Very few times do I consider a piece of software or its developer worthy of a personal review. However, with the software I’ll be talking about today, I simply had to make an exception. The software in question, KeyOp, is quite literally changing the way I interact with the Windows operating system. I’ve been using Windows for 20 years now. Throughout virtually all this time, I’ve been using things like desktop icons, the start menu, and the run dialog for launching installed programs. However, with KeyOp, this near two-decade old habit is quickly being replaced by a much speedier, more efficient way of working with the OS.
What is KeyOp?
KeyOp is a free utility for Windows written by a blind, UK-based software and music producer by the name of Day Garwood.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Day by voice online a few days ago. In doing so, I found out that we have some things in common. We’re both British, we both like screwing around with tech and writing code, we both like text to speech synthesis, and we’re both into listening to and producing music, to name a few. He seems a genuinely funny, kind-hearted person to be around. But this isn’t a review of Day himself, this is a review of his software. Or, maybe this review just became a review within a review?
The basic idea of KeyOp is that it allows you to quickly and easily launch any Windows program you have installed on your system with a keyboard shortcut. Well, actually, 2 keyboard shortcuts. The first is a three-key combination, such as Shift + Control + P. This is known as a category. Basically, what type of thing are you trying to launch? The second shortcut is a single key which you press to actually launch the desired program or website; yes, this thing even lets you launch websites! This is known as a trigger, because it triggers the opening of the program or website tied to that key. Each category can house one or more triggers. For example, instead of manually typing
every time you wanted to visit this blog, or even launching it from your bookmarks, you could set up a web category, assign it to something like Control + Shift + W, then create a trigger that opens your default web browser to
with a single hit of the S key! In addition, these triggers can be activated from anywhere within Windows, such as the desktop or any running program, without the need for desktop icons, start menu shortcuts or what not! Version 1.2 even lets you define subcategories. For example, in your programs category, Shift + Control + P, you could have a subcategory for launching multimedia software, Shift + Control + M, and another subcategory for launching web browsers, Shift + Control + B, with each subcategory having its own triggers.
Very high speed, a very low footprint
Being written purely in the programming language of C, KeyOp is extremely responsive and fast. So fast, in fact, that when I click on my desktop shortcut to run KeyOp, it quite literally takes an instant to launch! Before my heart has even had a chance to beat, KeyOp is up and running, ready for me to open a program or website!
What’s more, the program is very small, with the main executable only being 2.38MB in size; one of the many beauties of C! It’s also very light on system resources. As of writing, KeyOp is using virtually 0% of my CPU, and only 600KB of my 8GB RAM. Six hundred kilobytes! Just 40 kilobytes shy of the amount of RAM Bill Gates allegedly said ought to be enough for anybody, way back in 1981!
The keyOp zip file clocks in at just 1.89MB. Also, KeyOp is very self-contained, meaning it doesn’t store anything outside its own folder. Everything from the UI sound files to the KeyOp configuration file, keymap.ini, is stored within a single folder. This makes it great for carrying around on a USB flash drive or SD card, since all your KeyOp settings will be there, regardless of the computer KeyOp is running on. Provided, of course, that computer B has the exact same programs installed in the exact same locations as computer A. Also, since KeyOp does not try to access the registry or any other protected location within Windows, it does not need administrator permissions in order to run. If certain cards are played right, you could run this thing on a school computer if you really wanted to! Another thing that makes KeyOp so small is the fact that its UI sounds are stored in FLAC format. FLAC files can be made very small without losing any quality, so they’ll sound just as good as they would if they were uncompressed wave files.
Out of sight, out of mind
KeyOp keeps an extremely low profile when running on your system. It doesn’t take up valuable space in either your task bar or system tray, and there are no pop-up dialogs, ads, or toast notifications that get in your way. The only indication you’ll get is a couple of short sounds that play when you activate categories and triggers.
The ultimate in customizability and easy of use
The sheer power of this program lies in its keymap.ini file. You can define both categories and triggers for pretty much any program or website you want, and assign virtually any key(s) on your keyboard to these categories and triggers, with a well-written, simple-to-understand manual guiding you every step of the way. What’s more, as of V 1.2, each category or trigger can have a custom UI sound assigned to it. Just be careful you don’t assign a category to a key combination that is already in use by either Windows itself, or another running program, otherwise there’s a high chance that KeyOp will refuse to run. Key conflicts are pretty much unavoidable, and are a problem with any program that deals with keyboard shortcuts, not just KeyOp. What’s also cool is that when defining a trigger for an installed program, you don’t even need to enter the full path to the program’s main executable file. If the program has an execution alias, Firefox is an example of this, or the executable file is in your path variable, you need only enter the name of the file, and you don’t even need the file extension! Speaking of variables, KeyOp is also built to handle Windows environment variables, such as %appdata%, when entering program file paths. This means that
will work just as well as
You can also refresh the configuration if you decide to add a new category or trigger to the file later on while KeyOp is running. This allows KeyOp to reload your keymap.ini file with the new changes without you having to shut down the program and launch it again.
Awesome UI sounds
Those who know me well will know that I love my UI sounds. KeyOp does not disappoint in this department! There’s a UI sound for just about any occasion, from starting KeyOp, to activating a category or trigger, to trying to activate a trigger that doesn’t exist in any categories, to shutting down the program. Each UI sound has a retro vibe to it, especially the startup and shutdown sounds, which personally remind me of the Windows NT 4.0 startup and shutdown sounds with their electronic synth type elements.
A responsive, reliable developer
Yes, I know, I said this review would not be a review within a review. However, I need to talk about the fact that Day is an incredibly responsive, reliable and respectable developer who actually listens to user feedback and tries his best to act on it. After all, it’s not just stable, well-written code that makes a good program, it’s also the developer of said program. The reason for Day’s responsiveness is not only his awesome personality, but the fact that he is a lone developer, not working for some massive billion/trillion dollar tech company with a corporate structure more puzzling and complex than a rubik’s cube. This means that Day is able to quickly respond to feedback and improve KeyOp’s code without messages being passed to 5000 different teams and departments, half of them just not thinking its worth the time or effort and sitting on their backsides all day scratching their privates while enjoying their constant, fast-flowing money showers.
Honestly, I see know major downsides with KeyOp! It is truly a wonderful little program, through and through!
Day Garwood has dedicated many hours and days of his busy life to ensure that KeyOp remains as fast, simple, reliable, stable, accessible and responsive as it can possibly be. KeyOp is a prime example of how anyone can create excellent quality products, even when wearing L plates. I’m sure that if you give KeyOp a try, your cyber life will be changed forever, whether you are blind or sighted. After all, you sighted folks really need to start using more keyboard shortcuts instead of expecting everyone to deal with the mouse all the time.
With all this in mind, I award KeyOp by Day Garwood an extremely rare 10 out of 10! May this virtual golden trophy serve as a permanent reminder of both your awesome software and personality! Keep up the good work!
Conclusion and credits
If you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed writing it, and you’d like to try out KeyOp for yourself, you can download the zip file from Day’s website. To extract the zip file, follow the instructions in your archiver of choice.
If you’re on the Mastodon platform, you can follow Day on the TweeseCake Social instance. You do not need an account on the TweeseCake Social instance to follow Day. You can simply follow him from the instance you’re currently on.
I must also thank Rebecca Legowski for contributing many of KeyOp’s UI sounds, as well as a few suggestions on how the project could be improved, bug fixes etc. The strong partnership between Day and Rebecca, and KeyOp’s constant high standards of stability, reliability and general coolness, proves the old adage: ‘Teamwork makes the dream work’.