Monday, September 18, 2006
But how, you might ask, do you open the MDI system menu located directly beneath the normal system menu? Use Alt+Hyphen.
A nice background read from Jensen Harris. It seems they've choosen the Space because back in the Windows 3.1 days the icon on the top left of the window resembled the space bar on the keyboard. The MDI icon looks a lot like a hyphen. Although nowadays neither of these icons looks anything like a space bar or a hyphen, yet the keyboard shortcuts remain the same even in Windows Vista (nice comment from Kam Vedbrat).
Saturday, September 16, 2006
In the previous posts focus was on keyboard shortcuts. But what makes something a shortcut actually? Obviously to perform an action with one or more keystrokes as long as it is quicker than with help of a mouse. Nowadays I hardly use the mouse. I still use the mouse occasionally to navigate within my Internet browser. Personally I think there's still no good keyboard alternative, I mean, there are shortcuts, but it's not perfect. Maybe I will spend another post on this subject sometime.
Keyboard shortcuts can be implemented in various ways. I would like to group them into three categories.
- Active Strings
What they all have in common is that by merely using the keyboard actions can be performed like launching a program, a macro or a script, opening a document or going to a web site. The identified groups can also work together. For the record, this blog does not write about application shortcuts. The only reason is that I wouldn't know where to start with; there are so many! But that shouldn't keep you from using them! Maybe when I run out of ideas I will write some interesting stuff about application shortcuts, but for the time being there's enough material to write about the system wide or global shortcuts.
It may come to a surprise and not look obvious, but launchers can be excellent shortcuts as long as you can start them with the keyboard. I know that many launchers are designed to be operated by a mouse, the "point and shoot" kind of. But even those launchers can be activated by a keystroke in most cases. As an example the most commonly used (and controversial) launcher is the Start Menu. It is tempting to click that shiny button with the mouse and wade through all the menu's until you reach the program you want to launch. But what's wrong hitting the Win-key (or Ctrl+Esc if your keyboard doesn't have one), subsequently hit a letter with an underscore (e.g. "P" for Programs), and than hitting the first letter in the menu that contains what you want to open or launch. And if you need to open a submenu first just hit Enter or the Right Arrow key. Of course you can scroll through the menu's by using the arrow keys, but that is mostly not efficient. E.g. it only takes me six keystrokes to launch a start menu program called "SyncToy": Win-key, P (opens up the Program Menu), S, S, S, and finally S. This takes about 3 seconds. By the way, I needed to hit S a couple of times, because there were other entries (submenu's and programs) also starting with a S, so the number of keystrokes may vary per user - if you're lucky one S will do. Alternativally you can hold down the S and the system will automatically wade through all the entries starting with a S. If you make use of "pinned-to-the-start menu" programs, starting a program will be even faster. And if you use a program often it appears in main menu, so you don't have to open up the program menu at all. So, for me the Start Menu isn't so bad after all. Launchers do not have to be menu driven as in the previous example. The Run command dialog box (shortcut Win+R), for instance, is a launcher where you just type what you want to launch. I will come back to launchers in more detail at some other time.
This category is very common and doesn't really need an introduction. In my view every combination of keystrokes that start up something is a hotkey. The number of keys doesn't count as long as you can manage to hit them all at once, e.g. Win and Ctrl+Win and Ctrl+Alt+Win and Ctrl+Alt+Win+P are all hotkey's. Most things can be achieved using 1 to 3 keys; hotkey's with more than 3 keys are often hard to remember and are difficult to handle. Avoid hotkey's that cramp your fingers! There are special tools to define hotkey's. I'll come back to that.
3. Active Strings
Active Strings (or hot strings or active words) are not widely known shortcuts. And you need a special tool for it. In other words, this feature is not built into the operating system. But because active strings are so convenient I assigned a separate category to them. I will tell you a lot more about this later, but to give you an idea just think about the AutoCorrect, AutoText, AutoFormat and Smart Tags you'll find in Word. Only Active Strings can do a lot more than that.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Most pc users click on the QLB icons with the mouse, but it is very simple to accomplish the same thing just with the keyboard. Hit the Win-key, let go, and hit the tab-key subsequently. Now you're on the first QLB icon. If this is not the icon you want, just use the arrow keys to position the cursor onto the correct icon and hit enter.
By the way, if you hit the tab-key for a second time (or more depending how much stuff is between the QLB and Notification Area) you will end up in the Notification area. Actually, this method can be more convenient than last week's shortcut, although not as quick. The advantage is that tabbing to the Notification Tray (or area) will give you a visible focus on its icons. Just try both methods and you'll see what I mean.
Finally, in stead of hitting the Win-key by itself, you can also use Win+D. The desktop will disappear temporarily, but just like hitting Win-key by itself, the Start button gets the focus. So, tab and arrow away and you'll find yourself on the taskbar doing nice things you'd do "normally" with the mouse. Oh, your desktop returns as it was by hitting Win+D once more.
So, actually this weeks shortcut was three.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Most of the topics I wanted to cover are already discussed over there. Although it is a commercial site there's still enough material to read for free (I recommend the Windows Keyboard FAQ and the Macros FAQ articles).
For the time being I'll keep this blog alive, but I will skip the introductory posts I was about to publish. It's all on the site just mentioned. My next posts will focus more on specific items related to keyboard shortcuts including some tools you can use. I will also try to continue the Shortcut of the Week series.
Warning: before my next post you should have read Cantor's publications! So, start reading now!
Friday, September 01, 2006
Quite a few lists of keyboard shortcuts can be found (e.g. in C:\WINDOWS\Help\keyshort.chm), but the one missing is often this weeks shortcut. And that's a pity, because it is so useful. Ever wondered how to get to the notification tray? Just hit Win+B (only in XP) and the focus is on the first tray icon (or focus to the show/hide arrow if you are hiding tray icons). With the arrow keys you can select the icon you want.
A Consuming Experience: Keyboard shortcuts: key to computer productivity?
(contains interesting links as well)
Manipulating a mouse or other pointing device is not always easy and efficient for people who operate computers and can eventually lead to mouse-induced repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). Mouse movements can also be a strain to people with mobility impairments that affect hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, some people without disabilities, including laptop owners and "power users," complain that the mouse can be awkward to handle.
I am aware that many people already wrote about the accessibility and usability of keyboard-only access in general and keyboard shortcuts in specific, but this blog tries to be unique by writing about the subject exclusively.
I will do my best to supply lots of examples and links to interesting articles and I hope many of you readers give feedback, tips and tricks to "trap that mouse".