On Mouseless Computing

Well, I’ve been continuing to delve into Vim (and JavaScript too, of course). An interesting side effect of using Vim a lot is that I’ve started getting annoyed when I have to actually use the mouse or trackpad or whatever. On the laptop running Mint, I can usually go for a fairly long stretch of time without needing to do anything with the trackpad, but on my Windows 7 desktop—well, things are different there.

So why the sudden dislike fo rusing the mouse? Well, basically, it’s slower. Like, lots slower. It’s not just the reaching a foot or two off to the right, either. After you have your hand on the mouse, you need to orient yourself to where the cursor is and then move it to wherever you want it to be, and then click, drag, or whatever you’re doing. If you’re doing anything even remotely precise, like selecting a bit of text, it gets even more frustrating.

I should note here that up until, oh, a month or two ago, I was a big fan of the mouse-driven interface, and I think there are still some times where it can make good sense. I have a lot of things on my Windows machine set up to make me really efficient with the mouse. For starters, I’ve got a pretty awesome one: the Cyborg MMO 7. Yes, it’s a gaming mouse, and yes, I originally got it for gaming. In addition to looking like a Transformer, it’s got a ton of buttons and is incredibly customizable, both in terms of what those buttons do and in terms of the physical characteristics of the mouse. I’ve got default sets of bindings for copying, cutting, pasting, saving, and some other frequently-used Notepad++ hotkeys (toggling ALL CAPS gets a lot of use if we have an ebook with smallcaps). With those keybinds, I was able to do a lot of stuff with only the mouse in a reasonably good time.

The thing is, though, even a mouse with a crazy number of buttons like mine doesn’t have near the inputs that a keyboard does. And keyboards don’t have the positioning problems that come with a mouse, as long as you have an environment optimized for navigating around without a mouse—something like Vim. Even at the desktop, there are plenty of times where using a keyboard can be a lot faster:

The other day, I had to rename a bunch of files for an ebook. A lot of renaming can be done programmatically, and for that I use the awesome Bulk Rename Utility, but sometimes you’ve got to do your renames by hand. I started out doing that with a mouse, and it was a pain: click on the name, wait, then click again, then highlight the bits to change. Next you move your hand all the way over to the eyboard and change the name, then hit return or click off the icon, then repeat. Clicking too quickly is interpreted as a doubleclick, which in this case would result in Photoshop firing up, since I was renaming image files, so you have to go slow or you waste even more time while Adobe’s behemoth loads.

So I did a quick search and found that the F2 key in Windows 7 (and Mint as well, for what it’s worth) will rename the selected file. Suddenly I was able to just hit F2, type to rename the file, hit return, arrow key to the next file, and repeat. I didn’t time it or anything, but once I started using just the keyboard I was able to blow through the renaming much faster than I had been when alternating between mouse for selection and keyboard for naming.

I’m trying to find more ways to circumvent the mouse/trackpad. A lot of this means learning the names of programs so that I can invoke them from the terminal rather than having to double-click or right-click. I may end up setting up some aliases to make some commonly used programs easier to get to. using multiple desktops is also pretty critical. At present, I run with 4 on my laptop, where #1 is usually a reference book in PDF, #2 is a browser, #3 is a terminal and Vim, and #4 is a catch-all for whatever else I need to have up. Splitting things up like this ensures that I don’t have a huge stack of things to alt-tab through; I can be sure that it will only take me a moment to get to the proper reference book, because there are only 2 or 3 up on that desktop.

Working in the browser seems to be the sticking point right now— they’re completely built around a mouse- or touchscreen-based interface, it seems.

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