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Macros Made Easy

written by: Daniel Barros•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 9/30/2008

In this article, we examine the art of creating a macro and its use, especially for those who are not familiar with what a macro is.

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    What is a Macro?

    Welcome PC Software aficionados, to a special article investigating the use and creation of macros. Macros are an essential part of the advanced PC user's inventory - allowing the user to expand the functionality of the PC. Macros are relatively simple to create once you've gotten the hang of the process - so let's get started.

    First, what is a macro? The greek word "Macro" literally means "large", as in macroscale biological experiments or macroeconomcis. In computer software terms however, a macro, or a macro-instruction represents a set of commands or a pattern of commands that can be mapped to a single key in order to be repeated.

    The best way to illustrate the use of a macro is in Photoshop. For instance, suppose that every photo you fix in Photoshop you use the exact same commands: auto-correct color, then auto-correct red-eye, then auto-correct brightness. Rather than clicking each of these buttons individually, you can establish a macro to perform all three commands in the exact same order that you would perform for every photo.

    In modern PC programs - most notably Excel and Photoshop, creating a macro has become less of an "art" and more of a task any person can do. Let's start by using Excel to create a macro.

    In Excel (the 2007 version), creating a macro is as simple as clicking a button. In previous versions of Excel, a macro would have to be written using Visual Basic - a computer language that is reasonably simple to learn. However, as Microsoft attempts to reach out to a broader audience in terms of macros, they have simplified the process. In Excel 2007, you'll want to click on the "View" tab in the ribbon that runs along the top part of the program. Under the "View" tab, you'll click the "Macros" button and click "record".

    At this point, recording the macro becomes simple - you just recreate the keystrokes and button clicks that you want performed inside Excel. After recreating the button clicks, the Macro program in Excel assigns a Function Key to your macro (or one that you can decide upon). This way, once you have the macro made, it's as simple as clicking F1 to perform your set of button and keystrokes.

    In Photoshop, the process is very similar, except that instead of working like a voice recorder, the Photoshop macro creation software shows you your individual keystrokes and button clicks in a window at the right hand part of the screen. This way, you can just click all the commands you want and then rearrange them to suit the order you need them in.

    Ultimately, a macro can become an essential part of life for all PC users. Provided you create one the right way, it can simplify your life significantly. In Excel, organizing a list of numbers, taking their mean, and performing elementary statistics can all be but a button press away. In Photoshop, your favorite photos can take on new life in much less time than it would take with individual button presses.