Launchboard 2.0

If your mouse is dragging you down, put it away, and use your keyboard and LaunchBoard 2.0 instead. This slick little utility lets you assign common tasks–from launching Web sites to dialing your ISP–to simple keystrokes.

LaunchBoard customizes as many as 38 keys on your keyboard, including the function keys; numeric keypad; and special keys, such as Insert, Home, and Page Up. To customize a key, simply select the one you want to use, then assign it an action, such as opening a specific program, launching a URL, or starting a multistep macro. The process is quick, and LaunchBoard’s wizardlike interface is easy to follow. The only thing you can’t do is name your LaunchKeys; the program automatically uses the application’s icon or the site’s URL as the key’s identifier.

While you’ll probably find it useful for opening up URLs or applications quickly, LaunchBoard’s coolest feature by far is its macro capability. The program includes several preset macros, called Productivity Tools, for accessing your floppy drive, surfing AOL, launching the Windows calculator, and opening documents, among many options. You can also create your own single- or multistep macros, such as launching your mail client and creating a blank message or checking for new mail. Just press the key you want to use, choose the first action from a list of options (such as browsing to the program’s EXE file, or typing in a URL), and LaunchBoard enters the proper command string. Next, type in the exact keystrokes you want your new macro to perform. For example, we chose Outlook 98 as our application, then typed in Ctrl-N to open a new email message. To make the macro run more smoothly, the company recommends that you insert a delay of a few seconds between each step. You can do this easily by placing your cursor between two command strings, selecting the Insert Delay menu option, and specifying how long you want the delay to last.

You can then label your configured keys with the supplied stickers. LaunchBoard includes premade keyboard labels for popular sites, including CNET, ESPN SportZone, Yahoo, USA Today, and NPR, as well as common programs, such as Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, and Quicken. You also get generic labels for word processing, spreadsheet, and graphics programs, plus some blank labels you can customize yourself.

When compared to its competitor, ShortCuts, LaunchBoard wins easily: it handles multistep macros without a hitch, and the included labels are pretty darn helpful for remembering which key you programmed to do what.

If you prefer punching in keystrokes to clicking a mouse, LaunchBoard’s the solution for you.

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