Driving in the fast lane with ActiveWords

One of the tools David Allen uses on his PC is ActiveWords, a tool often described as “solving a problem you didn’t know you had.”  It essentially streamlines the navigation and common tasks we do all day long; send emails, go to web sites, create new tasks, insert text, open files and more.  Recently, David recorded a podcast with Buzz Bruggeman, the developer of ActiveWords, to explore this tool in more detail for our GTD Toolbox series.


For those of you on Mac, you have a similar function through QuickSilver.  If you want to reach Buzz about ActiveWords or any of the other products he mentions, you can reach him at [email protected].

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  1. I use PhraseExpress to expand short forms and to launch programs. Is ActiveWords better?


  2. After hearing you all praise AW so highly, and looking at it, I’m left thinking WTF? There’s a disconnect between what I’m hearing and what I’m seeing.

    I looked at the video demos of ActiveWords, and you really need to take a close look at LaunchBar for the Mac. It’s an order of magnitude more polished. Yes, QuickSilver is nice, but LaunchBar is life-altering.


    Is the market for WinOS productivity tools so insipid in general? I’m sure AW must have been ahead of its time in its market, but it’s not all that’s out there.

    e.g. with AW you need to define each ‘word’ trigger. With LB it’s AI matching is so good there’s no need to pre-program triggers – you’d swear it reads your mind >80% of the time, and it learns as you go, continuosly improving. There’s also no need to manually delete triggers after they’re typed. Again – WTF?!

    I can see that the goals of the two programs are very similar, but it’s the attention to small interaction details and overall polish that makes these two products seem so divergent. Anyway, enough of my ranting. Each product is only available for 1 platform, so they’re not competing directly.

    I just think if you’re interested in using premium tools, you should give LB more than a cursory glance. There’s a depth there that’s quite remarkable.

  3. Launchy does all of this, and more. Plus it is free!

    AutoHotkey does all of this. And again it is free.

    SlickRun, AutoIt, Enno, Win+R, tons of others all free, and all more powerful.

  4. Hi Kevin–not sure how it compares to Phrase Express.

    Hello Robert–Thanks for writing/ranting! Of course there are lots of similar and competing products out there that do better or worse based on what you need them to do. We were just intending to highlight one David uses and likes personally.

    Thanks L.S.–I’m sure that’s helpful for people to know other options.

    Cheers to all…


  5. It would be interesting to hear from Buzz about these comments – I would assume he monitors / is aware of the competition (sure seemed like that re: Mac in the conversation)…


  6. Hi Guys…

    I have been monitoring, but have been totally slammed by the GTDers who have listened to the Podcast and have downloaded ActiveWords. All kinds of great people, comments, questions and ideas.

    Where to begin:

    If you want to try the Gist beta go here: https://beta.gist.com/signup/buzz , I have arranged for the GTD community to have access to Gist.

    Same thing for http://www.eyejot.com, e.g. go here:


    As for the comments posed above..

    I haven’t looked at Phrase Express but I think we do a lot more, and built on top of ActiveWords a lot off WordBases and a scripting language. Be sure to look at our various agents, e.g. http://www.activewords.com/plusapplications.html , and I have collected a lot of materials related to scripting here, e.g. http://buzzmodo.typepad.com/buzznovation/2006/03/activewords_and_3.html .

    As for the Mac products. They are good and surely prettier than ActiveWords, and no question that free is good, but, there is no support for QS, and our users tell it has huge memory leaks.

    We would love to build a Mac version of ActiveWords one day but would need to find a dynamite Mac development partner, so would love introductions.

    Too date the Mac market has been too small for us to focus on. And our product road map probably would have us focusing on mobile platforms first, e.g. Blackberry, WinMobile and the iPhone.

    We have one big idea, e.g. http://www.activewords.com/vision.html

    As for cost, no one has ever complained about the cost of ActiveWords, and in fact routinely people tell us that ActiveWords is a bargain and that we should charge more. 🙂

    That said, we love the give and take, and our goal is to exceed your expectations and continue to build great software.

    P.S… as for the cosmetics of ActiveWords, stay tuned for our next versions, we hopefully dazzle you.



    Burton L. Bruggeman
    ActiveWords, Inc./Seattle
    [email protected]
    206-388-4737 eFax


  7. > I haven’t looked at Phrase Express but I think we do a lot more.

