Enso: A useful tool or a fancy gimmick?


I’ve installed an application called Enso on my laptop.

What is it? It’s an application, which turns the caps lock key into a small command prompt, which you can use to run various commands, such as calculating, opening applications, controlling windows etc.

Enso is a product of a company called Humanized, which was founded by Aza Raskin, who is the son of Jef Raskin, of Apple’s user interface fame. I’ve written before about an interesting UI used by Aza Raskin’s site Songza, so let’s see if Enso is as nice as that.

First impressions

One of the things that you immediately notice is that you don’t really mind that you can no longer use caps lock for typing TEXT LIKE THIS. At least I’ve never used it that much, but those who write a lot of documents and such may want to move it to some other key.

Since you have to hold down caps while you type commands, it can feel a bit difficult at first. But Enso provides things such as auto completion with tab, or if your command consists of a single word, usually typing few of the letters in the command is enough.

Enso is basically a group of small pieces: Enso Launcher, Enso Words and Enso beta products like Enso Media Remote Control. This way you can pick only the functionality you need. If you install all of the pieces, you will have many commands you may not even need, which can interfere with auto completing commands for example.


So is Enso actually useful?

The commands you get in all Enso products aren’t necessarily very useful: copy, paste, google – but the product-specific commands make more sense.

Enso Launcher and Enso Words

The two non-beta Enso products are Launcher and Words.

The functionality of Enso Launcher is mostly already available in Windows: You can launch applications quickly with the Run command, which is quickly opened with shortcut Win+R, you can minimize windows with Alt+Esc and so on.

After using it for a while, I actually find using Enso’s “open” command faster than the Run dialog. The Win+R combination is a little awkward to press sometimes, and you can teach Enso new commands, while the Run dialog is limited. For example, I can select an application in the Windows Explorer, then run the Enso command “learn as open appname” and then I can just use “open appname” to run the selected app which is quite nice.

Sure, it is possible to make the Run dialog smarter, but the Enso-way is much easier.

Enso Words provides some functionality such as spellchecking (only in English…) and thesaurus. It can also calculate lenghts of text strings and such, so I don’t really find it very useful. I mean, do I make spelingmisstakkes? Never!

This is something which could be useful for someone else, since the commands work in most applications and are easy to run.

Other Enso products

Some Enso products are of questionable usefulness at least to me: The TeX and Map tools aren’t very useful for me, but who knows, they could be for you.

Enso Media Remote Control is one I really do like, though. My laptop does not have separate media control keys, so if I’m listening to music, and perhaps I wanted to change the track, I would need to open the media player, find the next key and press it, but with Enso MRC I can simply run the command “next track”, which actually works with just “n”… Guess which is faster and nicer?

Another somewhat useful tool for me is the translator. While it does not translate to/from Finnish, which would make it more useful for me, it does understand Japanese which I find useful at times. Not to mention Pirate – Yes, it can translate english into Pirate! – Just highlight some text, run “translate to pirate” and you get…

Not t’ mention Gentleman o’ fortune – Aye, ‘t can translate english into Gentleman o’ fortune! – Jus’ highlight some text, run “translate t’ swashbuckler” an’ ye get…

So the pirate translator is a fun toy at least :D


Enso is a useful tool. I think it does what it claims: makes performing these should-be-simple tasks actually simple. I think we need more truely innovative user interface concepts like this.

While not all Enso products and commands are useful (copy and paste… hello? What were they thinking?), there are definitely many good ones in there.

If you haven’t already, go check out Enso!