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Author Topic: Direct Access - text expander and application launcher (and much more)  (Read 31104 times)
Darwin
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« on: September 13, 2007, 03:59:50 PM »

Basic Info

App NameDirect Access
App URLhttp://www.nagarsoft.com/
App Version Reviewed1.6.6
Test System Specs1.4Ghz single core Centrino notebook with 2GB of RAM and 64MB shared video memory running XP Pro Sp-3
Supported OSes and System Requirements
  • - Operating System: Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • - Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0
  • - Internet Explorer 5.0 or newer
  • - 20MB hard disk space
  • - 256 MB RAM
 
Support MethodsAndrea Nagar also writes a blog with useage tips and news. Finally, the help manual is available on-line
Upgrade PolicyMinor updates (point releases) are free, discounted upgrades are available
Trial Version Available?30-day fully functional trial
Pricing Scheme$49.95. Donationcoder supporting members receive a 30% discount  Thmbsup
Reviewer Donation LinkDonate to Darwin, the reviewer
Screencast Videos and Screenshots URLView video of Direct Access in action here and screenshots here.
Relationship between Reviewer and Product I am not affiliated with Nagarsoft in any way and have received no incentive to influence the conclusions of this review.


Intro:

Nagarsoft's Direct Access came onto the text expansion and application launcher scene just over two years ago and went head to head with the likes of ActiveWords, PhraseExpress and Quickeys. Each of these applications allow you to type a word, phrase, or abbreviation in any window and have a discrete dialogue pop-up offering to launch a file, open a folder, launch an application, launch a webpage, send an e-mail, insert boilerplate text or complete a phrase. They also provide a universal spell-checking option and Direct Access 2 and PhraseExpress offer clipboard management features as well.



Direct Access is visually stunning and does what it is designed to do very well.



There's not much to show, really. You type your abbreviation, your prompt appears, you hit your trigger and the action is executed. Simple. Elegant. Useful. See the video tutorial on nagarsoft's website for a visual presentation of how this process works.

As version 2 was released late last year, it seems appropriate to upate this mini-review accordingly.

The chnages made over the past year are evolutoinary rather than revolutionary, but include a redesined intertace, support for rich text editing and formatted text insertion into any application, netsted autotexting, enhanced live search functionality when searching for commands, and a spell checking add-on. For a full list of the changes from 1.66 to 2.1 and updated screenshots, see the website's "What's New" and Version History pages.

Who is this app designed for:

If you spend all of your time on a computer you should check this utility out. It frees you from the mouse, allowing you to launch files and programmes, insert boilerplate text, and more without having to take your hands off the keyboard.

The Good

What I love about Direct Access is its speed and its clear, attractive, and modern interface. Options are presented clearly and it is a very simple task to install DirectAccess and configure it to your liking. Another great feature of Direct Access is its ability to import a variety of other scripting languages, such as AutoHotKey scripts, to extend its functionality. Doing so allows for an almost limitless flexibility to the programme and allows users to add further functionality to it. This is easily accomplished via the Importer tool:



The new (to version 2) spell checker works well. My main concern with it, after a very brief play with the trial, is that it works through the same trigger system as everything else in DirectAccess. Thus, in order for "hte" to be recognized and changed to "the", "hte" must be set as a trigger. So, typing "tmie" for "time" does nothing until you create an action for the trigger "tmie". This quibble aside, creating triggers for misspelled words is not difficult.

Finally, the main interface features live searching so that finding commands is a snap.



The needs improvement section

An acknowledged bug in the current version is its memory consumption when LOTS (as in thousands) of abbreviations are contained in a users database. Fortunately, simply opening and then closing the main interface is enough to release the memory and the author is not only aware of the problem, he is actively seeking a solution. Other niggles are that I'd like to have the option of having the "hub" aligned to one side of my screen and have it autohide. Currently I have it disabled because I find it gets in the way no matter where I put it. It is very handy because you can drag and drop exe files, websites, and files onto it to automatically create new commands. I don't have it displayed at the moment because of the aforementioned niggle about it interfering with my interaction with applications that are in focus. However, I've enabled it in the interest of posting a screenshot of it:



Many features are directly accessible from it via the context menu, meaning that you do not have to open up the main window.



Also, as noted above, dragging a file or link onto the hub will automatically open up a preconfigured command linking to that object. All the user then has to do is to assign an command to it and tweak other options to his or her liking.



In the screenshot above I've dragged the webaddress for this review onto the hub and am presented with the option of setting up a command to open my web browser at this page. Vanity!

