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TextExpander: Essential Mac shortcut utility

TextExpander just got an update that adds a few features and fixes to this already essential OS X PreferencePane. Via email:

  • Abbreviations with characters requiring the Option key are fixed
  • Named delimiters (space, tab, return, esc) appear in other languages
  • Other minor fixes

I have to say, I just love TextExpander (formerly “Texpander”). Its functionality is not unique — users of, say, TextMate, TypeIt4Me, or Windows’ popular ActiveWords (Hi, Buzz), or for that matter, Vim, will recognize the similarities. But, brother, is it ever easy to setup, modify, and use.

At the heart of it, TE gives you system-wide text shortcuts that, when typed, explode into much longer bits of text or can even, say, paste in an image, like your scanned signature. So, for example, if you’re sick of retyping a new email sig, you can store it in TE and assign “emailsig” as the trigger to paste in the full text for you.

A screenshot of the control panel, courtesy of the Smile on My Mac site:

Screenshot from Smile on my Mac site

There’s just too many uses for TextExpander to try and catalog here, but I'll share a few that I particularly like...

  • your full mailing address - mine pastes in my address, correctly formatted for USPS standards
  • your name - In one usage I like, typing MERLIN (note the caps) pastes in my name exactly as it appears on my credit card — all in caps and no punctuation. And, of course, as previously noted, it also helps prevent you from serially misspelling your own first name.
  • boilerplate responses - Although I’m partial to MailTemplate for more sophisticated templating in Mail.app, it can be very handy to have, for example, a nothanks snippet that explodes into your carefully worded two-paragraph epistle about how you’re too busy to accept a given project.

Then there are just all those little bits of code and functionality that it sucks to type manually all the time — especially if you live and type in a web browser all day. I use this for things like HTML tags and date-stamp formats, the latter of which make it super-simple to label versions of new documents and do fast ad hoc backups.

Here’s the actual code for a few of my favorites.

what it is TE code Abbr. I use Notes
html image <img src="%|" border="0" /> imgg As with many of these, I use an abbreviation that, by itself, is unlikely to appear anyplace but as a typo.
And see that little "%|"? That's a placeholder that tells TE where to position the cursor after the snippet is pasted. Awesome.
html link <a href="%|"></a> ahreff Can't even tell you how much time this saves me every day.
generic URL http://www.%|.com/ urll Ditto
Finder-friendly long date %Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S fdate This "colon-free" format lets me mark versions of files in the Finder (and is also friendly for letting you sort those versions by date/time)
short date %Y-%m-%d sdate Sometimes I don't want all the flibbety-gibbety of a long date, so this snippet gets a lot of use for helping me remember when I created or changed something.

Like I say the uses are endless, and with recent versions, things get even sexier; you can make the snippets CaSe-dependent, and, although I haven’t played with it yet, you can now choose delimiters so you aren't accidentally stepping on "real words" or, for example, other abbreviations in your text editor or IDE.

TextExpander 1.4 requires Mac OS X 10.4, costs $29.95, and is available for download as a 30-day, full-feature demo. Try it and see what you think. It’s saved me way more than $30 worth of idiotic typing time.

About Merlin

Merlin's picture


Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




An Oblique Strategy:
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