Create Instant Windows Gadgets Using AutoHotkey Graphical User Pop-ups (GUIs)

One of the Easiest and Quickest Means for Building a Short, Useful PC App Takes Advantage of AutoHotkey GUI Controls—A Review for the Novice Scriptwriter

Many of my sample scripts available at the Free ComputorEdge AutoHotkey Scripts page use the built-in Graphical User Interface (GUI) tools available in the Windows operating system. Taking advantage of these Windows mechanisms demonstrate only one of the many reasons why the free AutoHotkey scripting language affords so much power. With a few lines of code, you can build Windows gizmos for an innumerable variety of applications. The GUI pop-up acts as the primary core for many AutoHotkey scripts. Easy-to-use and only requiring a minimum amount of programming, the GUI makes possible Windows gadgets for almost any use.

While almost all of my books discuss how to use GUIs in a number of different ways, the book AutoHotkey Applications: Ideas and Tips for Writing Practical AutoHotkey Scripts spends a great deal of time discussing various AutoHotkey Graphical User Interface (GUI) pop-ups with example scripts.

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Sending Multiple Saved Data Items to Documents and Forms in AutoHotkey (Temporary Hotkeys)

Sometimes We Want Single-key Hotkeys to Work Only for Short Periods of Time

The press of a single key provides the easiest method for inserting data into an edit field or document. In AutoHotkey, you can activate any key as that quick action single-key with either a Hotkey or Hotstring. However, in the normal course of work, that technique renders that keyboard action useless for anything else. To get the convenience of one-key instant activation, we must activate that Hotkey when needed—only in specific circumstances and for short periods of time.

AutoHotkey offers a number of different methods for accomplishing this instant key action. Which we choose depends upon what we want to do. In this blog, I look at three different methods:

  1. Use the Hotkey command to temporarily turn Hotkeys on then off again.
  2. Use the #If directive to designate conditional Hotkeys.
  3. Temporarily pause the script after Hotkey activation, then deactivate Hotkeys upon resuming.

While each temporary Hotkey works in a similar manner—activating only when needed—each has its advantages and disadvantages.

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AutoHotkey Quick Tip: Conditional Hotstrings Using the Input Command

Sometimes the Input Command Solves a Sticky Hotstring Problem

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I promised an associative array tutorial for my next blog, but this topic intervened. I should have the tutorial ready for next Monday.

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Recent comment on my blog “Auto-Capitalize the First Letter of Sentences“:

This routine can be handy, though the main issue is that, in AHK, “if more than one hotstring matches something you type, only the one listed first in the script will take effect”. Actually, I’m not sure about that, as it appears that using the asterisk as a hotstring option takes precedence. In any case, this does seem to have the effect that other hotstrings that could otherwise be used cannot be used if they also match the code provided here. I have lots of those types of hotstrings, which I use on new lines and after punctuation. I have been unable to find any solutions to this since AHK does not accommodate sequential firing.

A short demo:

:T:tn::Thanks
:C*?:`nt::`nT

Run this script. Type “Tn” on a new line. It works to type “Thanks”. Now type “tn” on a new line. The first line in the script is now skipped. You see only “Tn” in response.

Comment On “AutoHotkey Tip of the Week: Auto-Capitalize the First Letter of Sentences” by mikeyww

Whenever a Hotstring fires, it resets and waits for the next Hotstring. Therefore, the firing of the new line character and “t” (`nt) removes the letter “t” from the next string and starts over with the “n” character. The asterisk option (*) does not affect this behavior. It merely causes that Hotstring to fire before the first—then reset—prior to pressing the “n” key. However, I do appreciate the problem.

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Track Graphic Line Measurement Segments Using AutoHotkey Arrays

When Refreshing the MouseMeasure.ahk Invisible GUI Graphics Layer, AutoHotkey Uses a Simple Array of Associative Arrays to Track the Data

In my last blog (“Measure Multiple Line Segments with an AutoHotkey On-Screen Ruler“), I introduced multi-segment lines for estimating distances of non-linear routes. When refreshing the graphics to animate the moving line, all previously fixed segments need redrawing. Objects-based arrays provide the best method for tracking and regenerating these lines.

Each leg of the journey corresponds to a simple array element containing an associative array of data. The white box displays the key:value data saved in MyArray[4].

The difference between pseudo-arrays, simple arrays, and associative arrays can get confusing. For the novice AutoHotkey scriptwriter, unfamiliar Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) notation can make understanding the code even more difficult—especially if you attempt to learn OOP from online documentation.

You may think you need to choose between the traditional AutoHotkey syntax and OOP coding, but you don’t! AutoHotkey allows you to mix-and-match most OOP and classic AutoHotkey syntax—as long as you understand how they integrate.

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Measure Multiple Line Segments with an AutoHotkey On-Screen Ruler

Taking the MouseMeasure.ahk Script to the Next Level, We Add Multiple Calculations for Going Around Corners

The original MouseMeasure.ahk script captures a single-length in a straight line—as a crow flies. While this works great for many applications, roads and highways generally wind over travel distances. Depending upon where you’re going, this can cause a significant variation in the total calculation. To return a more accurate overall estimate, we must break the measurement line into shorter segments.