I'd also like the spell checker to be made more robust. Currently, there is no learning mode in place. I'd like the spell checker to offer to learn unrecognized words. Now, this would be a royal pain to users not overly interested in this functionality and should therefore be made optional behaviour and should be disabled by default. Another concern related to this is the bug mentioned above: as your spell checking dictionary grows, the number of abbreviations in your database grows as well and presumably your chances of being affected by this bug increase also. I don't have anything near enough commands, or words in my dictionary, to be affected by this and am thus unable to test to see if the bug has been fixed. I can find no mention of it having been fixed or not in the either version history or on the forum.

My final wish would be to have more flexibility and customization of the trigger (the key or sequence of keys that the user hits to run the command). This wish is a holdover from my review of version 1.66 and the behaviour hasn't been significantly changed with the current build of version 2. Having said that, I find the SHIFT option very natural and I now use it. I used to use SPACE-SPACE under ActiveWords and found it hard to transition from that. I suspect that I would have trouble moving from SHIFT now...

Why I think you should use this product

As mentioned earlier, if you spend a lot of your day in front of your computer, an application like Direct Access can significantly reduce the amount of time that you spend on repetitive tasks. In addition, the author, Andrea Nagar, is very open to suggestions, and to bug reports, and responds very quickly - often with a workaround or even a new build that fixes the problem or incorporates the suggestion. His support and level of involvement with his users is first rate.

How does it compare to similar apps

Other apps in this category include ActiveWords, PhraseExpress and Quickeys. All offer the same base funcionality. At $79.95, Quickeys is far more expensive than any of the other options mentioned in this review. It offers functionality that is similar to both, though it does not include a native spell checker . I briefly ran a trial about a year ago and was not particularly impressed either by its speed or by its feature set in comparison to ActiveWords or DirectAccess.

Conclusions

Direct Access can save you time, whether you simply wish to launch programmes and open files or use it to speed up writing e-mails through the use of abbreviations for boilerplate text. It provides an attractive and efficient interface that will enhance your workflow.

Links to other reviews of this application

Softpedia (Not updated since version 1.2).
I could not find any reviews of version 2.x.

EDIT: Updated to reflect release of DirectAccess 2
« Last Edit: January 24, 2009, 11:26:25 AM by Darwin » Logged

"Some people have a way with words, other people,... oh... have not way" - Steve Martin
mouser
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« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2007, 04:11:33 PM »

Great review.. Thanks Darwin

ps. Andrea has given DC members a discount before and has expressed a willingness to do so in the future..
Looks like I forgot that Andrea extended the discount to Direct Access (nice!), so supporting members of DC can get it at a 30% discount; details in this post.
« Last Edit: September 13, 2007, 04:30:20 PM by mouser » Logged
mouser
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2007, 04:13:57 PM »

Darwin you should probably remove the link to "donate to the author, Andrea" in the table -- it may confuse people into about whether its donationware or shareware.  If people like it they can thank the author by buying it smiley
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Darwin
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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2007, 04:26:34 PM »

Good point mouser, thanks - I've removed it!
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TucknDar
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2007, 04:48:45 PM »

Great review, Darwin. You really made me want to try Direct Access, damn it! Wink

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mwb1100
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2007, 04:55:53 PM »

And if you want to save another few dollars, wait a week (until Sept 20) where I goes for sale on Bit du Jour for 40% off (http://www.bitsdujour.com/index.aspx?review=50).

Or if you're a bit more adventurous, it's available at Serial Dealers for 2 Euro (about $3) - but you have to open an account for a minimum of 5 Euro (so get another software package there while you're at it):  http://www.serialdealers.com/details.php?batch=3
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Dirhael
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2007, 07:31:21 PM »

Just so people know, the Donationcoder discount is still valid (30%) which should give you a price just shy of $28. It's a good price for a very good program smiley

EDIT: Just noticed that mouser already edited his post and mentions this. Just goes to show that you should never leave a page open for to long before replying embarassed
« Last Edit: September 13, 2007, 07:46:16 PM by Dirhael » Logged

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Armando
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2007, 10:04:51 PM »

Thanks Darwin. Nice review. I'll have to try it during the weekend... embarassed
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« Reply #8 on: September 14, 2007, 10:11:37 AM »

I have been using Direct Access since January and wholeheartedly recomend it.  It is fast and very convenient. Because you make up your own  launch abbreviations they are easy to remember . ( xl for Excel  w for Word    ff for firefox   etc ) intuitive  And IF you need help or have any type of problem they are very responsive. 

Lew
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Lew
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« Reply #9 on: September 14, 2007, 10:14:33 AM »

And if you want to save another few dollars, wait a week (until Sept 20) where I goes for sale on Bit du Jour for 40% off (http://www.bitsdujour.com/index.aspx?review=50).

Or if you're a bit more adventurous, it's available at Serial Dealers for 2 Euro (about $3) - but you have to open an account for a minimum of 5 Euro (so get another software package there while you're at it):  http://www.serialdealers.com/details.php?batch=3


Great tip, thank you!
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mitzevo
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« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2007, 10:28:06 AM »

Very nice review Darwin, DA is one very cool app  Thmbsup I recommend any one try it out and evaluate it!

