Excel Unplugged

XL Shortcut

Readers of Excel Unplugged know that I am a big believer in using keyboard shortcuts to be fast and more efficient in Excel. There are a lot of good resources for learning shortcuts but the Excel Add-in from David Hoppe called XL Shortcut is just what the doctor ordered.

I’ve had a pleasure of David Hoppe’s company on many occasions and we were fellow speakers at the Amsterdam Excel Summit 2017 and I must admit I always admired his eye for detail and his chart and dashboard design. You can read more about David and his work on his site excelusive.com. But in this post, I will review the add-in and show you how it might benefit your shortcut mastery.

Let’s start off with what XL Shortcut is. In David’s words: “XLShortcut is an interactive US-layout QWERTY keyboard that shows all Excel shortcuts (excluding shortcuts from the ribbon and dialog menus) on top of the keys under different combinations of the [Control], [Shift] and [Alt] keys. You can execute shortcuts right from XLShortcut, so you can be productive and learn at the same time.”

That sounds really promising. But does it live up to its promise? Let’s find out.

Before we dive in, I want to notice up front that XL Shortcut was designed for English US versions of Excel only. It features an English US QWERTY keyboard layout. If you have another setup the add-in will not work!

If you go to David’s site, you can download the add-in from https://excelusive.com/xl-shortcut/. The good news is that XL Shortcut is totally free of charge. The bad news is that it comes without support and usage is at your own risk.
However, I’ve been testing it for a few days now and all I can tell you it works. And to be honest, it’s just a fancy user form to browse shortcuts, so there’s no risk of using it.

Unboxing XL Shortcut

On downloading the add-in, you will get a ZIP file containing a readme text file and the add-in itself – a plain Excel add-in file (.xlam). Installing the add-in is really easy: just open it and you’re done! However, because this is a Macro-enabled Excel file, system security will block its contents upon downloading it. So before opening the file, you must Unblock the file using the file properties. This is unfortunate but necessary – other great VBA add-ins suffer the same inconvenience imposed by Microsoft’s new safety protocol.

If that doesn’t work for you, simply copy the xlam file to

C:\Users\[User Name]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\AddIns

And if you still don’t see it after restarting Excel go to File/Options/Add-Ins and check if the XL Shortcut is checked.

Once installed you will see a simple dialog that shows you how to activate XL Shortcut. How do you wonder? With its own dedicated shortcut of course! XL Shortcut requires you remember but ONE shortcut, [Shift + Escape] in order to master them all (according to the dialog’s title that is). And closing the interface requires a simple press of the [Escape] key, which is good to know. You can also select Start in the newly formed XL Shortcut group on the Home ribbon.

However you choose to start it up, you will get this

Inline image 1

After this ‘heads-up’ dialog, the XL Shortcut keyboard interface is fired up automatically so you can dive right in.

Inline image 2

I really like the shortcut captions on top of the highlighted keys. This way I get a sense of where the ‘hidden shortcut-treasures’ lie in a blink of an eye. When you hover over the highlighted keys, a little shortcut description appears in the top right of the user form, including the active key combination, which can be helpful.

Inline image 6

In the top-right, we find a ‘hamburger menu’, which will take you to XL Shortcut’s settings dialog:

Inline image 7

You can configure a few options and the size of the keyboard. By default, all options are checked:

  • it supports the Excel 2003 menu shortcuts, which is awesome
  • shortcut execution is enabled, which also is pretty cool
  • and if shortcut execution is enabled, we get a key press preview (which is really unclear, I guess you just have to play with it to see what it’s about…)

To close out of the settings you can either select Apply or Cancel your modifications. It also has a little hyperlink to the original webpage where we downloaded the add-in.

But now for the cool part: click on, or press on your keyboard, any combination of the [Control], [Shift] and [Alt] keys and have XL Shortcut reveal all shortcuts at will. For instance, selecting the key combination [Control + Shift] highlights the following keys:

Inline image 3

A nice touch is how all key combinations have their own color:

Inline image 4

Using the [Alt] key is a bit different. It shows us both the native shortcuts as well as the Excel 2003 file menu shortcuts, as they are still supported up to this day. There are some really cool shortcuts in there that you couldn’t do any other way, like deleting the current worksheet [ALT+E+L]. Traversing up and down the file menu nodes is pretty intuitive as well: just select a key to drill down or use the [BACKSPACE] key, which is highlighted, to return to the parent menu:

Inline image 8

Another really cool feature is the option to execute the shortcuts right from the interface: just select a shortcut and the interface will disappear and then the shortcut will be executed. As claimed, this really allows you to learn shortcuts while working, without breaking your workflow.

Conclusion

What really stands out is the level of quality David put into this add-in. This wasn’t just a weekend project – he definitely put in the hours developing and refining it.The interface looks slick & clear, nothing like what you’d expect from a free, VBA-only add-in.

I must say, using XL Shortcut sure beats the hell out of the traditional shortcut listings that are so omnipresent on the internet. It definitely goes the extra mile in terms of usability. From the interface design to interacting with it through both the mouse and your keyboard, XL Shortcut delivers a truly empowering experience.

A word of caution though: shortcut execution is mimicked with VBA’s SendKeys method, which has its shortcomings:

  • it is dependent on the right language settings for it to work – English US for both your OS and your Excel interface language
  • it has a reported bug on toggling your NumLock key inadvertently. Luckily XL Shortcut handles the NumLock toggling by turning it off when showing the keyboard and then reapplying its previous state when closing it. A side-effect is that you cannot use your numeric keyboard with XL Shortcut!

Furthermore, I miss a way to search for shortcuts – a simple search field could have done the job. And it’s a pity that is doesn’t support multiple language setups.

But all in all, I have to say, I am really impressed by XL Shortcut and recommend it to anyone that fancies being an Excel-shortcut hero. Again, you can download the add-in at https://excelusive.com/xl-shortcut/.

Happy learning!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: