Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Console Launcher Hot Key - “Tilda”

Interacting with your computer using a mouse-driven GUI makes many tasks quick and easy to accomplish.  However, when use of the keyboard is required, a healthy amount of context shifting between these two non-complimentary input devices can occur.  And that’s bad news for turning thoughts into actions in a timely matter. So, what’s the consequence of spending a few extra seconds to switch back and forth?  As John D. Cook points out, it adds up:

It’s a matter of keeping up with your thoughts. Suppose some series of tasks takes 20 seconds with a mouse but you can accomplish the same tasks in 12 seconds using the keyboard. The big deal isn’t that you’ve saved 8 seconds; the big deal is that you’re more likely to finish your tasks before you lose the thought that motivated them.

I interact with theTilda - Console Launcher Hot Key file system on a very regular basis.  I haven’t measured this, but I bet I’ll open Windows Explorer (or xplorer²) at least two or three times for every hour I’m at the computer.  I’m forever poking around for documents and restructuring directories so that they’ll be easier to find next time.  Many times I’ll want to execute a command line statement in the path that I’m browsing.  There are several different strategies for getting a “Open Command Prompt Here” to the explorer context menu, but they all require a right-click (or simulating one with the keyboard).  There’s an easier way.

A couple years ago I read an article on instructables about a “Drop Down”, Quake-style command prompt for Windows.  The project uses AutoHotKey to launch and hide a console window using a keyboard shortcut.  Neat!  It works great, except that it always dumps you in the your %HOMEPATH%.  I’ve taken the script and upgraded it to navigate directly to the currently open path in Windows Explorer – it’s name is Tilda.

For example – I’ve got an explorer window open in C:\console\UnxUtils\usr\local\wbin and I want to string some of those juicy unix command line utilities together.  I can now simply do Win+~, and I’ve got a new console instance in the right place.  As with the original, it will minimize/maximize the console window on subsequent usage of the key combination. 

I have this nasty habit of navigating around the file system when I’m using Windows Explorer.  After running some unix commands, I might have a hankering to run MSBuild.exe (ok, probably not, but who knows?).  I could tediously type the path, or, I could have Tilda automatically enter it for me.  From the new path in Windows Explorer, I type a combination Win+Shift+~ and the chdir command gets sent to the current console window.Tilda - chdir

Please note that I’m using (and recommend) Console as a command line window host.  Tilda is currently set to use this, but the script can be easily modified to use cmd.exe or whichever console window host you prefer.

Tilda - open and close a console window using a hot key.  Automatically navigates to the currently open explorer window.  Save some trips to the mouse and make getting to the command line easier.

Download Tilda (AutoHotKey source and binary)