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1/07/2003: Global Audio Control (GAC) [>> Go]

    I like hotkeys. Things that I use my computer for frequently (several times a day) should require as few steps as possible. That's why I like MultiDesk compared to some other virtual-desktop software I've seen - when I want to switch screens, MultiDesk lets me do it with one keypress, instead of using my mouse to hunt for the program icon in the system tray and clicking one or more times to get the screen I want. As I mentioned in an earlier review, I have WinAmp running all the time on my work computer because most of the time I'm programming or writing technical documents and I enjoy having music playing while I work. I used to use headphones, but it was a pain to pull them off when the phone rang or someone walked in to my office or I needed to get up, so I switched to speakers. The problem with speakers is that when the phone rings or someone comes in to my office, I need to turn the music down or off. For a long time I managed this by hunting for my WinAmp icon, clicking on it to bring WinAmp to the front of whatever I was working on, then hunting for the pause or stop button to kill the music. That's not a whole lot of steps, but when your phone is ringing, it takes 2 or 3 rings to complete that process and then answer the phone. I could have got the company to spring for a "multimedia keyboard" that had a button to pause music, but some co-workers have similar keyboards and they haven't worked all that well for them. One day I finally decided that there had to be a better way, so I went looking and found Global Audio Control (GAC for short).

    GAC lets you set up hotkeys (keyboard combinations, like ALT+T or CONTROL+W) for common audio and WinAmp functions, including:

  • Increase/decrease Windows master volume (or CD volume separately)
  • Mute Windows master volume (or line-in, wave, and CD audio separately)
  • Play, pause, stop, next track, previous track, minimize/restore, fast-foward and rewind in WinAmp
  • Increase/decrease WinAmp volume (independent of the Windows master volume)
(Notice that there aren't any programmable hotkeys for media players other than WinAmp. This means that if you use something else, like the Windows Media Player, to listen to music all you can control from GAC is the Windows master audio, which can still be a little helpful.)

    What these hotkeys do for you is give you the ability to control your music with one keypress, no matter what application you're currently working in. (Full-screen games and some other software might interfere with the hotkeys, but most applications should be fine.) So now I can be working in Word, checking e-mail, writing new programs, filling out a work order, or checking a tech support Web site while grooving to my tunes, but when the phone rings or someone walks into my office, I can pause my music (or, if I didn't use WinAmp, I could mute the Windows master volume) with one keypress (I use WINDOWS+Z because it's easy to press) in a fraction of a second. Similarly I can skip to the next song with another keypress (WINDOWS+C), or change my Windows volume (WINDOWS+Q and WINDOWS+A) if the song is too quiet/loud. Here's how I've got my GAC hotkeys set up right now:

  • Increase master volume: WINDOWS+Q
  • Decrease master volume: WINDOWS+A
  • Mute master volume: WINDOWS+L
  • Play: WINDOWS+P
  • Stop: WINDOWS+S
  • Pause: WINDOWS+Z
  • Next Song: WINDOWS+C
    In addition to creating hotkeys for audio functions, GAC also lets you create up to 6 hotkeys to run your favorite applications. I find this even faster than the Windows "Quick Launch" bar for programs I run a lot, such as my Web browser or e-mail program. So even if you don't listen to music on your computer, this hotkey launching of applications can make GAC a valuable tool at work or at home. (Yes, Windows lets you set up "keyboard shortcuts" for applications, but, at least in Windows 98, you can't use the Windows key as part of your hotkey, and I prefer that to CONTROL and ALT.)

    GAC lets you create hotkeys using any of the standard Windows "modifier" keys and key combinations: CONTROL, ALT (and CONTROL-SHIFT and CONTROL-ALT), and the Windows key. Windows has several Windows-key-based hotkeys built in (such as WINDOWS+E to bring up the Explorer, and WINDOWS+M to minimize all open windows), which you can't override with GAC, but CONTROL or ALT hotkeys in GAC do override their normal function (such as CONTROL+P to print a Word document) in the current application, so be careful what hotkeys you define. I prefer hotkeys that can be done with one hand, which limits me to what combos I can use, but if you're not as neurotic as I am, you'll run out of things to assign hotkeys to long before you run out of key combinations.

    In conclusion, and to sum up, GAC lets you assign hotkeys to control WinAmp, change your Windows volume, and launch applications, all three of which I use several times every day. That's all it does, so if you don't need to do any of these, don't bother downloading it. But I think that most people can find some value in GAC.

    Update 12/28/2003: The recently-released WinAmp 5 now has global hotkeys that make GAC basically obsolete for controlling WinAmp (though GAC works fine with WinAmp 5). However, I still use GAC because of it's application-launching and master-volume control abilities. So if you only use GAC for controlling WinAmp, you can try WinAmp 5 without also running GAC if you prefer.

©2019 Tyler Chambers