, Hidden, 1 Else RegWrite, REG_DWORD, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced, Hidden, 2 WinGetClass, eh_Class,A If (eh_Class = “#32770” OR A_OSVersion = “WIN_VISTA”) send, {F5} Else PostMessage, 0x111, 28931,,, A Return

Double-clicking this file will load the script on AutoHotKey. Now you can toggle hidden folders using the Windows Key + H and toggle file extensions using Windows Key + Y. Again, you can change the key combination to whatever you like.

 

Send yourself quick email reminders

Ideas often come when you are in the middle of something else, but if you neglect writing them down immediately as they come it’s likely you’ll be sorry later trying to remember what they were.

One simple way of going about when there’s no pen and paper at hand is sending yourself quick email reminders. With a simple AutoHotKey script you can save a lot of time and avoid distractions by not having to even open an email client or browser window.

 

First you’ll need to grab this VBScript file from Cybernet News and customize it with your email account details – basically your email address and password. Once you’ve done that you’ll need to create a new AutoHotkey script in the same folder with the text below, replacing the email address with your own: (credit Lifehacker)

 

#!e:: { InputBox, UserInput, Quick Email, Reminder:, , 380, 170 If Not ErrorLevel { Run, cscript.exe sendemail.vbs “email@gmail.com” “%UserInput%” “”,, Min } Return }

After loading the script you can hit the Win+Alt+E shortcut key (or whatever you change it to by replacing the “#!e” portion), type in your reminder into the box and hit enter. An email will be sent to your email account with the reminder in the subject line. Note that the VBS script you downloaded first is configured to work with Gmail accounts but you can use it with other services by modifying the SMTP server configuration. Also, it would be wise to either encrypt the file or at least creating an extra email account just for sending these emails, since the password would be stored in plain text.

This is just scratching the surface of what AutoHotKey can do. You can find many helpful resources on their developer’s forum and around the Web. If you regularly use other scripts that you find useful, feel free to share them in the comments.

We’ll be on the lookout for more time-saving ideas to revisit this topic in the future. In the meantime you can download the aforementioned scripts in a single executable file here to run them without AutoHotKey installed.

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By saddamfazal Posted in Tips

Preview Shortened URLs and Avoid Security Threats

Today’s ubiquitous URL shorteners have seen a dramatic increase in popularity the last couple of years – much of it driven by the rise in popularity of Twitter itself. They are great for keeping character count at a minimum or to make sharing easier. Some even bring a few unique features to the table, like enabling statistics or the ability to select your own keyword, but as convenient as shorteners are they also introduce some new issues.

There’s significant variance from one service to another when it comes to uptime, for example, while on the other hand given that the process involves using an HTTP redirect there’s also thelatency issue. But perhaps more importantly is the fact that they obscure the target address and thus may be used to trick users to an unexpected destination.

This means users are susceptible to something as innocent as being rickrolled to potentially much more harmful exposure, like being redirected to scamming websites or malware-ridden pages. Fortunately, there are several ways to peek behind a shortened URL to see exactly where the link will take you before clicking it, so let’s take a quick look at a few of them.

 

Checking short URLs manually

All major URL shortening services offer an option to preview what’s behind their links, so you can know exactly what you are visiting and thus avoid surprises. Shortening services bit.ly and Google’s own goo.gl, for example, will show you additional stuff like total clicks, a QR code, shares on social networking sites and the fully expanded URL, simply by appending a plus sign at the end of the shortened address (http://bit.ly/gULvsR+).

 

Is.gd does the same thing by adding a hyphen at the end of the URL (http://is.gd/jatQq-), while on TinyURL you can see where the link leads by prefixing the word “preview” to the front of the URL (http://preview.tinyurl.com/32jre2o). These are the most commonly used services but a more comprehensive list can be found here.

Unfortunately not all services offer the ability to preview the original address before visiting it. If someone else sends you a shortened link from one of these sites and you want to preview it, you may still be able to do so using a third-party service. ExpandMyURL.com and LongURL offer this functionality.

 

Automating the process: Browser add-ons and bookmarklets

The above options are fine for checking the occasional link but when you’re dealing with shortened URLs on a regular basis it’s better to automate this process rather than editing links manually or copying them to another website. Firefox users can save a lot of time through a simple extension.

Bit.ly offers its own service-specific add-on but if you want to cover the full spectrum of URL shorteners get the one provided by Long URL Please.

 

Google Chrome also has two extensions available that expand shortened URLs (as suggested by readers – thanks!). Or in case Opera is your favorite poison, look here.

Links will be automatically replaced with their original address but keeping the same number of characters.

