Your key is your Mac's command

Written and published February 2, 2000

Most old timers on the Mac are familiar with Now Menus. It was one of those things you either loved or had a love/hate relationship with because it was so terrific and handy, but also known to be problem causing. At one point, I was willing to live with the problems because I so-loved the benefits. Then one day I couldn't handle it anymore. That's the day I turned it off and discovered myself crippled -- unable to easily locate or open my files. And that's the day I started my utility-free apple menu -- the practice I shared with you in my first articles. Thankfully, the great folks at Power On Software heard my pleas, along with a zillion others', and created Action Menus. While the concept and some of the functions are the same or similar, the code is 100 percent written from the ground up. Not one byte of code is from the old "Now" product. Action Menus is part of my must-have Mac utilities. So its time to share it all with you.

Rather than overwhelm you with too much stuff, I'm dividing this piece into parts. This week I focus on one key feature and next week on another. I also invite you to share the ways you use Action Menus. I'll post all the letters you write, either as a column for a week, or as a supplement. I hope we'll hear from you as you begin to use Action Menus.

Before you read this, you might want to download the program and use it in trial mode. That way you can follow along and see whether it works for you without spending your hard earned money. If you find Action Menus useful you can buy it and register it later without losing your settings. (Even if you exceed the 30-day trial period, you shouldn't lose your settings.)

A word about installing Action Menus

After you install Action Menus, you may notice that the order of things in your Apple Menu is mixed up. That's okay. Action Menus enables you to easily organize the order of things in your menus. When it's turned on you'll have that organization. But, since you've also organized your menu without Action Menus, when you need to start with extensions off, you'll still be able to get to your stuff easily. We'll talk about the organizing feature next week. (Right now I can't wait to get to my favorite part.)

You will also notice many items on your menu now have documents attached to them. Those are user-controlled although on by default. We'll get to them later too.

Custom key commands

With my recommended Apple menu launcher, or a popup folder to launch your apps or files (see the earlier columns), you have very handy access to the items you use often. But wouldn't it be cool to also just be able to press, say, Control-A to launch or bring forward AppleWorks, then Control-I to bring forth Internet Explorer, and say, Control-E to call forward your email? (This is my favorite part.) Try this:

After installing Action Menus, move your mouse to your Apple menu, down to the Internet folder, then over to your email application. Then rest your mouse over your email program so the program is selected in the menu. Keeping the email program selected, press the Control key and the "e" key. In a moment, you'll notice that the shortcut is added to the selected menu. (I'd show you a screen shot of a key being assigned but it can't be screen captured.)

Now try this with one of your favorite applications. Move your mouse to your Apple menu, down to the Apps folder, over to one of your favorite apps, and then press the desired keys.

If this doesn't work, go to the Action Utilities Control Panel, choose Action Menus, then the General tab. Check to see that under "Command key assignment" you don't have "Off" selected. Either other option will do this job. ("Allow assignment to all menus" provides the most power.)

Are you wondering why I recommend the Control key? I find the Control key very handy for assigning my own shortcuts because this key is rarely used for anything. (Control-clicking to bring up contextual menus doesn't conflict with pressing Control and any key.) F keys are also great for shortcuts.

The Apple menu isn't the only menu you can customize commands for. It can actually work within program menus and within the Mac's Finder menus. You'll see a red block in the upper left part of any menu that can be customized. (You can turn the square off if you wish.)

Finder commands

You can also customize Finder commands -- File, Edit, View, Special, and Help menus, as well as the Application menu.

What might you customize? I've assigned Control-H to the Hide command that's under the Applications menu. The Hide command is not applied to one specific program but to the command itself. Now, whenever I want to hide a program all I need to do is press Command-H and the current application will be hidden. You might also assign a key command to the Application menu's Show Finder Only command, easily providing you with a clear view of your Desktop when you need it. Oh S&Mac255; that command -- Show Finder Only -- comes to you courtesy of Action Menus. I'm finding it handy. This utility also adds another command -- Quit All -- which quits all running applications for you at once.

If you find you often switch a folder's view between Icon and List you might want to assign a shortcut to each of these views. Perhaps you'd like to assign a Sleep key, one for Shut Down, or one to Empty Trash.

