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aText - Your Friendly Keystroke Slasher

aText - Your Friendly Keystroke Slasher

aText is kind of like shorthand for the keyboard -- but you don't have to learn it, because you can invent your own snippets that will translate into the exact word or phrase you desire. It doesn't end with text, though -- aText allows you to set all sorts of parameters in your snippets, from formatting to inserting emoticons, or carrying out specific operations.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
04/16/13 5:00 AM PT

aText, an app that lets users accelerate typing speed through their own created abbreviations, is available for US$4.99 at the Mac App Store.

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Few people like typing. Even fewer like typing the same things over and over again.

That dislike is at the root of aText, which lets you create your own abbreviations to speed things along.

For example, a typing shortcut, or snippet, such as "jpm" could become "by John P. Mello Jr."

While simple text can be used to make substitutions, you can do much more than that, too.

You can define the font of the text, as well as characteristics such as bold, underline and italicize.

Mini Scripts

In addition to formatting text, you can insert variable information into a typing shortcut.

Date and time fields, for instance, can be inserted so that whenever you typed a snippet for a date (ddate, for instance) or one for a time (such as xime), the date or time from your Mac would be inserted into whatever you were working on.

You can choose the format for the date and time for the shortcut, or create several abbreviations for inserting dates and times in different formats.

Because you can include more than alpha-numeric keystrokes in your snippets, you can turn them into mini-scripts.

For instance, you can insert cursor movements into a shortcut. That's useful for filling out some Web forms. At the end of each line of text in a shortcut, for example, you could put a cursor-down stroke to speed through filling in the form.

Among the other keystrokes available are enter, escape and tab.

Variable Fields

The app also allows you to include material beyond the keyboard in its snippets, too.

You can include a command to paste whatever's in the system clipboard along with the information in your shortcut.

You can even include images in an abbreviation's expanded form.

Variable field support can also be very useful in creating shortcuts. Those fields allow you to interact with a shortcut as it's expanding.

That could be particularly useful for a person of many hats. You might want to use a variable field before your name in an address block, say, so you could fill in your appropriate title when expanding the shortcut for the block.

In addition, in an HTML snippet like <a href=%field:href%>%|</a>, you could paste in an appropriate URL to appear when the shortcut expands.

Grouping Snippets

Snippets can be grouped to make them easier to edit and access.

A number of snippet groups are included with aText, such as JavaScript statements, HTML code and symbols.

Among the symbols included are the oft-used emoticons for a face with a frown or a smile. You can type :) and a true smiley character will appear in your text.

When you group snippets, you can define characteristics for the entire group.

For instance, you can choose when to expand the snippets in the group. Options include immediately; at a tab or enter key; at the space key; or at a delimiter.

Delimiters are characters used to tell aText a snippet is about to follow.

In the HTML group, for example, the character "'" is a delimiter. So when you type the HTML snippet for a line break 'br, the code
will appear.

Limiting Where It works

You can define other behaviors within a group, too. Expansion of a snippet can be defined to occur after all but letters and numbers, after a space, and after any character.

Where you'd like to use aText can also be determined. You can use the app in all applications, choose the apps you'd like the program to be active in -- Microsoft Word or Apple Mail, for example -- or disable the program entirely.

Additionally, case sensitivity for the snippet's abbreviation can be set, and any delimiters -- called "abbreviation prefixes" -- can be defined.

You can also customize aText in a number of ways through its preference menu.

An App That Excels

Through that menu you can determine where you can find aText on your Mac -- on the menu bar, dock or both. There are also more than a dozen sounds from which to choose for the audio feedback made by the program when it expands a snippet.

Hot keys for the program can also be defined in preferences. You can create hot keys for toggling the app off and on; quickly create a snippet from a selection or text in the clipboard; or pop up a menu of abbreviations or the program's main window to search through snippets.

As you use aText, you'll find your snippet libraries will grow and grow. The last thing you want to happen is to lose those shortcuts accidentally. The program allows you to set up an automatic backup schedule, choose where you'd like to store those backups, and create multiple copies of them.

Moreover, the program supports cloud programs like iCloud and Dropbox and will use those services to sync your snippets across devices.

There are a few text substitution programs out there for the Mac, but aText stands out in the space because of its price and powerful set of features.

Want to Suggest a Mac App for Review?

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John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.

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