Browsing without using the mouse

I thought about titling this blog entry “Computing without using the mouse”, but I’d end up writing a book. The art of using a modern computer without the mouse requires some sacrifice, brain power and a reasonable learning curve, but the end results are worth it.

Not having to lift your hands off the keyboard to do the vast majority of tasks is a serious facet of actually getting shit done on a computer for me, since the context switch to go control that almost alien thing and make it do my bidding is expensive.

It might not seem like much, and for some people it’s undoubtedly just muscle memory and they make no mistakes, but I’ve found myself in recent years just reseating my hand at the keyboard badly, causing all manner of initial typing errors and slowdowns after I stop using the mouse and go back to the keyboard.

So these days I try not to touch the pointing device at all if I can get away with it. I don’t actually use a mouse, at least at home, but the same problems apply to using the trackpad.

Have a think about how you use a computer for a second, especially web browsing. All that scrolling up and down; all that link following; all those tabs to switch between, create and close. It’s a mouse heavy activity in the main, but for the last few months at home I’ve barely used the mouse at all while web browsing.

How? There are plenty of keyboard-driven control schemes for modern browsers, and I use the Vimperator plugin for Firefox. Following the vim text editor keyboard bindings, it lets me do the common tasks of tab management, following links, entering text into text fields, scrolling and a lot more without taking my hands off the keyboard.

You might think that if it’s a mouse-heavy task then just optimise away the keyboard-requiring part, but then how would I type anything into the Internets? Making the mouse go away is correct, if you buy the context switch is expensive argument.

j and k handle scrolling (along with space and PgUp and PgDn), gt and gT cycle through tabs. :open opens new URLs, f lets me follow links and the :tab family of commands let me manage my tabs.

That’s it; all major mousing tasks banished. Giving focus to forms and getting Vimperator out of the way is easy, and the built-in help system is just a :help away.

Combine that mouse-free browsing with full-screen, to give that focus of mind that I talked about in my blog post about minimal text editors, and I’m very productive these days again and my computing is no long punctuated by frequent awkward pauses to reach for the mouse, at least when I’m not procrastinating on Facebook or IRC.

Other mouse-free browsing systems and entirely new browsers include Pentadactyl and Conkeror.

I wrote and researched the entirety of this blog entry without the mouse pointer ever moving, including controlling my text editor, web browser and the blog publishing system.