Blog Post

ActiveWords Will Save You Time

ActiveWords LogoApplications, services, tools, plug-ins, add-ons, bookmarklets — there’s an endless list of things we look to in an effort to be more efficient. Here at WWD, we write about all of them and how they can be of benefit to us. We discuss how they look, how they work, how much they cost, etc. But in the end, we’re looking for productivity. We either want to get more done, or take less time doing those things.

I know I’m going to sound like a snake oil salesman but I’ve found an answer — a tool for Windows (s msft) users that when used, really used, will save you time and make you more productive.

ActiveWords is combination program launcher, text replacer, macro recorder, wizard, wonder and an incredible time saver.

At its core, ActiveWords lets you assign actions to trigger words that you type. These words perform a task or series of tasks that you’ve designated, from basic text substitution to complex macros or scripts.

A frequent complaint I hear about many of our favorite web applications is the number of clicks that it takes to accomplish any task. Clicks represent time and we’re busy folks.

We seem to have a different attitude to our desktop environments, though. We’ll click around mindlessly and repetitively to find and launch programs and documents. We’ll type the same text endlessly, keystroke after keystroke on our own PCs.  We’ll do the same actions every day and never complain to ourselves that we haven’t removed those barriers — those extra clicks.  That’s what ActiveWords does.

Think for a minute about the repetitive tasks that you do everyday, perhaps multiple times per day. A basic tenet of productivity is to automate repetitive actions or tasks and this is one way that ActiveWords can really help you. Adding a signature to your email or forum post, responding to an inquiry with a canned response, typing your address or phone number — all of these actions can be automated and triggered with a few keystrokes. These are just basic examples but the possibilities are unlimited — it’s staggering how many trigger words you’ll set up once you get started as you begin to examine your daily process.

ActiveWords also works tremendously well as a program or web launcher. I’ve got trigger words set up for web sites I visit regularly and other common applications, and I can pull them all up with just a few keystrokes. For example, no matter what else I’m working on or in, if I type “new task” followed by two spaces my Toodledo web app opens — poised and ready for me to add that new task.

The integration with Toodledo goes even further though; it’s one of many applications with an add-on pack available that allows easy access to common functions. Additional add-ins are available for Outlook, Clear Context, Mind Manager and others.  These help you get up and running quickly as they add pre-defined options to your ActiveWords setup to hook in to these programs.

There is actually a pretty extensive library of add-ins available to control everything from Windows functions to adding Google hooks (s goog). You can even add in-place arithmetic which is insanely useful once you get used to using it.

There is also a very powerful scripting language in ActiveWords that I’ve just recently begun to experiment with. Because it works at the OS level, it can interact with any interface — basically if you can access it via keyboard you can program it via an ActiveWord. ActiveWords works everywhere unlike, say, the macro or auto-complete functionality in a program like Microsoft Word.

There isn’t much of a learning curve to using ActiveWords but it does take some thought about the types of things to automate, how you want to name your trigger words, and how to actually trigger them.

The interface to ActiveWords is sparse, which is good. There is a menu bar available at the top of your screen and a keystroke triggered “Action Pad” can pop up to accept your ActiveWords. The interface appears a little dated, but honestly after a day or so you’ll likely end up turning off or disabling the visible portions.

ActiveWords Action Pad

One of the coolest things about ActiveWords is that you don’t have to  use the Action Pad or anything else to make it work, you can type your ActiveWords anywhere. I’ve got it configured so I just start typing my trigger word followed by two spaces and it does the rest, no matter where I am.

There are some instances where typing my trigger words does interfere with keyboard shortcuts (Gmail is a frequent culprit) so I move to the search box and type my trigger words there. ActiveWords automatically removes the trigger text after processing the request.

I do wish there was some sort of auto-complete functionality available for the active word triggers that I’ve forgotten. I find the lesser-used ones do get forgotten and while there is a search functionality, I liked how in a tool like Launchy it tries to guess the action based on my past usage.

ActiveWords does a decent job of recommending frequently used programs and documents and suggesting that I create a trigger word for them — it only takes a second to add items to the directory with the wizard-like prompts.

ActiveWords is currently for Windows PCs only. A very generous 60-day trial is available, which is plenty of time for you to decide if it’s working for you. My hunch is that when the trial ends you’ll stare blankly at your screen wondering why your triggers aren’t working, they really do become such an integral part of your workflow. And because it works so seamlessly you really don’t even think about the fact that you are using it — it’s just there.