The shortcuts in the Application menu (as with the Apple menu) will function at any time, regardless of which application is running. The shortcuts in the other menus -- File, Edit, View, Special, and Help -- will be recognized only when the Finder is the active program.

What if you try to assign the same key to two different commands? If the same shortcut is assigned to two different menu commands within the same program, such as the Finder, the first command shortcut will be removed upon assignment to the second command. (Try it for yourself.)

Customizing existing preprogrammed key commands!

Have you ever tried to remember a program's keyboard shortcut but just can't get it to stick in your head? Ever wished you could change that command? Or do you have two programs in which the shortcut for the same command differs and you've wanted to change one of those programs so the commands could match? Didn't think you could do it? Now you can. Pre-programmed keyboard shortcuts work just like unassigned commands. Go ahead and try. You assign a keyboard shortcut just like you did in the Apple menu -- by selecting the command and pressing the new shortcut while the command is still selected.

Action Menus also works within the menus of many programs. (It doesn't work in all programs, though. For example, it doesn't work in Word 98. But then Word enables you to customize menus already.) Again, you can tell it'll work when the red square appears in a menu.

The first command I changed was in Outlook Express. It's command to show the main window is Command-1, which is so near Command-Q that I sometimes quit when meaning to check my email. I've changed the Window->Main Window command so F1 opens the window. For me that's safer, faster, and more comfortable.

If you inadvertently assign a shortcut already in use elsewhere, you will probably notice it when you first try the new shortcut. For example, I tried assigning Control-A to Tools->Accounts in Outlook Express. But that's already used within Consultant 3.0.1 as a special command that works any time. Therefore, when I tried the command, Consultant's function happened. Just be on the lookout for this type of unexpected behavior and it won't take you by surprise. If you do find a conflict, just reselect the command and assign a new shortcut or delete the one you've assigned.

If you try this and key assignment doesn't work, go to the Action Utilities Control Panel, choose Action Menus, then the General tab. You need to have "Allow assignment to all menus" selected.

Changing and removing custom key commands

Don't like the key command you've chosen? Want to change it? Just repeat the assignment process and choose another key combo. The newer one replaces the older one.

Want to revert to a pre-programmed command? Select the command again, but this time press Delete. The originally programmed shortcut will return.

Reviewing your Shortcuts

Whenever you'd like to review the list of shortcuts you've assigned, just visit the Action Utilities Control Panel and select Key Viewer. There you'll see the full list of what you've done, as in this screen shot.

More efficient menu actions

Action menus also add a couple of other cool things.

Let's say you're running a program and want to access the folder of that application. Now you can do that easily. Just press Command as you select that application from the Application menu. Unfortunately, if a program isn't running, pressing Command as you select the programŒs from your Apple menu, won't open the program's folder. Since the item in the Apple menu is an alias, the folder full of aliases opens instead. The way this feature works is that pressing Command as you select any item opens that item's folder.

To quit a program that's running but not front-most, you can press Shift while you select the program from the Application menu.

Do you ever feel you've gotta do several things all at once? (Dumb question?) Well, now you can. Try opening a bunch of applications at once. (With Action Menus' Multi-Action command.) Move your mouse down your Apple menu, over to your Apps folder, and keep the mouse down as you select a program to open. Press the "O" key and keep the mouse down. Now move to the next program you'd like to open and again press "O."

After you've got a bunch of applications open, try this. Move your mouse down to one that you'd like to quit and press "Q" but keep your mouse down. Then move the mouse to one you'd like to get info on and press "I" still keeping the mouse down. Get the idea? Any more you want to quit? Select it and press "Q" for it as before. Finally, when all the commands are assigned, let go of the mouse button. If you've got a fast Mac you can watch the rapid fire of events. If you've got a slower Mac like me, you can stand up and stretch or get a cup of water while your Mac remains productive.

This "I" trick also works when you want to adjust the memory of a program, except the program you adjust must be closed in order to set the RAM. In that case, you'd want to use this trick on a menu that lists your unopened programs, such as your Apple launcher again.

Next Week and Weeks to Come

Next week we'll continue with Action Menus. And, not to tease you too badly, but in the weeks to come Bill Briggs and I have some cool little time-savers for you. We've (he's) been busy developing them for you and they'll soon be ready for prime time.

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