Radically Improving AutoHotkey GUI Apps with Menu Bars

While GUI Menu Bars Make Your AutoHotkey Apps More User-Friendly, the Benefits from Adding One to Your Script Go Far Beyond the Obvious

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This blog represents the first in a series that revisits the InstantHotstring.ahk script introduced and developed in previous posts—starting with “Create Instant Hotstrings Using the AutoHotkey Hotstring() Function.” In this new endeavor, I add a GUI menu bar which significantly alters my view of the app. The benefits of implementing a GUI menu bar greatly exceed its functional use.

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I consider most of my scripts demonstrations of how to implement AutoHotkey possibilities—not completed applications. I rarely go back to do all the little things that will make a script a finished product—in two senses of the word: virtually completed and fine-tuned. Many of my favorites (QuickLinks.ahk, MousePrecise.ahk, SynonymLookup.ahk, AutoCorrect.ahk, ChangeVolume.ahk, etc.) don’t require much additional work—if any—although, a script rarely achieves perfection. Most of my scripts use menus, Hotkeys, or Hotstrings while running in the background—not requiring extra visual bells and whistles. However, once you base an AutoHotkey script on a GUI (Graphical User Interface) pop-up window, the need for additional finishing touches increases—especially if it opens and saves files.

One of the best methods for finishing an AutoHotkey GUI app involves adding a menu bar. (You might also argue that the writing of a GUI script should start with a menu bar. It creates a road map to the finished product.) On the surface, a GUI menu bar makes the app more user friendly, but, more importantly, the process forces you to rethink the design and structure of your script.

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AutoHotkey Tip of the Week: Cramming a Multitude of Controls into a GUI

AutoHotkey GUI (Graphical User Interface) Controls Gives Us Powerful Tools for Building Apps, But Sometimes We Need to Get Creative to Solve the Space Problem

WebPageLinks

My book AutoHotkey Applications: Ideas and Tips for Writing Practical AutoHotkey Scripts introduces the various GUI (Graphical User Interface) Controls available in the Windows operating system. I offer practical examples of how you can use single controls in a script. Yet each GUI control comes with its own particular limitations. Sometimes it takes a combination of techniques to get the full benefit from a unique control feature.

For example, you may find it a challenge to pack a multitude of items into a single GUI without expanding it beyond the screen. Many controls such as an Edit and ListView control allow you to limit the size of the control—then add scrollbars when the volume exceeds the confines of the space. Not so for AutoHotkey GUI Link controls.

In my last blog, “Cull Web Links from a Web Page and Activate Each in a Pop-up GUI“, I built a GUI pop-up window listing the external links scraped from a Web page (WebLinkFindURL.ahk script). In some cases, the number of links far exceeded the space allowed on my computer screen. Since the GUI Link control does not support scrollbars, I added Tab controls to expand the available GUI space without overwhelming the screen. Continue reading

AutoHotkey Tip of the Week: Use the GUI Menu Bar for Instant Hotkeys

Rather than Creating New Hotkeys and Isolating Them Using the #IfWinActive Directive, Simply Add Keyboard Accelerators Using a GUI Menu Bar

Note: This week’s keyboard accelerator tip is not the same technique as adding an ampersand before any letter in a menu item—although that trick still works. The beauty of this technique lies in the fact that you can embed and execute a multitude of active window Hotkey-like actions in a menu bar without ever opening the menu itself.

In almost every one of my books, I discuss using the Menu command to build free-floating selection lists for a wide variety of tasks. I use menus for the HotstringMenu.ahk script, the QuickLinks.ahk favorites app, SynomynLookup.ahk, and numerous other purposes. In the GUI ListView control examples found in the AutoHotkey Applications book for the to-do list, the address book, the calorie counting app and listings of icon images, the right-click context menu pops open for individual action items. Menus provide an easy method for adding features to AutoHotkey scripts while saving space. I’ve always known that you can add a menu bar to the top of any AutoHotkey GUI (Graphical User Interface) but had little to say about it—until now.

ToDoListINI
The Ctrl+T in the menu bar item creates an accelerator key combination which, whenever pressed, acts as an active window Hotkey for instantly executing the option—even without opening the GUI menu bar.

While working on my latest to-do list script (ToDoListINI.ahk), I realized that I wanted to add a couple more options to the app, but I didn’t like the idea of inserting more buttons into the GUI. I naturally turned to a menu bar at the top of the GUI which could include many more actions while taking up minimal area. After a quick glance at the Gui, Menu command, I realized that I had routinely overlooked one of the most important aspects of Gui menu bars: accelerator keyboard combinations. Continue reading

AutoHotkey Tip of the Week: AltSubmit Prevents One-Click Field Editing in GUI ListView Control

Sometimes Adding More Capabilities to a GUI Eliminates Other Features

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Chapter Ten “More To-Do List App (Resizing and Positioning the GUI)” of  the AutoHotkey Applications book discusses “Direct Editing in the First Column Field of ListView.” This convenient feature mirrors the one-click editing you get when working with Windows File Explorer—the same effect as selecting Rename from the right-click context menu or hitting the F2 key. The feature makes it easy to change the name of a file or folder. I find this technique much simpler than editing text in a separate edit field then clicking an Update button, however, you can accidentally disable one-click editing in a GUI ListView when attempting to add other useful features by including the AltSubmit option. Continue reading

AutoHotkey Tip of the Week: Use ToolTips to Make Apps User-Friendly—August 26, 2019

Tip: By Applying the OnMessage() Function, You Can Include Windows ToolTip Notes in Your AutoHotkey GUI Window Scripts to Add Hints and/or Instructions Which Pop-up When Mousing-Over the Controls

Light Bulb!People might find some cleverly-designed AutoHotkey scripts confusing. Wouldn’t you like to add hints and tips which explain each control in your AutoHotkey GUI window? You can do just that with the ToolTip command and the OnMessage() function.

coverepub-250In the book AutoHotkey Applications, “Chapter Thirty-four: Pop-up Labels for All Your Programs (ToolTip Command)”, the Tooltip command highlights each control in an AutoHotkey GUI (Graphical User Interface) window. Use the ToolTip command to add helpful little informational notes to your AutoHotkey applications. Once you implement this tip, whenever you hover the mouse cursor over controls in an AutoHotkey GUI, the ToolTip command will identify the control’s function or give instant instructions (as shown below).

