Friday, July 12, 2013

Why I Am Anti-Mouse

For years, I've been anti-mouse. Upon reflection, I find that the only time that I really use the mouse is when I'm browsing the web. That's pretty much it.

Oh, I might have to mouse with some GUI to set audio from speakers to headset. Or maybe I want to move applications from one virtual desktop to another. Perhaps I'll play Mahjongg with a mouse. Or Solitaire. But the use case for the mouse in productivity applications is very slim for me.

Whenever I work on a new operating system or a new application, I am quick to find the keyboard shortcuts. Why?

I find that keyboard shortcuts are so much more satisfying than using a mouse. I am more prone to error with a mouse. I might miss the button or click the wrong button. I just have greater accuracy and speed with the keyboard. The mouse slows me down.

Here's one of my favorite examples: selection of text in a text document. Try it with a mouse and see how much effort is expended for the desire precision. If you select text and you move too far down the screen, you'll select too much text. Move too little and you'll be waiting for the text to be selected as the text crawls up during your selection. The mouse is unpredictable when it comes to selecting text.

Using a keyboard is relatively straightforward. Use the arrow keys to position the cursor at the beginning of the text you want to select. Then press the shift key with one hand and the down or right arrow keys with the other hand until the text you want to select is selected. While holding down the shift key, you can tap the arrow keys until your selection is exactly what you want. Easy. Far easier than using a mouse.

The only easier example of using a mouse to select text is to double-click on a word to select it.

I can whip around a user interface with keyboard shortcuts faster than I can with a mouse and with greater accuracy, fewer errors. My confidence with the keyboard far exceeds that of the mouse.

Alt-tab allows me to switch applications easily and to choose between multiple applications with better precision. I use keyboard shortcuts for common application operations, too.  Ctrl-X, C and V for cut, copy and paste. Ctrl-Z to undo. Ctrl-Y to repeat formatting. Ctrl-O to open. Ctrl-P to print. Ctrl-N for a new document. Many of these keyboard shortcuts are cross-platform, too. If you find them on Windows, chances are very good they work in Linux. Not sure about Mac, but they are worth a try there, too.

I look for application menu shortcuts, too. Press the Alt key while running any application and the keyboard shortcuts for navigating the menus will appear. This works great until you try working with the MS Office Ribbon - what a monstrosity!

But with LibreOffice, our sanity is saved. When I press the Alt key, the menus show underlined characters indicating the keyboard combination to use. For example, Alt reveals that the letter F in the file menu is underlined. Enter the sequence Alt followed by F and the file menu drops down. Look for more underlined characters to select the menu option you want to use and just press that letter. It's that simple.

In Windows, navigating the file system in Windows Explorer is easy. to get to the C drive, press the Windows key to bring up the Start menu. Then type "c:" and press enter. Windows Explorer brings up the C drive for your review. If you type the first letter of a folder name, that folder will be selected. Type the letter "U". This will select the Users folder. Press enter to open the folder. Look for your folder (the one with your name on it, usually) and press the first letter of that folder name to select it. Then press enter to open it. To go back up one level, press the backspace key.

If you see a document, like a Word or Excel document in a folder, you can press the first letter of the file name and press enter. This will open that document.

File system navigation in Nautilus (a Linux file manager for Gnome) is very similar in Linux, but backspace to go up one level has been replaced by Alt-left arrow key. One other difference is that in Windows, repeatedly pressing the first letter of a file or folder name will cycle through all the files and folders that have names starting with the same letter. In Linux, once you enter the first letter, a window will pop up to show you what you've entered so far and wait for other characters to use for matching. As you enter succeeding characters, the folder with the closest match will be selected. Then you can press enter to open that folder, or application if the object is a document rather than a folder.

Keyboard shortcuts work very well for repeating complex tasks, too. I was asked to inventory the MAC address for all printers on a network. A MAC address is a unique address assigned to every piece of hardware that can connect to a network. The MAC address system ensures that no two devices will ever have the same MAC address.

The reason I was asked to get the MAC addresses was so that they could be use for DHCP reservations on a network that used automatic addressing for clients on the network. DHCP stands for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, which is a system for automatically assigning addresses to devices on a network. Such devices include but are not limited to computers, networking equipment like switches and routers, and printers. DHCP assigns IP addresses to devices so that we don't have to manually assign addresses to everything and keep track of the addresses. A DHCP reservation is used to reserve an IP Address based on the MAC address, so that each time that device is connected to the network, the same IP address is used every time. The DHCP reservation also prevents another device from being assigned the same address.

In my survey, the printers were listed in a spreadsheet and the list provided the IP address of each printer. I started out using the keyboard to copy the IP address for each printer from the spreadsheet into a browser, Internet Explorer, to access the web page for each printer to get the MAC address. Once the MAC address was displayed I used the mouse to copy the MAC address to the spreadsheet.

But on some HP printers, I found that I could not copy the MAC address. No matter how I tried, Internet Explorer would not let me copy the address. So I tried memorizing it and then typing it on the spreadsheet. This was not easy to do, considering that a typical MAC address looks like this: 18:03:73:4b:47:76.

So I installed a telnet client on the client machine I was running. Then I copied the IP address from the spreadsheet for each printer, one at a time and pasted it after the telnet command to connect to the printer. Once connected, I often only needed to enter the "/" character to display the current status of the printer, and that included the display of the MAC address. Then I found the keyboard sequence to copy that text and paste it into the spreadsheet.

Once I figured out the keyboard steps, I could do the entire operation in a few seconds instead of a a minute or more with a mouse. For repetitive procedures, there is no equal to the keyboard except for scripting.

With web forms I always tab around the fields to complete them. But sometimes, the web programmer wasn't thinking of guys like me and forces me to use the mouse to get around. It's unfortunate but rare.

Keyboard shortcuts have made my life on the computer much easier, much saner. Sure, I have to memorize the shortcut, but after awhile, it's not the shortcut I remember, it's the finger pattern, so I really don't mind.

If you want to know more about keyboard shortcuts, a search for keyboard shortcuts will yield plenty of results. I hope you find this article informative. Got a keyboard shortcut you like? Please share it with us below in the comments section. Thanks.
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