In what is probably my favorite gauge of a great application, TextExpander fades into the background and just works. Smile On My Mac purchased the previously-known Textpander (which we’ve covered here and here) from developer Peter Maurer this past year. If you’re hearing about TextExpander for the first time, or have tried it but didn’t ‘get’ its usefulness, read on and hopefully I can enlighten you a bit.
First, TextExpander installs as a Preference Pane in your System Preferences. It also puts an icon in your Menu Bar for quick access to your snippets. Essentially, TextExpander functions as a key logger, to see when you type an abbreviation you’ve setup that it needs to expand for you. Don’t worry, it’s not saving any of your keystrokes, or sending anything off – it only uses its powers for good, which is to say, to help you out. It installs with a few handy snippets already loaded. These snippets help to show the range of capability it offers, as well as getting you off to a good start. For example, by default, you’ll be able to type ‘ddate’ and it’s automatically expanded to ‘Thursday; September 21, 2006’. Ok, you [hopefully] get the picture, let’s get to the fun stuff.
So when Textpander first came on the scene, I downloaded it to see what it was about. I didn’t quite get it, so I soon forgot about it. Then Josh mentioned it to me I believe, and I got back in the saddle. This time around, I started finding some useful ways to make it work for me, without having to think too much about it. That’s the key for me – not having to think.
- One of the first things I did was to fix some of my commonly misspelled words. I get typing too quickly and come up with ‘teh’ – not what I want. So TextExpander automatically changes it over to ‘the’ for me. I don’t have to do a thing. Lovely.
- Turns out I’m lazy too, and don’t like to type my whole name out. So ‘NLS’ quickly became Nicholas L Santilli. Or better yet, substitute a graphic of your signature. Oh yes, you can use pictures too!
- Then there are websites I check frequently. Bookmarks are overrated and take too long to navigate. I could type it out by the time I found it in my folders. So instead ‘fgt’ quickly becomes http://fugitivetoys.com/ for me, and I’m on my way.
- Are you an Instant Messaging junkie? Save yourself and others the ‘lol’s and ‘brb’s. Have them automatically expanded to write out the actual phrases. The Internets thank you.
- How about the Trademark and Copyright symbols? ™ and ©. Very simple, no character palette needed now.
- And if you get your hands dirty in code at all, or write blog posts in WordPress like we do here at The Apple Blog, use some italics or bold tags. You can even tell TextExpander where you want the cursor to pop when it expands, so it’s between the tags, and you don’t have to arrow around. Brilliant!
One small issue with TextExpander is figuring out abbreviations. I like my substitutions to happen automatically, so as I’m typing, it catches my mistakes, or whatever I’ve set it up for. However you can set a delimiter, so it won’t substitute anything until you’ve explicitly told TextExpander to by hitting whatever delimiter key you’ve setup. (Think, tab, space bar, etc.) But if you’re like me and you don’t use a delimiter, you can choose to have snippets only expanded based on strict case sensitivity. It’s all at your discretion. So see what works best for you.
If you’re moving from a different typing-assistant application, such as TypeIt4Me or Typinator, it’ll even import their snippets files for your use in TextExpander. Or if you need to reinstall things, or move computers, you can export a list of your snippets and move it wherever you need.
About the only thing I can tell that was added to TextExpander since it was purchased from Peter Maurer is a productivity screen. Placed on the Registration tab – as a way to prove its usefullness? – it tells you how many snippets it’s expanded for you, how many characters it has saved you form typing, and an overall tally of the hours it has saved you (based on 400 characters per minute). It’s reminds me of ActiveWords for Windows – Fantastic application if you’re stuck in that world… Anyway, I recently rebuilt my OS X install from scratch, so my counter has been reset. It was much more impressive before…but I’m certain it’ll be back up there in no time at all.
So is Smile On My Mac’s TextExpander worth the $29.95? 30 bucks seems a little steep, but when I stop to remember that it’s there, and what it’s been doing for me, yeah, I realize its worth. Everytime that little audio blip goes off, I realize that it’s saved me a typographical error, or it’s taken care of some longer bit of typing I didn’t care to do. That’s worth it to me – and it even proves it to me! But see for yourself. Try it out for free, and use some of the suggestions I’ve listed here today, or some they mention on their website. It’ll embed itself in your daily computing experience before you even realize it.