Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Day The Mouse Broke

My wife and I are visiting our families at Christmas. This morning I sat down at my mother-in-law's computer in order to check my daily spam when the mouse broke. OK, it didn't really break in the sense of the word - I just had to explain my mother-in-law that you have to charge rechargeable batteries before using them in your wireless mouse.

So I put the batteries into the recharger and realized that while the batteries were powering up I had no mouse. Since not using the computer for a full day (my god) was no option, I had to figure out how to use Windows with nothing but a keyboard. The principle was not new to me, as I already controlled my Unix flavored operating systems (like emacs) with keyboard FSAs and never really missed anything. But on a Windows XP box this turned out to be a whole new experience.

First I remembered the "Windows Key". I just realize that I don't know what to do if you don't have a Windows and a context key (first one left of the right control key) on your keyboard. Fortunately my keyboard got them. Anyway, the Windows key helped me to get Thunderbird and Firefox up and running. Thunderbird is really nice to control via keyboard. It's intuitive, and while it's not quite as comfortable as using your mouse, the basic task of classifying the spam mails into the spam folder was no problem.

Then I tried to use Firefox. At first this was rather awkward. Since the only keyboard control key I knew was the tab key, I tabbed endlessly through the user interface before I was able to extract the basic key combinations from various sources on the web:

  1. F6: Change frame

  2. Ctrl-L: Address box

  3. Ctrl-K: Search box

  4. Ctrl-W: Close current tab

  5. Ctrl-PageUp/PageDown Previous/Next frame

Equipped with my new knowledge I entered my Wordpress administration page and tried to start a blog entry. Don't try this. It simply doesn't work. I nearly tabbed my brain out of my head. So I needed a Firefox plug-in to save my day.

Searching for "keyboard" on the Firefox plug-in page revealed the NumberFox extension, which I couldn't get to work, and the Hit-A-Hint extension. Hit-A-Hint worked great for me and I was able to do some serious browsing now. After a few minutes I stumbled across Mouseless Browsing. I couldn't find this one at first, because you usually search for "keyboard" and not "mouse" if you actually lack a mouse.

All of the solutions above share the same common principle. For every link, button and edit field on a web page a number is shown. If you enter this number in a special finite automaton mode you can directly browse there without tabbing to death.

For full blown keyboard control Mouseless Browsing is better suited. You can use it from within edit fields and it has a consistent interface for switching between tabs. It even supports to select a link instead of following it, which makes Firefox show the link target in it's status bar. But it feels a log more sluggish than Hit-A-Hint.

Hit-A-Hint is a quick and small solution, but you have to reenable it on every web page and the default configuration features the "h" as start key for your finite automaton, which is quite inconvenient if you want to enter "hello" into a text field.

While searching for firefox extensions that make my mousless life easier, I found the English and German dictionaries to get inline spell checking support in Firefox. I hope my blog entries will gain some quality with regards to spelling...

Hey, I wrote quite a lot today. This shows that with the right combinations of tools it's easy to blog, search the web and use dictionaries all at once without a mouse. Praise the inventor of finite automaton theory!

1 comment:

  1. The newest version of hit a hint won't jump into HAH mode if focus is on a textbox. However, it disables Space for scroll! Still a great extension for a laptop that lacks a numpad like Mouseless Browsing needs.