Slickrun is my favourite computer program. I know this because its one of the first things I install on a new PC, and if I am using a PC with it not installed I get increasing annoyed every time I hit my chosen shortcut key (Ctrl-Z, as quick as they come) and nothing happens. Its part of my motor memory. It is as integral to my computer experience as using a mouse.
There are two main ways that people interface with computers – the command line, and the GUI. The GUI overthrew the command line because it was much easier to learn, and more intuitive. The command line still lives on, especially for geeks, because it is normally quicker than using a GUI for the advanced user. Keyboard shortcuts are intermediary solution. Shortcuts save time. When using a computer all day, like typing a word document, every trip to pick up the mouse takes time and disrupts the flow of your keyboard. Take Ctrl- C for example, which I use constantly. This shortcut is easy to remember because there is an non arbitrary link between the shortcut and what it does – in this case the mnemonic link between C and its function, Copy. But its even more useful because it is program (and platform) independent. Whatever you are doing, and whether working with files or text, I can use this shortcut. However, a lot of shortcuts either are arbitrarily linked to their function, (hold down ctrl,alt,shift and F5…) and specific to a particular program . What is even worse is that different programs will have different shortcuts for the same function, and either you can’t change the shortcut key or its non trivial to do so.
This is where Slickrun comes in. It offers a new way to interact with a computer. In some ways it mirrors one of the idea’s behind Archy - the notion of context independent commands. Development behind Archy seems to have stopped, but it was a great idea in principle.
In Slickrun, you create “MAGICWORDS”. For example, to open Word, you just hit the slickrun shortcut key and type “word”, hit enter, and MS word loads (you can often just type “w”, “wo” as it remembers and autocompletes previously used commands). The advantage of this is that the command is easy to remember, unlike a multitude of shortcut keys. The command is also user definable, so you have the control to create commands that are meaningful to you. You can link to programs, files and folders. I now have my desktop set to hide desktop icons, because I don’t need them anymore.
You can also pass parameters to programs, For example, I can type “mail john briggs” and a new mail gets opened up with john briggs in the TO field. Or I can type “contact john briggs” to open up my John Briggs contact. Or I can type “locate expenses” to search my computer for files with expenses in the title. Or I type “call [telnumber] to launch skype and call the specified telephone number.
It allows access to the RUN commands, for example, type iexplore and internet explorer loads. This also allows access to the filesystem via auto complete – typing c:\p [tab] sl [enter] takes me to the slickrun (c:\program files\slickrun) folder, as it autcompletes program files from “p” and slickrun from “sl”.
It has a globally accessible JOTPAD, a notepad with autosave, which appears when you press a shortcut key.
Slickrun on the internet
All these features are great. But what really makes Slickrun indispensable is its ability to launch websites, and pass parameters to websites. My most common use of slickrun is to do google searches. I type G (or GOOGLE) and paste or type my search term, and it will automatically launch a new tab in the foreground of my browser with that search term in. It is like having an additional sense. Some websites I commonly use with slickrun are at the bottom of this post.
It is also very useful for the google lucky command which I describe in this post:
Slickrun for academics
The specific use for academics is the ease of which slickrun provides to searches. As an academic, I have setup several links to search academic databases. For example, I have a JOURNAL magic word to search my library’s collection of online journals, and TITLE to search the titles (via an institutional link to OVID) of articles via that database. When I see a reference in a pdf or website that I want to check out, I copy the text of the title, bring up slickrun, type GS [ctrl-v to paste the text] and enter, and it performs a google scholar search for that paper.
Alternatives to Slickrun
Slickrun is freeware and windows only. It’s a small download, instant to run and takes little resources. If you are on a MAC, try Quicksilver, which has also has an evangeical following.
There is a commerical Slickrun like called ActiveWords. See this website for a description of what it can do, which encompasses much of the same functionality of Slickrun, so can give you further ideas of how to use Slickrun.
I tried it briefly and prefer Slickrun, it’s a small compact (and FREE!) app which takes up very little resources, and its very easy to use, and customise. The features that Slickrun doesn’t have in comparison with ActiveWords can be emulated, such as the scripting with AutoHotKey, and features like universal autocorrect and spellcheck can be mirrored with other freeware programs.
Yubnub, “the commandline for the internet” is a very similar idea to slickrun. It’s a great idea, but I prefer day to day use of Slickrun as it gives me control of my computer not just the web, and its easier to add and manage new commands with Slickrun.
There is another strand of programs which use the keyboard to launch programs, like quicksilver, such as google desktop search, approcket, colibri and the new Vista Start menu. These work by indexing your file system, and then doing a search as you type – e.g. you type “wo” it brings up all files and folders beginning with “wo”, such as your shortcut to launching MS word, which you can then choose or select with the arrow keys. I sometimes wish that Slickrun could do this also. The advantage is that you don’t have to setup commands to lauch files or programs in advance. However, it would slow down the program, gives you less control and takes up extra system resources, and I think the designer is intent and keeping the application swift and elegant. Locate32 is a fast free app that does the same thing that one of our bloggers Jose highly recommends.
Sample Slickrun commands
I will attach a selection of commands that I think people would find useful, which are a mixture of web searches and local system applications. Included are some really useful commands if are a MS Outlook user, such as to create tasks, mails, contacts and appointments, or to open existing ones. Some you might need to tweak them with the directory your outlook is running from depending on your version. Here is a selection:
g $ google – invaluable. Has become like another sensory system. Setup in slickrun as a default
gl $ – google lucky
wiki $ – wikipedia
metacritic $ – great for film reviews
Amazon $ and amacom $ – searches the uk and us sites respectively
allmusic $ – amazing music database
ebay $ – searches ebay. Who needs the high steet.
gb – google blog search
gmaps $ – searches google maps for a location
gmails $- searches gmail from the command line – which of course you can add switches to (e.g. label:sent will search sent items)
gapp $ – creates a google calendar entry (which you can modify) using quick add – e.g. “lunch at 12pm for 2 hours next wednesday”
gcomp – creates an new google mail
d $ – uses onelook meta dictionary search. prefacing search term with *: gives a thesauus ability. Use this a spell checker.
hunt $ – seaches isohunt torrent metasearch engine