Field Report: P.I. Engineering X-keys Desktop

September 1, 2008

Record/Edit Macro Window

The Record/Edit Macro Window displays the text strings that X-keys uses in macro and keystroke programming.

With the help of a PC or Mac, finishing nearly any type of project is quicker and easier than ever before. Computers have increased productivity, and the day-to-day use of laptops and desktops has caused the repeated use of the same mouse clicks and keystrokes. Rummaging through drop-down menus is slow and cumbersome, and while keyboard tricks like CTRL+O can help speed things up and forego the use of menus, imagine having one key that can trigger a command or start a macro. That type of luxury and a few other handy features are now made available from P.I. Engineering with the use of X-keys Desktop.

X-keys Desktop is a 20-key, 4" × 7" USB keypad that connects to any Windows 2000 or later PC or Mac OS-X machine. By installing the supplied Macroworks II (or Ikeys for Mac) software, the keypad can be programmed to reduce commonly used keystrokes or other repetitive tasks down to the virtual touch of a button. Macroworks II installs quickly and runs unobtrusively, displaying its icon in the Windows taskbar, and allowing continual programming and use of the keypad whenever needed. The programming switch (on the side of the unit) when pushed up, will open the device programming window. Hitting a chosen button on the pad, and then performing the desired keystroke will record that action to the X-keys unit for future use. As an example, since the term X-keys is used repeatedly in this article, I programmed the left uppermost button to type “X-keys” into the word processing document each time that button is pushed. I also programmed the next button over to be the save button. Instead of finding and clicking the appropriate icon, or navigating the mouse pointer to File-Save, I programmed the CTRL+S keystroke into X-keys, and saving the file became a one-button ordeal.

Performance at a glance
Quick USB connectivity
Customizable labels
Compact size
Fast programming and configuration
Eliminates difficult keystrokes
Automates repeated tasks

Opening commonly used programs is achieved by accessing the device's programming window and dragging an icon from the desktop to the desired button on the X-keys keypad, as displayed on-screen. Likewise, files and folders can be dragged from the Windows desktop or file structure onto a key to create a shortcut for opening the file or folder. An Insert Menu also allows the user to browse to files or folders and to create a shortcut. Using this feature, a button will open a user-defined file or folder. In the device programming window, the Legend Maker will indicate how each key on the unit is programmed. Fonts and text colors can be selected, and the current key layout can be printed. In hidden mode, the device programming window will stay out of view while programming each X-keys key.

Out of the box

Each key has a removable clear plastic cover that provides a protective covering for customizable labels. The blank adhesive legend sheet stickers can be written on, or a preprinted legend sheet representing popular key strokes or commands is available. X-keys Desktop has two programmable layers; green being the primary layer, and red being the second layer, allowing each of the 20 keys to pull double duty. Application Specific Layers can be created to allow certain keystrokes to work only when using certain programs. The green and red layers are most important for keystrokes common to the operating system.

Device Programming Window

The Device Programming Window allows for easy on-screen setup of the X-keys Desktop.

In audio editing environments where the same computer-based processes and editing techniques are repeated on a day-to-day basis, X-keys can drastically cut down on menu navigation, keystrokes, and general mouse clicking. While it will simulate a mouse button click, it will not simulate mouse movement. Pre-defined keyboard shortcuts can be combined into a one-button macro command. As an example, in my favorite audio editing software I have already designated the keystrokes CTRL+D, H and N to perform the dynamics processing, hard limiting and normalization steps respectively on a typical voice file. Using X-keys, one button tells each process to happen. The only caveat is that each process may take, depending on the length of the file, three to four seconds to complete. X-keys has a delay feature that will allow a pause before continuing to the next keystroke. So when editing a 30-second voice file, dynamics processing, hard limiting and normalizing each take about three seconds. With that in mind, the text string for the one-button command looks like {ctrl+d}[Delay 3.0]h. The command is necessary because OK must be clicked to start each process. Of course, this text string does not have to be typed in. Letting X-keys record each step is the most practical way to store the macro.

P.I. Engineering

X-keys Desktop also has a repeat feature that will repeat a keystroke or macro numerous times at different rates. The user selects a delay period and repeat rate. When the key is first pressed, the macro is fired. After the delay period, the macro is repeated at the rate specified until the key is released. The X-keys Desktop is packaged with two vertical double keys and one horizontal double key. Double keys allow for multi-key functionality. It also has a key puller for removing single keys for the installation of double keys.

Devices that speed up and make our daily tasks easier to manage are becoming more and more popular. While these devices are fun, they are usually less than practical, and certainly not necessarily productive. The X-keys Desktop is a practical and fun device that makes lengthy, repetitive and routine keystrokes as simple as a push of a button.

Wygal is the programmer, engineer and Web designer for WRVL in Lynchburg, VA.

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