Also, those looking for a free (for personal use) alternative (but with less features of course) might want to take a look at PhraseExpress

Quote
PhraseExpress organizes your frequently used text snippets and allows pasting them into any application.

  •     * Expand abbreviations as you type
  •     * Launch applications by entering text shortcuts
  •     * Quickly handle email responses
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« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2007, 10:30:39 AM »

there is also a large overlap between FARR and DA.
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ljbirns
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« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2007, 10:47:35 AM »

Mouser is correct.  I find I use FARR more for programs that I don't use every day and often don't know where they are on my computer ( or even the correct spelling ).  As long as I can come close to the name FARR finds it.  And Mouser has great customer service too !!

Lew
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Lew
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« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2007, 10:55:00 AM »

mouser, care to elaborate?

What exactly are you trying to say?  ohmy

I myself use FARR, it does the job, and it does it good (plus the plug-ins are hip) cheesy
« Last Edit: September 14, 2007, 10:58:08 AM by mitzevo » Logged

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Darwin
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« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2007, 11:23:52 AM »

Yes - I use FARR as well - just as ljbirns describes  Thmbsup
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« Reply #15 on: September 17, 2007, 09:03:12 AM »

For those that want to try Direct Access ,  Iconio ( owns Bits De Jour )  has 40 % off on Sept 20
   http://www.bitsdujour.com/previews.aspx

Lew
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Lew
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« Reply #16 on: September 23, 2007, 09:21:46 AM »

Just to add my experience with the developer.

I was intrigued after reading Darwin's review, and decided to try it out two days ago, when I saw the one day only 40% off discount special.

While it seemed nice, I ran into a bug with its autotext feature as soon as I tried it on unicode text. I reported the bug to the author, and he contacted me immediately. After a few exchanges he emailed me a beta that fixed the problem. The whole process took only a little more than a day.

Despite missing the deadline for the 40% off discount (I took advantage of the 30% off DC discount instead), I'm now a happy customer.
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Darwin
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« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2007, 09:27:48 AM »

Thanks mwang - I can't believe I didn't mention the first rate support when I originally posted this - I've corrected that oversight now, thanks to you comment above  Thmbsup
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« Reply #18 on: September 24, 2007, 06:55:33 AM »

I can only say it's really that good, also for quickly filling out forms using abbreviations such as your email, address etc. Additionally I use it for coding, email, bugreporting etc. Also support is always quick, personal and friendly and i'ts like glueing your programs together: no matter what you're using it brings productivity improvements. You soon start calling  Andrea by their first name, it's not often (although MOUSER!! is the other exception  Thmbsup) that using software feels like a personal connection with shared interest. thumbs up
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« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2007, 02:36:23 PM »

I wish to thank Darwin for the review and all the other people who wrote nice words about Direct Access and the way I'm doing business. With your comments and suggestions you have contributed a lot to the success of Direct Access.
I'm always looking forward to hearing from you! Thanks again. cheesy
Andrea
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Andrea Nagar - Nagarsoft
http://www.nagarsoft.com
Discover the power of Direct Access to speed up your personal computing experience by reducing time consuming, repetitive tasks through the use of abbreviations.
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« Reply #20 on: September 26, 2007, 10:08:07 PM »

This is a terrific program - I use it to launch several programs and various websites daily as well as fill in log in information at some sites (email etc.)

If a person needed boilerplate text this would be great for that too.

And the price was perfect - I got it free when it was featured on Giveaway of the Day a couple of months ago.

That said, this is such a useful, well-done program that I'd almost certainly pay for it if necessary.  There aren't a lot of programs I'd say that about!




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« Reply #21 on: October 11, 2007, 03:06:26 AM »

I read a very handy tip today on the program's blog: Set two dots as suffix for your abbreviation and uncheck Confirmation box. That way when you type the abbreviation and put a couple of dots at the end, it gets triggered. Much easier than pressing a shift or F12 key for example.

Personally, I think a single dot is even better and easier.
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« Reply #22 on: October 11, 2007, 04:18:20 AM »

I used to use the ` character but now am used to TAB. However what's cool is that you can strip these characters from the abbreviation from your custom system to one of the keys integrated into DA.
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« Reply #23 on: October 11, 2007, 04:51:23 AM »

... However what's cool is that you can strip these characters from the abbreviation from your custom system to one of the keys integrated into DA.

Say what? tellme
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« Reply #24 on: October 11, 2007, 05:12:32 AM »

say you've set up all your abbreviations to end in double dots (..) without confirmation, but now you want to change them to get launched by pressing TAB, or shift or any of the other keys Supported by direct access.
That's possible via COMMAND -> CHANGE ABBREVIATION PREFIX/ SUFFIX
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