Users of other browsers can get the same functionality by installing the Long URL Please orExpand My Url bookmarklet.

Simply drag one of the previous links to your bookmarks bar and clicking them will replace any short links in the active page with their original address while keeping the same number of characters.

By saddamfazal Posted in Tips

Customize the Firefox 4 Interface With a Few Simple Tweaks

Firefox 4 is expected to bring one of the most significant stylistic overhauls that the browser has undertaken since the initial transition from the old Mozilla suite.

Although the final release is still a few weeks away, we’ve already had a taste of its look and feel thanks to the eight betas pushed out so far. Firefox 4’s UI is simplistic and streamlined but it has also drawn criticism for dropping elements like page titles in the title bar or simply for being too “Chrome-like.”

 

Make that ugly orange menu button movable and more

Let’s start with the obvious. Firefox 4 UI Fixer is a handy add-on that introduces several interesting modifications to the browser’s user interface, including the option to move the orange Firefox menu button so that the page title is displayed again, or restoring the “New Tab” option to tab context menu.

It also allows you to move status bar icons from extensions to any location, which can be especially useful if you only use a handful of extensions and hate to see all that wasted space from the add-on bar at the bottom of your screen. Simply relocate those icons next to the awesome bar, for example.

 

The add-on works on the latest test versions of Firefox (from b7 onwards) and has been tested across all platforms. To customize your Firefox UI go to Add-ons then in the Options dialog choose the desired options. Needless to say, Mozilla may still have some minor changes in store when the final version of Firefox 4 debuts, but with Firefox 4 UI Fixer covering many different areas of the UI under a single add-on we are sure this will remain handy for sometime to come.

 

Disable the new tab button

Firefox offers an additional way to open new tabs with a little “+” icon at the end of your open tabs bar. I hardly ever use this button. If you’re already more comfortable with another way of opening tabs, such as using the Ctrl+T keyboard shortcut or double-clicking on an empty tab area, you might want to get rid of this option and save some space (every bit counts when you’re switching between dozens of open tabs). All it takes is a simple userChrome.css file tweak:

 

  1. Go to the chrome folder inside your profile directory (the easiest way is to enter“about:support” on your Firefox address bar, then click on the “Open Containing Folder” next to Profile Directory and find the chrome folder).
  2. Unless you’ve made other tweaks before there should be a file called userChrome-example.css. Open it, add the line .tabs-newtab-button {display: none;} and save as userChrome.css.
  3. Restart Firefox and the new tab button should be gone.

 

 

Move or disable the close tab button

If you want to take things a step further it’s also possible to save a few pixels by keeping the close tab button from appearing on each open tab. You just need to do a little editing in your about:config page.

 

  1. Enter “about:config” on your Firefox address bar and typebrowser.tabs.closeButtons in the filter box.
  2. From there you can double click the entry and set any value between 0 and 3.

 

Setting it to ‘0’ will mean only the active tab has a close button. The default setting ‘1’ sees a close button on each tab, ‘2’ on none of them and ‘3’ also on none of them but places a close button to the right-end of the tab bar.

We hope that these quick customization tips will help you tailor Mozilla’s browser closer to your needs.

By saddamfazal Posted in Tips

Windows 7 Jump Lists Fix and Tricks

When Windows 7 made it out the door reactions were mixed about the operating system’s revamped taskbar. Now two years later I can personally attest to the improved usability of the new bar and above all else, the magnificent implementation of jump lists.

Depending on the application jump lists can be used to get 1-click functionality without recalling a minimized window, easily access common tasks or to quickly open pinned and recent documents, saving you time not having to go through a number of dialogs. In a nutshell, if you are willing to make the most of them, jump lists are a productivity godsend.

Now, imagine my despair when a few weeks ago all my established jump list items disappeared for no apparent reason. Worse than that, as I tried to add them back Windows decided to act a bit like good old Vista and refused my changes. A few tweaks and restarts later, it was a no go,until I found this fix.

Although there’s still no clear explanation on what triggers this erratic behavior, deleting a few files that contain your now likely corrupt jump list index will repair the feature.

 

Browse to this location (copy and paste into the address bar for easy access):%AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent\AutomaticDestinations. You will see a list of files that contain your custom collection of jump list items, one file per program. Delete or move to another location all the files on that folder. Then browse to:%AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Recent\CustomDestinations where you will see a similar list of files. Again, move those files somewhere else or delete them.

Some users have reported a succesful repair by moving the files to a safe location, restarting and then moving the files back up. In my case I had to delete all files and start fresh to fix the jump list feature.

