The Linux Migration: Text Expansion

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Summary: I am migrating much of my computer life from the Mac to Ubuntu (Linux). I needed a replacement for my text-expansion tool, TextExpander. It looks like Autokey will do well enough. See the last paragraph if you care to know why I am migrating.

Text Expansion

I don't know how anyone lives without it. Is there anything you type more than once? (Phone number, email address, comments on student papers about what makes a good thesis statement? Common phrases for correspondence, like "Thanks for writing" or "Let me know if the attachment gives you any trouble"?) A text-expansion tool allows you to assign that text string a "snippet": type the snippet ("tfw") and it automatically exands ("Thanks for writing"). It works in any application: email, web browser, MS Word, wherever.

Not convinced? Think of it this way: it's not even about saving time (though it saves a ton of time). It's about saving attention. Let your text-expansion tool do the mindless work, while you keep your attention on the task at hand.

TextExpander for Mac

TextExpander is simply the best. No contest. It makes it super-easy to include wild cards (like current date and/or time, in multiple formats), dropdown menus of your own making (such as Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. for salutations), fill-in fields ("NAME"), and many other fancy-pants add-ons to the relatively simple idea of text expansion. It's the Lexus of text expansion. I miss it already when I'm on Ubuntu. If you're on the Mac, get over to Smile Software and give them your money.

Autokey on Ubuntu

It's not the Lexus of text expansion, but it's...well, I don't know cars well enough to offer an analogy. It's free. It does text expansion except that results are a little chancy in Firefox. It relies on Python scripts for wild-card additions and macros; I don't know Python, but it includes a few examples that I can hack on with my piddling knowledge of regular expressions and other programming languages. Oh, and something TextExpander doesn't do: Autokey lets you set "hot keys" for (say) launching your favorite applications. Take away: If you've used TextExpander, it's a servicible but not enthralling replacement that brings some of its own possibilities to the table. If you've never used a text expansion tool before, you'll love Autokey to death, I'm not kidding.

Why the Migration?

Our IT department cut our hard-drive space in half on the last computer "refresh," that's why! (Trying to save some money while moving to the more expensive SSDs, or solid-state drives.) I've had my whole life on a single laptop since my adjunct days when I owned my own machine, and when I eventually got an institution-owned computer, they simply had me copy my whole Home/user folder over. Now, to be clear: my 20 GB of photos (many of which are work-related anyway) and 8 GB of game folders (Civ 5, come on) are not the reason that my 370 GB of data on a 500GB machine won't fit on this new 250GB SSD machine. But, I can't make a case for a larger HD as long as anything non-work is on the machine. Anyway, it got me thinking that it really would be healthier to have a "room of my own," especially since I seem to have little choice. So, why Linux? I'm a Mac user since 1994, but they cost the moon, and I am starting to chafe at the demands and dependencies of the walled garden. Linux is the pain that everyone says it is, but I know from experience that Windows is like an itching-powder union suit to me. I'm comfortable on the command line and philosophically supportive of open source. Anyways.