Start the measurement with the Ctrl+LButton Hotkey, then click the left mouse button for each new leg of the journey. Press the Shift key to terminate the last leg and display the total distance.

The original form of the MouseMeasure.ahk script only allows for a sole straight line. To add more legs to our journey (at different angles), we must implement AutoHotkey techniques for:

  1. Terminating one segment and starting a new one.
  2. Tracking the position of each segment, its length, and the total distance traveled.
  3. Refreshing the screen to include all past legs as well as the new leg.
  4. Sending multiple saved data items for each leg to documents and forms.
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Replace Hotkeys with the AutoHotkey GetKeyState() Function

While Digging into On-Screen Graphic Line Generation, I Discovered a Number of New AutoHotkey Techniques to Add to the MouseMeasure.ahk Distance Capturing Script

Last time, I looked into adding a line drawn on-screen to visually represent a linear measurement (“Drawing Lines on Screens with AutoHotkey“). However, I didn’t feel that the drivers I used presented the result I wanted for the MouseMeasure.ahk script. The line jittered too erratically and I found holding down the left-mouse button while dragging awkward and lacking precision. Therefore, I didn’t post the final product—although I did provide a download for the curious.

I have since drawn upon the expertise of other AutoHotkey Forum users to revise the script and create a much more robust app. The new script includes the following improvements:

  1. Only one Hotkey combination (Ctrl+LButton) activates both the calibration and measuring subroutine.
  2. The script no longer requires holding down the left mouse button while positioning the end point of the measurement. The end-point remains attached to the moving mouse cursor.
  3. The more advanced GDIPlus graphics used to draw the line make the line smoother and more robust.

The MouseMeasure.ahk script now uses Windows GDIPlus graphics to draw a red line between the start and end points of the on-screen ruler. The end point of the line moves with the mouse cursor until pinned with either the Shift or Alt key.

I pulled these improvements from a number of sources.

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Quick and Dirty Multi-Line Text Formatting (AutoHotkey Tip)

Formatting Text for Various AutoHotkey Tools Can Get Tedious—Use AutoHotkey Section Continuation to Simplify the Work

In the MouseMeasure.ahk script (discussed last time), I added a pop-up window displaying instructions on how to use the app. I formatted the text with a number of new lines and tabs. Usually, this would have required careful placement of the special escape characters, but not this time.

When adding instructions to a MsgBox, we often resort to adding returns (`r), newlines (`n), and tabs (`t) to create the desired layout. While this works, it often produces perverse effects—especially when using individual line continuation techniques to wrap the code for display purposes. However, AutoHotkey offers an alternative type of code continuation which makes text formatting quick and easy— continuation sections (Method #2).

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Use Alternative Filename Extensions for Special Format Files (Part Five: Finishing AutoHotkey GUI Scripts)

While Changing the Saved Filename Extension in the InstantHotstring.ahk Script Helps Protect Original AutoHotkey Files, the Technique Offers Additional Benefits…Plus, a No-Wait Progress Bar for Instant-Saves

Over the course of the past few blogs, I added protection to files containing AutoHotkey code by both including a one-line file header and changing the saved filename extension to .hsf. These steps have resolved my concern about overwriting any AutoHotkey scripts—from which I may have extracted Hotstrings and loaded them into the “under-construction” InstantHotstringMenuBar.ahk app. At times, I thought that adding the two techniques might be overkill but now I’ve come to realize that using an alternative extension provides benefits that may prove even more useful than my initial attempt at protecting .ahk files.

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Use the GoTo Command to Traverse Long Subroutines (Part Four: Finishing AutoHotkey GUI Scripts)

Sometimes the GoTo Command Makes Life Easier without Creating Perverse Effects

This next portion of the InstantHotstring.ahk menubar implementation did not go as I had expected. I thought that I would break up the routine launched by the Save Hotstrings button into separate subroutines or functions, then call each as appropriate for the corresponding Save/Append Hotstrings menu items (as seen in the image). I didn’t look forward to it because I knew it could get a little confusing. Some items would require multiple subroutine calls while others would need to just run—depending upon the menu selections made by the user.

I didn’t want to write redundant subroutines, but separating the various features of the complete routine required more than merely adding Return commands to encapsulate the code. I finally ask myself, “Why not insert AutoHotkey Labels into the main Save routine and use the GoTo command to jump my way through the decision points?”

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Sensing AutoHotkey Editing Changes for Instant Save (Part Three: Finishing AutoHotkey GUI Scripts)

By Detecting Modifications in Edit Data We Know When to Activate Instant-Save Routines

Any change too active Hotstrings appends an asterisk (*) to the current open filename and enables the Save option.

In the last blog (“GUI Menu Bar “Save” Item Complications (Part Two: Finishing AutoHotkey GUI Scripts)“), I discussed the need to add a special header to a unique type of data file—InstantHotstring generated Hotstrings. This header helps to differentiate between AutoHotkey .ahk files—which you may not want to overwrite—and files generated by the InstantHotstring.ahk script.

When adding a Save option (instant-save using the CTRL+S key combination) to the menu bar, many Windows apps concatenate an asterisk (*) to the file name in the title bar—alerting the user to changes. In this blog, I add a similar change-detecting feature which both displays the appended asterisk and enables an instant-save routine.

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