How I Use Keyboard Maestro

When I first started reading about Keyboard Maestro, I was confused by what it was and what it could do. Was it a way to make shortcut keys? Was it a clipboard manager? Was it a text expander? Was it an app launcher? Most material referenced Keyboard Maestro as a way to record keyboard shortcuts. That was also supported by it's name.

After digging deeper I found the answer was simply "Yes." It was all those and more. Now using it for a year, keyboard macros barely scratches the surface of what Keyboard Maestro is capable of.

To give a simple comparison, Keyboard Maestro looks like a heavy duty extension or upgrade to the built in Mac Automator tool. It has a similar look and feel, where you have categories of functionality, including using "blocks" that can be tied together to create a workflow. It's certainly possible and very easy to create keyboard shortcuts, or automate an application through it's menus, but that is perhaps 1% of the power Keyboard Maestro offers. In actuality, Keyboard Maestro is an application that allows you to build other applications.

Like Alfred, Keyboard Maestro can be invoked using triggers, keywords, keyboard commands, mouse clicks, or a schedule. Triggers can also be system events such as changing WiFi networks, inserting a USB device, starting an application, when you login or when the machine goes idle.

Based on those events, Keyboard Maestro has hundreds of actions that can be taken. Those actions include opening or closing apps, copying something to the clipboard, changing an iTunes track, muting the sound, locking the system, or launching a search. This should sound familiar as these are features that overlap with Alfred. Again, type in "SQL" and all the apps you have related to SQL will open and be ready for use.

That is impressive, but Keyboard Maestro has more tricks up it's sleeve. Using the more complex Actions it's possible to build your own applications, complete with dialog boxes. There are actions to create Loops, IF statements, Switch/Case blocks, create and assign variables, and even execute other scripts for Shell, AppleScript, or Javascript. Java, Groovy or Python are supported as well.

The exciting thing is, these little applets can be created by dragging and dropping functionality blocks into place and chaining them together.

While it will take some learning, this is the true power of Keyboard Maestro. Using these blocks, I've written dozens of small applications to accomplish all sorts of tasks on my machine. As I've gotten better with Keyboard Maestro, I've actually replaced full blown applications or mimicked their core functionality.

To show what I mean, Keyboard Maestro provides the ability to display dialog boxes to get user input. This prompt can be a text field, checkboxes, dropdowns, a list of options, or selecting a folder location. The result is stored and can be acted on using Loops, Case, IF, Search/Replace, creating a folder, deleting a file, starting an application, etc.

As a simple example, I have a macro to create a repeatable directory structure for my automation projects. I select the parent directory, Keyboard Maestro creates the rest.

Using the FOR and SWITCH blocks, I have an applet that comes close to functionality of Hazel, or what I would use Hazel for. It moves files from my Download folder based on name or extension, so images, videos and documents are moved to different folders with ease. I trigger this manually, but it can be set to run on a schedule, or even when the folder changes. Taking that, when a new file comes in, it could automatically be moved and organized.

I have a small Shell command to find large files on my machine, 500MB, 1GB, 5GB, 10GB. The size options are listed in a dialog. That option is then passed to a script as a variable and the search is started. The results, including the full path name, are listed in a text dialog. Now I know where the files are so my 10GB cycling videos can be moved off to an external drive.

I have a script that mimics Mosaic to position and resize application windows across my monitors. I use this every day to keep my window arrangement tidy and consistent. I can move and resize apps as I work, then put them back by simply pressing a key. TextSoap, TaskPaper, 2Do, CopyLess and Mini Note will always be in the same place. A consistent workspace is an efficient workspace.

I have macros to rename a series of files based on different criteria. This is used to rename image files, audio files, and tutorial videos. There are lots of batch rename tools, but Keyboard Maestro can do the job as well.

I have macros that read the WhereFrom meta data and rename the file accordingly. In some cases files will have a GUID for the name or just say, "audio." Keyboard Maestro can read meta data and turn it into something useful.

I have a trigger that sets up my machine for a VPN connection. When connecting to the Corporate network, I close down noisy network apps, turn off RSS feeds, turn off any downloads, close DevonAgent, open the VPN client or set the network in System Preferences.

Using the Rsync Shell command and the schedule trigger in Keyboard Maestro, I sync my DevonThink Office Pro files and Documents from my work machine to an external drive each Friday at 3pm. Keyboard Maestro prompts me to connect the drive, closes DevonThink Office Pro and runs the shell script with the sync commands. When the work is done, I get a notification and DevonThink starts back up.

To keep things tidy, I have a small Action that empties the system trash every Friday. Using the actual keyboard automation features, there is another that empties the trash in DevonThink Office Pro.

I do a lot of clipboard manipulation for work, so using the clipboard manager feature and the Search/Replace functionality, I manipulate copied test before pasting it. This can be removing or adding a URL to what I just copied. Or removing text so I only have the SKU. I can copy the whole line, but only paste the text I'm interested in. This is also great way to take a piece of text an convert it to a URL or Markdown code block. This saves a whole lot of time with tedious copy and paste functions which is the hallmark of QA work.

True to the name, I do have keyboard and mouse shortcuts programmed, such as triple-click for the mouse and using the Razer number pad for paste. It's not right-click, select Paste, or Command-V. I press a button and the text is pasted.

Along with that, I do indeed have macros that manipulate apps. As mentioned, I have a couple for DevonThink Office Pro, DevonAgent, and Amberlight. Keyboard Maestro repeats a series of keystrokes in each app, and does it very nicely, so it doesn't always have to be an applet. As an example, I've had Keyboard Maestro control Amberlight to make hundreds of desktop wallpaper images.

With these features, Keyboard Maestro also offers Clipboard Management and Text Expansion functionality. I have CopyLess, but it's entirely possible to create and use dedicated clipboards as well as the system clipboard.

The "Insert text by typing" action is similar to TypeIt4Me. Enter a "keyword" and it will be replaced with a block of text. It takes a bit of work to set up, but it's absolutely there. Again, Keyboard Maestro could replace two other tools.

Truth be told, Keyboard Maestro has a learning curve. It's not something you pick up and 5 minutes later you are productive. You will need to put the building blocks together. There is development involved. However, there is a wealth of information on the Keyboard Maestro Wiki and lots of helpful users in the forum, so you can absolutely do it.

It will take some reading of the Wiki to understand variables and how they're used. It will take some time to understand how the blocks fit together. It may take some digging to find the right option within the many choices available for an Action. It will take some practice to build the right kind of dialog box.

However, that patience and practice will be rewarded. Keyboard Maestro is incredibly powerful and flexible. It opens up a whole world of automation possibilities. It offers the power and ease of Automator, but takes it 100 steps forward.

In this last year, Keyboard Maestro has proven to be one of the most amazing applications I've used. It has incredible depth and power. I've written dozens of applets using it's building blocks. It's saved me hours of time doing repetitive tasks, has put extended functionality at the click of a button, and saved me quite a bit of money by allowing me to build applications for my own needs. In a word, it is indispensable and quite honestly, a reason to buy a Mac.

To me, it makes the perfect compliment to Alfred. Between the two, there is very little I can't accomplish with a little time and coding effort.

Maybe I should've written that in a different font.

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