What is PenCommander? PenCommander, by PhatWare is a difficult product to describe. It is an application launcher, but it’s more than just an application launcher. The idea behind PenCommander is that you issue a command by writing it into a small window on the screen. The command is recognized and if it corresponds to a pre-configured command it executes it.
The command it launches can be an application, entering some text, launching a website, opening a file, running a macro, closing applications, emulating screen taps or almost anything else you’d do on a computer.
Getting started with PenCommander
Once installed the best thing to do is have PenCommander to start with the computer. This means that it is ready for a command from you without you having to do anything to make the application run. To use PenCommander, simply write in the command that you want and watch it do what it’s told.
By default PenCommander has a number of commands built in. The most useful one to start with is “vpc” which is the command to run Visual PenCommander, but it also includes commands to run the various Microsoft Office applications, notepad, wordpad, paint, a run command and others.
The launcher itself is by default very similar looking to the tablet input panel in Windows XP. It comes with some skins that allow you to change the look and feel of it, but I prefer the standard look myself due to the small footprint and standard look and feel. Unfortunately, while PenCommander does run on Windows Vista (yay!) it doesn’t have a Windows Vista skin available at time of writing so it has a kind of retro feel to it.
Even if you set the launcher to be the standard look and feel you can set the transparency of it. This is a handy feature as I tested PenCommander on my Ultra Mobile PC and found that the launcher would very easily get in the way. However, setting the launcher to 80-90% transparency overcame most of the issues with this. On that point, I found that on a UMPC the alternative skins were simply too big and intrusive to be UMPC friendly, however on a full tablet this would be a nice feature to have with a higher display resolution.
In terms of integration, PenCommander uses the Windows handwriting recognition engine, which means that in Windows Vista you take advantage of the improved handwriting recognition engine in Vista as well as improved accuracy that the new learning mode of Vistas handwriting recognition engine offers. This also allows you to input commands in different languages by switching engines.
You can also close PenCommander by clicking the close button which has a nice fading out effect. This does not remove the application from the system tray though, so with a single tap of the system tray icon PenCommander appears again with a nice fade in. When you are using applications on a UMPC in particular PenCommander can get in the way, so being able to remove it (or make it transparent) is useful in this sense.
Under the covers
In addition to the default actions that PenCommander includes out of the box, it also allows you to add your own commands. This is where the real power of PenCommander comes in. To open Visual PenCommander, left click on the system tray icon and select “Visual PenCommander” (I actually found the system tray menu to be something I forgot about as I naturally gravitated to using the launcher itself to do things, so not having the menu available from the default skin was a little frustrating. Some skins have the menu and some don’t.
Anyway, if you open Visual PenCommander, you can then enter all your own commands and functions quickly and easily. To add a new command, you simply click the New Pen Command button and follow the wizard. The wizard will then take the task you give it and convert it to a macro kind of script.
When you click finish to complete the wizard PenCommander puts the converted script into a new window for you to see. You can then modify the script to add any additional functions you might want to add. This actually makes the script quite discoverable, and easy to learn. You can also look through all the system commands and see the script associated with them. All this adds up to increased awareness of the script language behind PenCommander.
This is both good and bad. For technical people it’s great – you quickly get an understanding of the script and you can then write and modify scripts quite happily. However for non-technical users this may be a little overwhelming. Once a script is written I couldn’t quickly see a way to modify it except by editing the script, which is fine for technical users but the non-technical user may feel left out in the cold by this approach.
PenCommander Runs on Windows XP Tablet PC edition or Windows Vista and recently received the “Certified for Windows Vista” logo. It is designed for both UMPCs and Tablet PCs, so will work with resistive touch or active digitisers.
As an application launcher PenCommander is lighter than many other launchers including Origami Experience and includes a huge range of functionality. However, having the ability to launch applications through PenCommander is nice, but in reality not a lot quicker than clicking on the application in the start menu, so PenCommander is really ideal for those more complex commands that you might enter or for entering repetitive text in a hurry. Overall, the only things that can be faulted with PenCommander are small and somewhat picky things. If you have a need for comprehensive macros to reduce the time you spend entering meaningless text or repetitive commands, PenCommander is up to the task – highly recommended!
Flexible and powerful
Skins – it’s always nice to be able to change the look and feel