What the Heck is a Macro, Anyways?

What The Heck Is A Macro, Anyways?What the heck is a macro, anyway? You’ve heard the word uttered in hushed whispers echoing softly down the corridors of your office building. You seem to remember that your uncles would wake up at 4 a.m. to go catch macros down by the docks. You’re even pretty sure you’ve heard it taken in vain by salty bingo players down at various church benefits. (“Holy macro!”) But the definition of a macro — for general computing, anyway — is easier explained when you examine the purpose for such a thing and move forward from there. How often have you found yourself repeating the same keystroke after boring, carpal tunnel inducing keystroke, wondering how, in this day and age, there’s not a better — and easier — way to perform these tasks with minimal human intervention?

Wouldn’t it be neat if your computer could actually be used to execute certain mundane tasks that vex you on a daily basis with only a few keystrokes substituting for 10 (or 910)? Of course you know about cutting and pasting, but come on! That’s nearly as tedious as mowing the lawn or vacuuming your apartment — and they’ve got robots for that sort of stuff now. You’re not living in some Buck Rogers fantasy land when you demand more from your technology than solitaire, casual Web browsing, and email, by gum!

Basically, a macro is a mini computer program that you can create to make your life easier by automating repetitive tasks. A macro consists of multiple commands that are grouped together to form a single command. Imagine typing something short and simple, like *sig1, and having something like the following appear on your screen:

This is something that I usually type at the end of every correspondence, with rare exception. Sometimes, a few of the words need to be different to address matters of personal or professional importance, so I can’t really include these words as a proper signature. Perhaps by using a few different macros, I can eliminate the need for cutting and pasting blocks of text like this to suit the need at hand. Wouldn’t this be swell?

Sincerely,

Ahab Montague
Fishmonger
Greater Rhode Island
ahab@louder_for_chowder.com

There are a number of free and not-so-free ways to create macros for general tasks. From years of use, Bob (the editor ’round these parts) recommends ShortKeys Free Lite as a good place to start. It’s very limited (with a maximum of 15 different macros), but it may be all you’ll need. There is a paid version with more options if you find it to be useful.

Another very common use for macros is inserting and formatting tables within Excel. I’m sure you can see how executing one can make this easier and more efficient. If you’re interested in creating your own macros in Excel, I recommend the following self-paced training to start off with: Get in the Loop with Excel Macros. Or you can jump right in and create your first macro.

Image: Vintage Typewriter Keys by Thuy Pham via Flickr

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Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.