(Extra Tip: You can use this same technique with other non-AutoHotkey Windows application by identifying window and control names with Windows Spy or the WindowProbe.ahk script, then writing a short companion AutoHotkey script to work with the Windows program.)

ToolTipHelp
An AutoHotkey GUI shows three different ToolTips as the cursor is moved over each control.

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Formatting Fonts and Colors in AutoHotkey GUI Window Controls

Guidelines for Setting Text Styles in AutoHotkey GUI (Graphical User Interface) Controls—You Can Make Your GUI Windows Easier to Read by Changing the Text Font and/or Color of Individual Controls

While AutoHotkey doesn’t offer the same detail control of color, font, and text style that you get in graphics programs, you can enhance your GUI pop-up windows with well-placed style changes. But to get the most from your adjustments, you need to understand how AutoHotkey executes these modifications.
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Use the FileSelectFile Command to Save Instant Hotstrings to an AutoHotkey File

After Taking the Time to Create Hotstrings with the InstantHotstring.ahk Script, It Only Makes Sense to Save the Code to an AutoHotkey File for Future Use

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This blog is part of a series of articles discussing how to create instant Hotstrings using the Hotstring() function.

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Ultimately, after writing and activating a number of Hotstrings with the InstantHotstrings.ahk script, we want to save them in an AutoHotkey file. That frees us from recreating the set of auto-replacements the next time we need them. Plus, rather than always loading the Hotstrings into the app, we can run the .ahk file directly with AutoHotkey. Continue reading

Using GUI Checkbox Controls to Set Hotstring Options (AutoHotkey Technique)

AutoHotkey Hotstrings Use a String of Characters to Turn Options On and Off—GUI Checkbox Controls Offer a Visual Display for the Active Options along with a Method for Enabling/Disabling Each Feature

Previously (in “The Coming Instant Hotstring Script (AutoHotkey App)“), we reviewed the work still needed in the InstantHotstring.ahk script. This time we implement Hotstring options using the Hotstring() function.

Converting GUI (Graphical User Interface) Checkbox controls into Hotstring options codes (and back again) involves adept programming tricks. We use GUI windows and their controls to make applications user-friendly. People find it much easier to push discreet buttons and check separate boxes than work directly with often enigmatic programming codes. That means we must build a method for translating between the user-friendly input in a GUI window and the required code. Continue reading

The Coming Instant Hotstring Script (AutoHotkey App)

The InstantHotstrings.ahk Script Allows the Creation and Testing of Hotstrings

Library Benefits

January 5, 2019 Update: You can find the InstantHotstrings.ahk script at the ComputorEdge AutoHotkey Free Scripts page.

I started writing the InstantHotstrings.ahk script as a demonstration of the new Hotstring() function. I planned to keep it basic. (See the previous blogs, “Create Instant Hotstrings Using the AutoHotkey Hotstring() Function” and “Using the AutoHotkey Hotstring() Function to Disable/Enable Hotstrings.”) However, as often happens, the script ballooned into much more. While it continues to demonstrate various aspects of the Hotstring() function, it now includes a number of other features worth discussing (e.g GUI DropDownList, adding Hotstring options, saving and loading files).

I plan to post the current version of the app soon, but I don’t feel it’s quite ready. So, in this blog, I review the script’s features which provide topics for my future blogs. Although not my intention, you could call this a teaser of what’s yet-to-come. I should have the script ready for posting next week. I’ll publish a notice here when I’ve added it to the ComputorEdge Free AutoHotkey Scripts page. (I didn’t want you to think that during this holiday period I wasn’t working on something.)

January 5, 2019 Update: You can find the InstantHotstrings.ahk script at the ComputorEdge AutoHotkey Free Scripts page.

In addition to the two blogs mentioned above, I will write a series of pieces about the meat and potatoes in this new app:

  1. Add Hotstring options to the activated Hotstrings and the GUI DropDownBox control.
  2. Discuss the behavior of the various Hotstring options within the Hotstring() function.
  3. Look at considerations when using the X (execute) option in the InstantHotstring.ahk script.
  4. Save temporary Hotstrings to a .ahk file.
  5. Use the FileSelectFile command to save/load Hotstrings.

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Create Instant Hotstrings Using the AutoHotkey Hotstring() Function

While Building Temporary Hotstrings Using the AutoHotkey Hotstring() Function, We Learn DropDownList GUI Control Techniques

In Section 12, “Instant Hotkey GUI and Menu Section” of my book Jack’s Motley Assortment of AutoHotkey Tips, I go through a number of different techniques for keeping track of impromptu Hotkeys created with the InstantHotkey.ahk script (e.g. two-deep variables, associative arrays, etc). I thought of using that script as a model for this new InstantHotsting.ahk script. However, I might offer more learning points about other aspects of AutoHotkey if I start over with a new approach to this slightly varied problem.

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