Registration after the 60 days is $49.95 but that covers all the PCs that you use, so you can take advantage of the benefits if you jump between multiple machines like I do. It’s easy to import and export your directories but I’d love to see the ability to make sync easier.

I tend to be skeptical when I read reviews like this one. Could it really be that good? Can it really save me that much time? In this instance, the answer is a resounding yes.

Has ActiveWords boosted your productivity?

20 Responses to “ActiveWords Will Save You Time”

  1. Jonathan Wyler

    If you are looking for a productivity tool, which saves you time, then you definitely have to try Lookeen!
    Only condition is you are using Outlook! Because this is a very fast mail search tool for outlook and your desktop!
    I don’t wanna miss it anymore and recommend it to everybody who doesn’t know how to control the tons of mails you get everyday!

  2. I’ve not tried PhaseExpress, but have tried a lot of other similar bit lever products on both the Mac and PC platforms. IMO, there is no better product out there than ActiveWords.

    Recently, I noticed that ActiveWords was delivering 30% of my content via substitution over the past 6 months. Who wouldn’t want to work 30% less?

    I must admit that it took a couple of tries to ‘get’ ActiveWords at first and really start to integrate it into my life, but once I did — it became an irreplaceable tool. While it would make sense for Microsoft to buy them, I would hope they would be able to keep it running so well (Anyone remember fondly and miss Lookout?).

    After 3 years of using ActiveWords, I’ve created the “5 phases of AW”:

    1. Curiosity — What’s ActiveWords?
    2. Skepticism — I don’t really need it.
    3. Acceptance — Boy how did I live without it?
    4. Dependency — Loathing the use a computer that doesn’t have AW installed.
    Advanced Stage 4 is when you can’t stand it when your own AW DB’s get out of sync on your own other computers (or isn’t available on your Mac).
    5. Annoyance — Irritated by watching anyone else who won’t ‘get on board and see the light’ struggle inefficiently with repetitive tasks. Similar to sitting next to someone who can’t type and miserably hunts and pecks all day. The inefficiency of co-workers who could be so helped by AWS drives you crazy.

    I’m in Stage 5 and think the $50 I’ve spent on AW some of the best money I’ve ever spent to invest in my personal/professional productivity.

    • Frank Mack

      I have tested a few products as well. The general feature of text replacement and automation is the best thing to increase productivity. But my experience with ActiveWords is the exact opposite.

      I try to put my experience with Activewords together with *facts* (rather than marketing bloat):

      * Software size – Activewords is the bulkiest of all tested text replacement utilities. For example, Auto Hotkey takes less than a 10th of size. Even the most powerful alternative Phrase Express only takes a 3rd of Activewords file size.

      * Outdated engine – Without approval, Activewords ruins your fresh Windows 7 computer by installing an outdated Visual C++ 2005 library on your modern operating system. That is not what I like to see on my new computer.

      * Cluttered user interface – There is no main desk in Activewords. Everything is cluttered with several windows. You have a separate window with a list of your entries, a separate window to search, a separate window to add items, etc. There are many mouse-miles to go for your cursor. It is just not state of the art.

      * Intrusiveness – The Activewords popups stops your typing and occupies your desktop. If a suggestion is opened by Activewords, your work is interrupted until you close the extra window. This is better in Phrase Express: Phrase Express opens unintrusive small popup menu on the cursor tip that automatically disappear if you ignore them. You can just continue to enter text and your input is not blocked.

      * Usability – if you forget the cryptic abbreviations, you are lost. You easily miss a trigger word if you not permanently look onto the Windows 95 styled ActiveWords bar. This is distracting. Again, I prefer the Phrase Express way: It has a certain grace period if you enter an ‘Autotext’. Even if you hit other keys you can still accept and let the Autotext execute the associated commands.

      * Features – I learned, that Phrase Express is so much more powerful that it is difficult to put it in a blog comment. Let’s take formatted text. Let’s take, that Phrase Express can store pictures (such as a hand-written signature that is associated to a trigger word ‘sig’). Let’s take the powerful macro language that is much easier to learn than Visual Basic as in ActiveWords. Let’s take the Clipboard Manager that keeps a record of your previous clipboard items. Let’s take the feature that you can arrange your phrases in categories and define, that certain categories of phrases are limited to certain programs. E.g., abbreviations for html code snippets are recognized just in DreamWeaver only while any email text stuff is recognized in Outlook. Phrase Express is a feature monster. And it is still easy to use.

