Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Text Expanders Revisited

A couple months ago I posted an article about my experience with text expansion utilities. At the time I had chosen TypeIt4Me as the only alternative able to expand one-character shortcuts. Recently, both MacUpdate and MacHeist launched new shareware bundles. Since the former includes Typinator, and the latter originally was said to include TextExpander, and I was already interested in a few other offerings, I decided to give them one more try. To my surprise, Typinator exceeded my expectations and contradicted my memory.

As you may recall, I intended to use text expansion as a poor man's assistive technology for improving text input speed and accuracy. I had used CoWriter with elementary students but could not afford the price tag for my own use. As an alternative, I set up a large number of abbreviations in TypeIt4Me, allowing it to expand out the most common words as I typed the first few letters. However, I was not entirely satisfied with this solution either, since TypeIt4Me had the fewest features of the three programs I had tried but retained a fairly hefty $27 price tag. Therefore, I turned it off for the moment and located TextExpander and Typinator once again.

After a brief revisiting of TextExpander, it was clear once again that it would not fit my needs. As noted before, the one-letter abbreviations did not work. They gave a warning message, but were not highlighted in red and disabled like other illegal shortcuts. I sent the following email to their tech support.

      Subject: TextExpander snippets
      Date: April 11, 2008 5:55:59 PM PDT
      To: info@smileonmymac.com
    I've previewed your product, and it has very nice features. Unfortunately, it does not fit my needs because single letter abbreviations are not supported. (It seems to me a bug that it does not highlight them in red even though there is a warning message.) I use a text expander to facilitate all my typing because I cannot use one hand since I broke my neck. Being able to use "t" for "the" and "n" for "and", for example, saves me a lot of time. The only program that I have been able to do this with is TypeIt4Me.
    Please let me know of you will ever make single letter abbreviations possible.

This email was sent almost two weeks ago, and I have not heard any reply, plus the MacHeist bundle does not in fact include the program, so I have written off TextExpander.

The other program, Typinator, was a pleasant surprise. I believe the version was updated to 3.0 since the last time I examined it, and the changes were dramatic. First and most noticeably, Typinator now runs nearly invisibly, with just a small icon in the menu bar. Next, when I went to import my TypeIt4Me shortcuts, I had none of the problems that I had had before. I simply dragged and dropped the file into the list of abbreviation sets, and it worked. Finally, my one-letter shortcuts worked! It may be in part due to my faulty memory, but the new version of Typinator was well worth trying.
There were some differences to adjust to in switching from TypeIt4Me. In Typinator features like whether to expand immediately or after a delimiter and how to treat case sensitivity can be set on a shortcut by shortcut basis. Unfortunately, the default on my imported abbreviations was not what I needed for most cases. In the long run, though, having this level of control will enable better functionality. Another issue I had was trying to create an expansion with a backspace in it. In TypeIt4Me I used this to enable typing " g" instead of "ing". The program would backspace over the initial space before adding the "ing". Typinator allows setting the cursor position, but not using the backspace key as far as I can tell.

Overall, I am happy I gave Typinator another try. I have over 200 abbreviations set up, and it is pretty amazing how many of the words I type are abbreviated now. The application is part of the 10-program bundle being offered by MacUpdate for $64.99. I was seriously considering the package before, but Typinator sealed the deal. I would love to have the full functionality of CoWriter or dictation software, but Typinator is not a bad replacement, and right now the price is right.

If anyone else is interested in my abbreviation file, I would be happy to share it. If you purchase the MU bundle through the link above, I earn a $3 credit.


John W. Thiells said...

What's a good one for Windows? I've tried a few and they don't meet my needs... either too slow or steep learning curve.


P said...

Hey John, try Breevy.