My setup: AutoHotkey and Launchy

By nature, I’m a lazy person. If there’s a faster way to do something, I will inevitably find it. Continuing the series about my software setup (which kicked off with Windows XP Tablet Edition over a year ago), I’d like to tell you about two programs I use called AutoHotkey and Launchy.

Ever since I discovered Windows key shortcuts I have wanted more of them. I love using Win+E to open Windows Explorer, but have often wondered why there isn’t a hotkey for my default browser and for more of my favorite programs and Control Panel applets. So, naturally, I went looking for something that would let me set up my own hotkeys.

The first such program I stumbled across was WinKey, an extremely simple program that let me map new Windows key shortcuts to applications, documents, or scripts. Unfortunately, WinKey was discontinued, so I went looking again and found an even better program called AutoHotkey.


AutoHotkey is open source software released under the GNU Public License. Hiding within its tiny package is a fairly full-featured macro system. Not only can you create custom hotkeys to run programs or open documents and files, you can also create more robust mouse and keyboard macros to handle repetitive tasks. Incidentally, this program also replaced QuickMacros in my repertoire of software tools.1

I regularly use these native Windows key shortcuts:

  • Win+E: Windows Explorer (My Computer)
  • Win+L: Lock the workstation
  • Win+M: Minimize all windows
  • Win+R: Run
  • Win+Pause: System Properties

And here are the additional application shortcuts I’ve set up using AutoHotkey:

  • Win+F: Macromedia Fireworks
  • Win+H: Mozilla Firefox
  • Win+I: Microsoft Internet Explorer
  • Win+N: NotePad++
  • Win+O: Microsoft Outlook
  • Win+P: Palm Desktop
  • Win+Q: Quicken
  • Win+T: Mozilla Thunderbird
  • Win+U: Apple iTunes
  • Win+W: Microsoft Word
  • Win+X: Microsoft Excel

On top of the application hotkeys, I’ve added a few additional conveniences:

  • Win+F3: Hibernate the computer
  • Win+Z: Lock the workstation and activate the screen saver (I use this more than Win+L)
  • Win+PrintScreen: Call up the Microsoft Tablet Snipping Tool

As nice as all this is, there are still a good number of programs I use semi-often but not enough to really need hotkeys (ColorCop and PuTTY come immediately to mind). For the rest of my application launching needs, I use another great little program called Launchy.


Launchy—also open source software—is a command-line application and file launcher similar to Quicksilver for the Mac OS. Every review of Quicksilver I’ve read just raves over how cool it is, so I really wish I could get that, but Launchy is a fairly suitable alternative in a pinch (though it’s missing many of Quicksilver’s features). Basically, when you want to launch an application or a file, you hit Alt+Space and then start typing. Even after just a few letters, Launchy’s find-as-you-type interface will present you with the closest match and some similar alternatives in a drop down list. From there you just hit Enter to launch your chosen item.

At first blush this may not seem much faster than double-clicking a desktop icon or the two or three clicks it would take to find something on the Start menu, but try it a couple times and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. I’ve had people see me use it while looking over my shoulder and nearly everyone asks me how they can get it. Those who I’ve asked about it later tell me they absolutely can’t live without it. Incidentally, after I started using Launchy on my computer I also went and found a similar program for my Treo called PetitLaunch.


So, there you have it, two new ways to boost your productivity as it relates to your computer work. Let me know if you know of any other ways to get to things quicker. I’m always looking for ways to be more productive. End mark

  1. My macro needs are pretty modest and AutoHotkey exceeds them, but if you’re looking for a more robust macro program, I’ve heard Macro Express is the best. Be prepared to slap down $40 for it, though. 
  • I love Launchy, but have you tried ActiveWords InkPad? I’m just on Day 2 of the 60-day trial but have been impressed so far. I could easily see it becoming indispensible for tablet productivity.

  • Can you post the Win+O script?

  • Joey

    This all appears on one line in my script, but is probably wrapping to two lines depending on whether you’re viewing it here on my blog or in your favorite feedreader:

    #o::Run C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\OFFICE12\OUTLOOK.EXE

    Note, you may need to change OFFICE12 to whatever version of Office you have installed. Cheers!

  • GnuMeister

    I just don’t see how Run-It hasn’t found its way to a broader public. This program is way better than the much hyped Launchy, also skinnable and can be fully customized!! Just try it and you’ll know what I mean.

  • You can use AutoHotkey with an Enterpad auxiliary keyboard if you have too many hotkeys to remember. Read more on my blog.