 

Bonus Jump List Tricks

 

  • There’s an alternative way to gain access to jump lists that doesn’t require right-clicking.Click and hold your left mouse button over any taskbar icon and then move the cursor upwards. The jump list will fade in and become accessible. 
  • A second alternative that keyboard shortcut lovers will dig: Alt + Windows key + Number.
  • If you are a Gmail user, you can not only drag and drop attachments from a Windows Explorer window or your desktop, but can also call up a jump list and drag a file directly to Gmail’s attachment box.

     

     

  • Not a true jump list trick, but it comes close enough. StandaloneStack is an utility that will let you add file and program stacks to a taskbar icon, resembling the ‘stack’ functionality in Mac OS X.
  • Editing a taskbar program’s location and properties is accessible from the same jump list menu. Right-click on the icon to reveal the jump list and then right-click again on the main program’s entry to show the complete shortcut menu.
  • Jumplist-Launcher is another nifty third-party utility that will let you create your own taskbar entry to be populated with as many files and programs as you want (well, actually there’s a limit of 60!). The utility let’s you customize lists in different ways and it doesn’t need to be installed or run in the background for your newly created jump list to function afterwards.
By saddamfazal Posted in Tips

How to Backup your Gmail Account

This past weekend over 150,000 Internet users woke up to find their Gmail inboxes, contacts and chat conversations gone. The issue, according to Google, was caused by a storage software update that introduced an unexpected bug. But while the company has since begun restoring data from tape backups and will likely offer some form of compensation where applicable, the incident served as a reminder that no matter how reliable some cloud-based services are, they are certainly not infallible, and thus it might be prudent to have your own backup ready just in case things go amiss.

There are numerous ways to backup your Gmail data and deciding which way to go will largely depend on the level of effort you want to put into it. You could simply setup Gmail to forward all your mails to another email account and call it a day, for instance. But there are also a handful of other options that offer a bit more flexibility and convenience.

Below, we’ve listed a few of them, so you can choose whichever best suits your needs.

Use a standalone backup program

Gmail Backup is a simple and easy-to-setup free alternative that does exactly what its name says. Upon installation, just type in your credentials and it will begin downloading all your e-mails, backing them up securely, and allowing you to restore them to your account should the unthinkable happen. The program is free and Windows-only. Their website seems to be down due to the increased load in the past few days, but you can download Gmail Backup here from our local mirror.

 

If you’re willing to shell out $20, Gmail Keeper will back up Gmail messages or messages from a Google Apps Mail account as a .zip file to a local disk. It supports multiple accounts and even stores labels associated with each message, while those concerned about privacy can encrypt their mail and password protect it.

Third-party Web service

Backupify is a handy tool that automatically performs scheduled backups for a number of popular online services including Google Apps, Facebook, Twitter and others. You won’t have to put too much effort into the whole backup process — just supply the login credentials of the sites you want backed up and Backupify takes care of the rest. Be aware though that you’re essentially moving your info from one cloud to another.

 

The site offers both free and paid accounts with varying limitations, but given the recent Gmail blunder, Backupify is taking the opportunity to entice new users with a coupon code “savegmail” for a year of free backups with one of their premium plans, so there’s really no reason for not giving it a shot.

Use a desktop mail client

This is probably the most common approach and should take just a few minutes to set up. Gmail offers access to all your mail through desktop clients such as Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and many others. The latter is free and available on all major operating systems, so if you’re doing this for the first time and especially if you’re only planning to use it for backups rather than as your primary client, then Thunderbird might be the way to go.

 

For those unfamiliar with the setup process: After signing into Gmail, click the “gear” in the upper-right corner, choose Mail settings, then load the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. Enable POP for all mail and set Gmail to keep its copy.

You’ll then need to setup your desktop mail client to retrieve your emails. Google offers step-by-step instructions for a number of clients and Thunderbird’s automatic configuration is usually spot on getting your settings right with just your username and password — but make sure to use POP instead of IMAP for one-way message transfers.

Messages will be downloaded automatically each time you launch Thunderbird and stored intoyour profile folder — which you can back up standalone as well for some added security. It’s pretty straightforward, but for those who prefer to use the web-based Gmail interface, remembering to run Thunderbird or whatever desktop email client every once in a while might be more work than they’re willing to deal with.

By saddamfazal Posted in Tips

Five Clever Ways To Make Dropbox More Useful

Dropbox has become an essential application on my system ever since I first tried it more than two years ago. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a cross-platform tool that acts like a regular folder on your machine and runs quietly in the background. You can manage files within this folder just like elsewhere on your machine (add, edit, copy, and delete) and changes will be synced in real time between all other computers on which you are running the Dropbox software.

