One of the hallmarks of experienced computer users is that they don’t often reach for the mouse, unless they are working in a graphics application. Meaning, as long as they’re working with something like Word or Excel, their hand will rarely leave the keyboard. After all, these applications have numerous built-in shortcuts, and once you know them, they really are much faster to use than futzing around with the mouse and menus. The only question is: How do you get to know all of these shortcuts? Enter KeyRocket, a free application that teaches you keyboard shortcuts for Office interactively, as you work.
That last bit is what makes KeyRocket truly effective: It is not a cheat sheet or a reference that you have to turn to and browse through. Instead, it sits in your system tray and silently watches over your shoulder. As soon as you click a toolbar button which has an optional keyboard shortcut, it pops up a nice notification telling you about it. And if you then remember to use the shortcut key, KeyRocket applauds you. I know “notifications” sound annoying, but honestly, these are not the custom system tray balloons that all applications use, and are much nicer looking.
Installing And Getting Started
Once you step through KeyRocket’s quick installation routine, it will pop up a five-step wizard explaining what’s what and helping you start:
KeyRocket is free for personal users, and trusts you to be honest about whether or not you are a commercial user:
I like a company that trusts its users, and hope that if you make any commercial use of KeyRocket, you’ll pay for it. After all, that’s what subsidizes the free version for home users.
Last but not least, before you begin using the application you must provide an email address:
This is a bit annoying, but the good news is that KeyRocket didn’t actually send a confirmation email, so there’s nothing stopping you from using a fake, nonexistent address. But shh, don’t tell anyone I told you.
KeyRocket In Action
Once KeyRocket is installed and running in the system tray, you just need to launch Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook, and go about your business as you normally do. As soon as you click a toolbar button that has an easy shortcut, KeyRocket will pop up a custom message like this:
So now you know exactly how to use the keyboard for triggering that same function. Next, when you apply your hard-earned knowledge by using that shortcut, you’ll get balloons:
This may look silly at first glance, but it’s pretty rewarding. It feels like KeyRocket understands how annoying pop-up notifications can be, and really took time to design these so they’re aesthetically pleasing and fun to use. Even the reward reminds you what you just pressed, so you can never be confused about what made it pop up.
The History List
Much like the notifications, KeyRocket’s context menu is custom-designed. Here you can see a log of the last few shortcuts KeyRocket showed you. This is great as a quick reminder: Let’s say KeyRocket taught you something five minutes ago, but you’ve forgotten the shortcut. No problem: Just right-click the system tray icon, look at the last message, and you’re good to go. Of course, you could always just click the toolbar button with the mouse, but this is a good way to train yourself to stick to the keyboard.
Looking Up Existing Shortcuts
One area where KeyRocket outdoes Office’s native functionality is search: Let’s say you want to apply conditional formatting to a cell in Excel. You can just tap Win+K while KeyRocket is running, and find yourself in the Shortcut Browser. Start typing “condit,” and the list will narrow down as you type, to highlight just a single shortcut: Alt > H > L. And indeed, that opens up the conditional formatting drop-down in Excel. This feature is nice because it lets you take a more proactive role: You don’t have to wait for KeyRocket to pop up a message teaching you something, but you can just go and learn it yourself, without even taking your hands off the keyboard (of course).
KeyRocket’s rarely-seen main window also shows statistics:
These reflect your work in each Office application, and how effectively you are using keyboard shortcuts.
I was quite impressed with KeyRocket. Its UI is unique and clean, without needless bells and whistles. I think it would look right at home on a Windows 8 desktop, as it doesn’t use Aero. It did hang once on my system (Windows 7 x64), but behaved well the rest of the time. If you’re looking to become a Microsoft Office monster, this is one quick and easy way to get there.