Not to be confused with houselessness which I have also been doing a lot of recently, today mouselessness is the name of the game. Inspired by this recent post on Coding Horror here are my thoughts on using a computer without a mouse.
I posted a while back about last years brush with RSI and it really did seem to settle down for a while. I changed jobs and that also seemed to help for the first few weeks, then start to get worse again. I do concur that the mouse is the root of all hand-related evils at the desk, and use one as little as possible.
Working without the mouse
There are a lot of things you can do without a mouse. I use Opera as my main browser, it has keyboard navigation and I can surf for hours without touching the mouse at all.
There are lots of keyboard shortcuts for Windows (see Jon Galloway’s excellent mouseless computing article for ideas), which I started to get better with. These days however I’m using Linux at work and use a variety of quick shortcuts to help:
- I use all four desktops, with Ctrl+1, Ctrl+2, Ctrl+3 and Ctrl+4 to get me to where I want to do. Its really good and fast – especially when I remember to press control with my right hand and the number with my left!
- Opera, as mentioned above
- Katapult, which is a KDE application which allows you to type Alt+Space and type the program you want to run, it even autocompletes
- Vim. I do all my development over ssh and running vim. No dragging and dropping of files, no dragging to highlight to copy and paste, no icons to click on to format or open another file. Absolutely everything can be done without moving hands from keyboard and I have to say that spending the time with the cheat sheet and getting better with it was the best thing I’ve done since I taught myself to touch type in my teens. Not only does it save my hands, I’m also faster than my colleagues for most things. If you haven’t tried it for a few years and think is a basic text editor you might be stuck with on a server somewhere, then look again. GVim is available for most platforms with tabbed editing and its got code folding and autocompletion too.
At work I have a microsoft keyboard that I quite like but which has keys which go quite deep when you press them which isn’t ideal. I need to try changing hands with my mouse, but I also have a beautiful Kensington Pro trackball which is excellent. Its a bit strange with the main button in the bottom left below the ball but the ball is good and big and it is good. At home I rarely use a mouse and have a little external keyboard which has shallow button movement when it is pressed – which seems OK.
Its perfectly possible to do a lot of everyday actions without the use of a mouse. Getting up to speed with the shortcuts for the applications you use will take time – but I shall be taking the advice from the Coding Horror article and learning a new keyboard shortcut every day from now on. I am switching back to my trackball and will take time and effort to get my desk set up better – and I’ll let you know how I go. In the meantime, tell me whether you have had similar problems and what your favourite keyboard shortcut is. I think mine is Ctrl + G in Opera – to turn off stylesheets.