How jacked up is your keyboard? Do you have one of those super-fancy, 800+ button, LCD-screen, lit-up, wheeled contraptions that's less an input device, more a control panel at a nuclear power plant? If so, you're probably the kind of person who doesn't need the apps I'm about to list out in this week's freeware roundup. Unless, that is, you're also one of those people (including yours truly) who have a ton of buttons and options to play with, yet no resolve to actually go about mapping this to that.
And if you're just rocking a plain ol' keyboard, I hope you're sitting down because you're in for a world of difference. The applications I'm profiling today are all keyboard-focused, and they all seek to add some kind of additional, awesome functionality to (or based on) your default button layouts. Launch programs! Use your keyboard media buttons to control all of your media players! Look up every Adobe-related shortcut within the span of seconds!
All that, and more, await you in this week's freeware and open-source software roundup. Let's get started.
If you've been a freeware and open-source aficionado when it comes to your media players, you might have found that a number of third-party programs just don't work with the media keys on your keyboard. You can jam play, pause, or skip track all you want--nothing happens. Although it's still in its infancy, Media Keyboard 2 Media Player allows you to get some use out of these dead keys by transforming your button-pushing into the actual hotkey combinations for your other media player apps. Unfortunately, only XMPlay, VLC, and Winamp are supported right now. Here's hoping a more universal solution will pop up in the future!
The description of this one is simple. Winlayout lets you control your open windows using your number pad. The program doesn't work perfectly with Windows 7 right now, but other than that, it's a quick way to send windows flying around your desktop screen with the mash of a button. More than 30 separate actions, including window resizing, are launched by combinations of the windows key and number pad buttons
So, suppose you're using a fancy program like AutoHotkey to build increased functionality into your keyboard through the use of customized hotkeys. Or, for that matter, suppose you want to change up the hotkeys of any given program? You can select whatever you want, but what happens when you pick a hotkey combination that's in use by another program or application? Short answer: Chaos. Avoid this fate by using ActiveHotkeys to check out which hotkeys on your system are in use or not. The app doesn't tell you which program has claimed the key combination, but at least you'll know that your freshly assigned ALT-T hotkey will load up a new tab rather than your favorite Mr. T application.
Design enthusiasts take note: If you're one of the lucky to afford any bits or pieces of Adobe's Creative Suite, you'll know that a wealth of functionality can be called up in these applications with but a few hits from your fingertips. And you should equally know that there's little more frustrating than your mad attempts to find the correct key combination for a feature you've previously used and since forgotten. The Adobe Shortcut App solves these problems with its easy-to-use search functionality for Adobe keyboard shortcuts. Not only can you search for and switch between PC and Mac versions of the shortcuts, but you can create your own favorites list for frequently used shortcuts that you want to keep fresh at your command.
If you thought the aforementioned Winlayout was lame--the program that allows you to resize windows with your number pad--then perhaps you'll find a bit of joy in this other application that makes even better use of said number pad. In this case, ControlPad transforms your number pad into a launching station. Start by assigning a numerical identifier to a particular task, like opening up new applications or sending a particular series of keystrokes to the OS. From there, you simply have to hold the * key on the number pad for a second or so, then enter the code you just created in the window that appears. Your command then executes, opening up your favorite files or launching your favorite games in a fraction of the time it would normally take.
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!