    Buzz, how can you be so sure if you actually “never looked”? 😉

    Please check out http://www.phraseexpress.com/features.htm

    You will find that ActiveWords does not “do more” but rather may have a *different* focus.

    > no question that free is good, but, there is no support for QS,

    It may be valid for many hobbyist’s freeware but I am pretty confident that you have not meant PhraseExpress in particular.

    Three dedicated developers are working on PhraseExpress full-time and you are invited to visit our public support forums to make yourself a picture of our support services.

    PhraseExpress is licensed to major corporations in helpdesk and sales offices who support the development.

    We decided to provide PhraseExpress to all *personal* users free-of-charge. It is the same software as the commercial license and fully featured. Thus, just because it is free doesn’t mean that it lacks quality.

    > and our users tell it has huge memory leaks.

    A program would certainly not be used by hundred thousands users if it would contain unresolved “memory leaks”. If you should find any in PhraseExpress, please let us know and we fix it as soon as possible – Promised!

    > Stay tuned for our next versions, we hopefully dazzle you.

    Is it the same new version you announce since 2007? : http://markfreedman.com/index.php/2007/09/11/key-launcher-experiment-so-far/#comment-79

    > We have one big idea, e.g. http://www.activewords.com/vision.html

    Is it the same big idea you advertise since 2001(!)? : http://web.archive.org/web/20010405070401/www.activewords.com/vision.html

    You are truly excellent in spreading the word. Now, how about *delivering* the promises to your customers? 😉

    PhraseExpress Team

  8. Reading the comments above it appears that each software company feels their child is the best looking. I will simply speak as a customer with no dog in the hunt.

    I, like David Allen, am a fan of ActiveWords. I have been using it for years. I have used it on tablet PC’s, tested it on Netbooks, and used it on desktop PCs and notebooks. I have recommended it to many others. I also use Macs. I used to use QuickSilver and dropped it when all support for it was dropped. I use Launchbar and TypeIt4Me to collectively replace what ActiveWords does for me on the PC platform. As powerful and good at guessing Launchbar is, it falls short of the benefits I feel I gain when I use ActiveWords on the PC platform. AW is easier to setup for even complex substitution and command and control. The libraries of pre-built ActiveWord glossaries save me significant time. The built-in “we saved you X keystrokes and Y time” tools in the various platforms I have tested tell the tale for me. I save 5X the time and keystrokes on ActiveWords versus the other tools I have tried.

    To the comments above implying that things have not changed or moved forward for many years with ActiveWords… my experience and the experience of other ActiveWords users suggests otherwise. The platform has been updated and each version has thoughtfully added features without creating “bloatware” as is often the case with others.

    Buzz, keep up the great work! I want ActiveWords on my Mac and my iPhone as well as the PC’s I use it on today. Ready to buy in the AppStore…

    A more than happy customer of ActiveWords,

  9. Dave, THAT was some polished and raving review.

    Let’s take 2 arguments of your shiny “customer” review:

    “I save 5X the time and keystrokes on ActiveWords versus the other tools I have tried.”

    Sniff, sniff, I smell washing powder advertisement: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SJ2eSKRR6Uo (skip to 0:20).

    OK, Ariel washes whiter “than others”, no doubt. But why would Activeword save you 5x the time with text replacements like “wtf” with “what the funny” than any other average autotext software?

    “has been updated and each version has thoughtfully added features without creating “bloatware” as is often the case with others.”

    First, sit back and think, whether a “customer” would ever render a statement in such promotional style? 😉

    Here are the file directory sizes of a few productivity utilities:

    Texter: 0.24 MB
    AutoHotkey: 2.4 MB
    Phrasexpress: 5.5 MB
    Activeword: 12 MB

    Now, spot the bloat! 🙂


  10. Michael,

    First let’s be clear – I am neither an AW user, nor do I know Buzz personally.

    That was really the most unprofessional representation of a company I’ve seen in a while. You sound like a spoiled kid who’s just been told his “bike isn’t cool” and is mad because Buzz got to talk to David Allen and you didn’t.

    If you read through again you’ll note Buzz said I “think” we do more. Based on a cursory review of your site I’d agree. Your product “appears” to be text-focused. Maybe I wrong. But your name (like AW) points to a textcentric focus as well.