      * Reliability – Activewords apparently is a quite dated application. The copyright label says 2009 but the software seems to be from 1997. The design, the usability flaws and the stability proves that. I tested it on Vista (yuck) and again, later on Windows 7 but it caused a few crashes that made me reluctant to keep it on my computer and to invest my time to build up a library.

      Last but not least there is ONE particular, absolutely astonishing feature that is just amazing in Phrase Express: Its capability to learn new contents automatically without any need to manually create a library of commands and phrases. There is nothing you need to configure. Nothing you need to setup. You install Phrase Express and forget about it. It will learn what you type and recognizes if you type things multiple times. After a while, it will start to suggest to auto-complete things for you. It’s precision of the text suggestions ‘out-of-nowhere’ really impressed me. There was Letmetype in the early days but it could only learn single words. Phrase Express does this magic with complete sentences.

      I strongly suggest to give Phrase Express a try.


      P.S.: If you just need a very basic text replacement utility, try ‘Texter’ (discontinued).

  3. ActiveWords is my favorite app– I can’t stand being on any computer that doesn’t have it! I am completely spoiled to never typing my address, phone number, stock replies, and other shortcuts. And I can open frequently used folders and documents from anywhere without having to navigate to them. Great review! Thanks! – Lorie Marrero, Creator of the Clutter Diet® (just used ActiveWords to make that registered trademark symbol!)

  4. I *used* to run activewords but found it took so long to load at startup, so eventually unhooked it from auto-run at start and kept forgetting to run it.

    I’ve been trying out PhraseExpress and I have to say I’m convinced more by that — I can add non-alpha characters to snippets to trigger words and phrases. So, for example, it can differentiate between ‘@shel’ and ‘shel holtz’ by the addition of chars like # and //, which AW can’t (or at least couldn’t).

    The other bugbear of AW I found was that it wouldn’t let me save my database in my dropbox folder (I had to buy the Enterprise version for that) so that if my pc crashed or my notebook was stolen I could still keep a copy of my database safe and sound. To be fair, I haven’t tested PE to see if I can save its database of macros elsewhere…

    my 2c fwiw, ymmv

    • Lee – I haven’t noticed any startup delay but I tend to never really shut down so it hasn’t been a concern of mine.

      PhraseExpress is a new one for me – thanks for the tip.

      I would also love to use something like Dropbox to keep my ActiveWords in sync. The backup process is easy but I’d prefer to not have to worry about it.

      thanks for your comment


  5. I have been “hooked” on Activewords since the first time I saw it. I use it for signing emails, common phrases, ensuring I never mistype the company names I always type, responses to customers about commonly asked questions, filling in web forms, and much more. I have used it on Tablet PC’s as well and love it.

    My request – Activewords for the Mac. I use TextExpander but miss many of the powerful tools for scripting built into AW on the PC. No one tool does everything for me that Activewords does on the PC. And am now adding it to a netbook… small keyboard + AW = more happiness.

    You get the idea. I love Activewords! Thanks for the great review of it! My wish for Activewords is that it gets installed with every Windows PC by default.


    • Dave – I’m honestly surprised that ActiveWords hasn’t been grabbed up by the Microsoft folks, it sure seems like a logical addition as it is so application neutral.

      I’ve talked to Buzz about ActiveWords for Mac – it’s a common request for sure.

      thanks for your comment,


  6. Excellent post! And SO true!
    ActiveWords is one of THE greatest productivity tools I use in my business. Honestly, once you start using it, you can’t live without it.
    In one of my businesses, I need to respond to a lot of customer emails. I created about 10 standard email responses in ActiveWords and 99% of the work is done for me!
    Also – anyone who uses a Live Chat program should use ActiveWords…I have ALL my customer service people using it because in a Live Chat window, the customer expects a quick response…nothing is faster than Active Words.
    Ok, I could go on, but I’ll stop here….see how much extra time I have becuase of Active Words…just kidding!
    Happy Holiday! Stacey

    • Thanks Rob – after only a few weeks of serious use I’m finding it to be indispensable as well. It is amazing how often I stare blankly at a client computer waiting for my trigger words to activate before realizing there is no ActiveWords there.


    • Thanks Robin – I’m reading through your posts now. What a fantastically detailed overview you’ve provided.

      I think one of the joys of using ActiveWords is seeing how others use it and being inspired by them. Next up for me is the script for entering blog comments…