I got really excited the other day when I stumbled across the Pentadactyl extension for Firefox. It tries to do exactly the sort of thing I’d love to see done: it brings Vim-style movement to the Internet. It’s a very well-done extension—it does its job very well indeed. The problem is, the job is a really hard one, and may just not be doable at all. Basic navigation is fine; you can and up and down pages, and across tabs, and even or to highlight all the links on a page and add shortcut numbers to make it easy to follow links.

The link following is clever, and it fits in well with Vim’s modal style—you’re basically entering a new mode just for link traversal. Unfortunately, it’s not as fluid as it could be. It feels jarring to me to have to enter link mode, then stop and figure out where I’m going, and then go—generally in Vim, I do the opposite and figure out which line, word, or whatever I’m going to and then enter the appropriate mode. Hitting f, then squinting and the small, bolded numbers, then entering the number feels like sto…pping mid-word. The only solution I can think of to that, of course, is to have the numbers visible at all times, which would make for an even worse experience, so I think they’ve done about as good a job as possible—well, except for the hard-to-read numbers.

That’s only a minor irritation though, when it comes down to it, and wouldn’t be enough to keep me from using Pentadactyl on its own. There were other issues, though: copying and pasting were big ones. Since I use a password manager, I’m constantly pasting things into fields in the browser. My password manager is pretty GUI-based, but that’s hardly Pentadactyl’s fault. Still, it does mean that my hand is already on the track pad. Just as well, as I haven’t yet learned how to get the cursor to a form field (it sometimes seems to work like following a hyperlink, but other times it doesn’t). So, click into the field and hit ctrl-v. Nothing. Hmm. Go back to the password manager, copy again, click again, ctrl-v again. Still nothing. Repeat. Nope. Frustrated, paste again. Hey, there it is! Weird. A few more iterations of this, and it looks like you have to paste a couple of times to get it to actually go. Same with copying from the browser, which took a similar amount of frustration to learn.

Scrolling generally works well, as described above, but I do run into issues sometimes, particularly when searching. I use Duck Duck Go, which has an endless page—it populates the page with more search results as you go. This seems to confuse the scroll mechanic in Pentadactyl; moves me down a couple of lines at best, instead of half the screen, and then stops moving me. doesn’t do anything at all.

Working with the JavaScript console is frustrating as well. Most hotkeys are disabled or taken over by Pentadactyl, so ctrl-shift-k doesn’t work to bring up the Web Console (which I use a good bit). I did manage to find a command to bring up the ctrl-shift-j Browser Console, but have had no luck finding the Web Console—could be I need to look harder, of course.

Finally, I have to admit that I just find it more fluid to read on the web by scrolling the trackpad. I don’t need to keep my fingers nailed to ; I can just idly brush the trackpad with two fingers at a speed that matches my reading speed.

Much of this is probably just growing pains, and I’m sure that, like Vim, Pentadactyl will eventually be quite efficient. I’m going to keep on using it for a while at least, so I’m sure there will be some posts in the future about it.

One thought on “Pentadactyl

  1. Ctrl+z, (for pass through mode)the status bar will confirm that you are now in — PASS THROUGH — mode and Pentadactyl will no longer intercept input until the user presses the Esc key.

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