    As for the rest of your snarking – read it again. Everything you pointed to was clearly in a paragraph that started with “As for the Mac products.” The comments about support and memory loss were both clearly about QS.

    PE may in fact be better than AW. Sadly few people will be tempted to try it out if this is how you market it. Go back and look at how Buzz responded to the comments (both positive AND negative.) He hit every one of them and did not attack once. Now go back and look at your response to him. Entirely negative, attacking points YOU misread, and not once did you even mention WHY PE might be equal to or better than AW.

    It’s no wonder that AW is more well known name than PE if this is how you “evangelize.”

    AW vs PE? Who knows.

    What I do know is that while I am still testing programs, PE is off the table. I have no interest in a product or company with management as unprofessional as you.

  11. Trevor,

    I wonder about your motivation to write such overly aggressive and insulting while elaborate comment; especially as you pretend not to be affiliated with any person/software.

    Cui bono?


  12. Oops, while re-reading the comments I now understand what you mean, Trevor.

    I initally thought, “QS” would stand for “Quality & Service” (vs. “QuickSilver”) and that the memory leaks would exist in freeware products competing to Activewords.

    I *sincerely* apologize for my misunderstanding and the redundant comments.


  13. Michael,
    No problem. I’m sorry if my comments came across as insulting or aggressive.


  14. I listened to the podcast and since I was starting on a new Windows box figured I would give ActiveWords a try. I don’t see what the big deal is. As a launcher it is much less convenient than what I had used in the past, launchy, because I had to enter in most of what I wanted to be able to launch. The ability of AW to grab what you type anywhere isn’t as useful as it sounds when launching, because while it will delete what you typed from the application, if you typed in an entry box the original text may not get restored. I don’t really care about spellchecking and substitution since the programs I type in already do that.

    The last straw was when it just quit working. I couldn’t bring it up, even after stopping and restarting it. Eventually it started working again, but in the meantime I restarted my old favorite, launchy, and have switched back to it. Some really nice features of launchy are that most of the time I do not have to type the whole word to launch something, I rarely need to program in the launch word, and it automatically reads my bookmarks from Firefox. With AW I was having to think of launch words for each bookmark, which is not a trivial task. Launchy does much more without me having to set anything up.

  15. Hi guys, I’m the developer of Breevy, a tool similar to ActiveWords. Breevy’s a text expander for Windows that can replace typed abbreviations with longer words and phrases, and can also launch apps and websites: http://www.16software.com/breevy/

    It’s different than ActiveWords, but provides the same basic functionality — automatic text replacement and so on. Just thought I’d share it as an alternative to those who are interested in giving something else a shot.

  16. Perhaps, I missed something but what makes Beevy an alternative to the other established programs (despite the “easy, simple, instant, perfect” marketing approach)?


  17. @Sri: Not sure what you mean…

    Dictionary.com’s definition of the word ‘alternative’ is as follows: “one of the things, propositions, or courses of action that can be chosen.”

    So yes, Breevy is indeed an alternative by definition, because it’s one of the programs (things) that can be chosen by someone to help increase their typing productivity. 8)

  18. Well for crying out loud! I royally dislike my new Mac if I can’t find a suitable replacement for Activewords and trust me folks, Quicksilver is a Joke. Yeah, I said it. A JOKE.

    The fact that the Mac community gets so excited about Quicksilver (apparently the holy grail of productivity as far as macs go) does not bode well at all for me. I should have researched this before buying a Mac Air… I realize I have no one to blame but myself, but come on. Really Mac? You have thousands upon thousands of apps. Not one can do text replacements and simple scripting so that I don’t have to have a masters in programing to figure it out?

    Hey folks, if you need to rip a CD and convert it into 22 flavors of formats, there’s an app for that. Want to make funny pictures, steal music, and look at porn sites malware free? You certainly should buy a Mac. However, if you actually want to use your Mac for work. Forget it. And PLEASE do not tell me I am wrong unless you have actually used Activewords for longer than month on a windows platform. If you have, and you still think Macs are better…. share your wisdom. I have downloaded 20 paid and free apps so far and all of them have been Zapped (mac users will understand) They didn’t come close to what I need. I would welcome a Mac user with a solution. Pleeease, anyone! Anyone?

  19. On the Mac:

    1)Textexpander is a well reviewed text replacement app.

    2)Launchbar is an excellent app launcher (and much more)

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