Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Switching is hard: learning keyboard navigation on Mac OS X

I was very excited to get my first Mac, a 17'' MacBook Pro a couple of days ago. It's my new development machine and it gives me great satisfaction that I finally got one box where I can just plug in my camera or iPod and they work, play a video from a website and it works, then type

sudo apt-get install postgres
man 2 recv
and they all work, too. I became a big fan of Front Row, the fonts on websites look great, Expose is easy to miss when going back to another system. Seems like heaven, except...

I found that keyboard navigation on the Mac sucks. Note that this is my first impression after only 2-3 days of use with no Mac guru around to teach me the secret art of Using a Mac Without a Mouse.

  • I found no way to maximize the Safari window without using the mouse. Use case: I read Dilbert in Google Reader and it doesn't fit in the Window horizontally.
  • Navigating the menus by keyboard is really cumbersome. Instead of Alt-T, I need to press Ctrl-F2, T, Enter to get to the Tools menu for example.
  • I found no simple way in Finder to move or even rename files or directories without using the mouse.
  • I'm still looking for a Total Commander replacement. I tried MuCommander and XFolders, but they both lack a command line. I also managed to set up Midnight Commander inside iTerm after changing the terminal emulation and keyboard settings to xterm, but I still have trouble mapping the keys to the right functions. Having no insert key really hurts.
  • BTW, what's the deal with putting such a cramped keyboard on a 17 inch notebook? The old 17 inch HP laptop that I used had a full keyboard including a numeric keypad. There would have been plenty of room to put a few extra keys on the Mac, too.
My biggest gripe currently that navigating dialogs is a pain without the Windows/Linux Alt style shortcuts.
Example 1:

I'm in Eclipse and want to replace the string "foo" with "bar" in the text editor. I press Command-F for the Find dialog, type in "foo", press Tab, type in "bar". So far, so good. But how do I get to the Replace button without using the mouse? Press Tab 9 times? On Windows/Linux I press Alt and the corresponding keyboard shortcut. I haven't found the equivalent on Mac OS X.

BTW, I can't even get to the menu bar with Ctrl-F2 in Eclipse. It doesn't work out of the box.

Example 2: I don't know how to operate this dialog in iTunes with the keyboard. Tab doesn't work.

Please, someone tell me I'm a complete noob and there is a simple solution for everything described above. So far, I'm thinking about creating a big fat Windows partition in Bootcamp since I except that I'm gonna spend a lot of time back in Microsoft World (sacrilege!) if I can't get back to my original productivity level in Mac OS X.

Time to ask around the forums some more...


Nicolas said...

I just wanted to point out a slight mistake in your post: I don't know about XFolders, but muCommander does have a commandline tool. Granted, it's not a proper shell, but it's done almost everything I needed it to - except for those cases when a command tries to take control of the input, such as when prompting for a password.

If that's your only reason for not liking muCommander, give it another go, it might be worth it. Ctrl-r is your friend :)

Nicolas said...

Oh, and also, I think that some of your problems might disapear completely by simply following this procedure:
- open system preferences
- click keyboard&mouse
- click keyboard shortcuts
- set 'Full keyboard access' to 'All controls'

That ought to make you rather happier about your new system.

And, in case you're not using that yet, I'd suggest installing Quicksilver (http://quicksilver.blacktree.com/). I'm doing you a diservice here: once you've installed and gotten used to it, your windows and linux setups will become incredibly frustrating.

nyenyec said...

Nicolas, thanks for the tips.

I'll give MuCommander a closer look.
Yes, I set "Full keyboard access" to "All controls" without that I'd probably had gone crazy. :)

I also have Quicksilver. I can't say I figured it out completely yet, but for the app launcher functionality I had equivalents in Windows (Google Desktop and a small utility called Quickstart on WinXP).

Nicolas said...

Yes, the app launcher bit is really not that original.
Play around with it for a bit though, you'll find some strange things in there. Quick web searches (wikipedia, google, php doc, javadoc...), contact search, ...

My favorite way of showing off Quicksilver's power is: select a file, send it to zip, send compressed file to mail recipient. All from within one application, never getting anywhere near the mouse, all done in a few seconds.

LifeInc said...

Ohhhh Thank you! I was having the same problems with navigating dialogs until I saw the response from nicolas!

Leonard said...

Thank you very much for this post, rebel without a mouse. And also lots of thanks to Nicolas.

I also just switched to the Mac and already began to think I had made a big mistake.

I work with MindManager, and without the "tweak" in the preferences described by Nicolas you can't even select a topic there without using the mouse. The arrow keys are simply blocked.

Unbelievable that Apple is deactivating all those keyboard shortcuts by default.

So thanks again!

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david said...

DUDE! thank you so much, I was all over the place trying to get my Magicmouse rerecognized, and Nicolas's tip has saved me from dashing out to buy a new USB just to connect my MM. Cheers hombre