That alone makes it invaluable for my daily computing needs, but with a little ingenuity, you can use Dropbox to do much more. Below I’ve compiled some useful tips and tricks to make the most of this amazing free app.

Autostart torrent downloads

Many BitTorrent clients have an option to monitor a specific folder on your computer and automatically start downloading any torrents copied to it. In uTorrent for Windows, for example, you can find it in the Directories section on the left-hand pane of the preferences window. Simply check the box for “Automatically load .torrents from:” and choose the directory where you’ll be saving .torrent files inside your Dropbox folder.

There are just a couple of extra steps you need to take care of to keep things running smoothly: first, set your client to save new downloads and completed downloads on a folder outside of Dropbox so you don’t use up your quota. And second, head into the UI Settings section of the preferences and uncheck the option for “Show a window that displays the files inside the torrent” so downloads start automatically. Now, as long as you keep your BitTorrent client running you can start downloads from another computer by adding Torrents to the monitored folder inside Dropbox.

 

 

You can also upload torrent files from the Dropbox web interface, so you could even do this from a computer where you can’t install Dropbox, or upload them from your iOS, Android or BlackBerry smartphone.

Send and receive files

If you transfer files frequently with clients or any non-Dropbox user, but email and FTP just wont cut it due to file size or complexity, there are a number of services designed specifically for the purpose of sending files directly to your Dropbox. With DropItToMe, for example, you can setup a custom upload URL (like ‘http://www.dropittome.com/somethinghere’) with optional password protection that you can give out to people.

FileStork works much in the same way but allows you to setup one-time or permanent upload addresses — though they are not customizable. Both services allow other people to upload files into your Dropbox without the hassle and risk of actually sharing a folder, and a medium to bridge the gap between users and non-users of Dropbox.

 

 

Alternatively, AirDropper offers a more polished interface and lets you create your own airdropper.com/yourname page with your own branding for sending and receiving files. It’s the most feature-packed of all three and allows files up to 2GB each, whereas the others are capped at 75MB. Unfortunately, it costs $9 per month, which seems a little steep honestly. (Hint: you can still access the beta for free at ‘http://beta.airdropper.com‘)

Make it your default Documents folder

Many people use their operating system’s documents folder to store and access their most frequently used or most important files. To make sure they are always backed up and synchronized on all your computers you can actually change your My Documents folder to be the same as your Dropbox folder, or be in a folder inside your Dropbox.

To do this in Windows 7 or Vista, just right-click on your “My Documents” folder and select Properties, then on the Location tab you can specify the new file path. In Windows XP it’s pretty much the same process but you’ll need to change the Target value instead. It’s a simple “trick” but can come in handy if you want your whole documents folder synchronized instead of just the files that you specifically move to the Dropbox directory.

Synchronize your KeePass passwords

Users who rely on KeePass to maintain a password archive of sites or services they use can combine it with Dropbox to have it accessible from multiple computers at all times. Simply save your database to Dropbox, and on any other computer that you plan to use KeePass on open the app and select File -> Open Database, then point it to the synced KeePass database file that you added to Dropbox.

KeePass doesn’t automatically update your passwords when it’s open, so if you make a change on one computer and then make a change on the other without re-opening the new database, you’ll end up with a conflict. To get around this you’ll have to set a reasonable timeout so the database is locked after a period of inactivity. Then head to Options and on the Advanced tab check the box that says “Automatically save when closing/locking the database”.

KeePass saves your password in an archive with AES 256-hit encryption. Even if Dropbox servers were to be hacked, as long as you pick a long, strong password you should be safe for a few thousand or million years.

Give syncing powers to apps that don’t have any

KeePass is just one example of how Dropbox can provide syncing powers to programs that don’t have any such functionality. I did this for a relative who wanted to access his business contacts database from Sage’s ACT! on two different notebooks — and I’m talking about a really old version that came on floppy disks since he didn’t see a reason for upgrading. As long as you can move the location of a program’s data file you’ll probably be able to sync using Dropbox.

 

 

Alternatively, a program called Dropboxifier can streamline that process by moving a data directory or file into the Dropbox directory, and creating a symbolic link afterwards that points from the source folder to the new Dropbox folder location. The result is that you’ll be able to synchronize stuff like saved games, browser profiles, IM chat logs, and more. Dropboxifier works on Windows Vista and Windows 7, provided you have the free .Net Framework 4.0 installed.

These are just a few examples of the clever ways you can use Dropbox to sync application data or share files, but they really just scratch the surface. If you have another killer Dropbox trick feel free to share in the comments.

By saddamfazal Posted in Tips