Mouse vs. Keyboard

Most computers have two input devices: a mouse and a keyboard. The mouse is mainly used to navigate in the GUI, while the keyboard is used to enter data. Both input devices need some training to get used to, though I still picture my father picking up the mouse from the table and moving it through the air.

Experienced mouse users are ably to move the pointer from one side of the screen to the other side to click on a tiny button within a fraction of a second, which is becoming increasingly difficult as the screen resolutions get bigger. Besides moving and aiming the pointer, they know how to use the three buttons and the scroll wheel at the right moment. Advanced mouse users sometimes use mouse-gesture enabled applications to perform even more functions with the mouse.

Experienced keyboard users are able to reach high key rates using all ten fingers. Besides high speed data entry, they also use the CTRL and ALT keys to navigate through applications.

I rarely meet persons who have reached the highest levels in using both devices. Mouse–wizards usually type with two (or three or four) fingers, while keyboard enthusiast loose time navigating. The problem is that we do not have enough hands. Efficient use of both devices requires three hands: two for the keyboard and on for the mouse. Depending on the type of work done mostly frequently, people become either mouse–addicted or keyboard–bound.

In my work, I receive many interrupts and rarely work more than five minutes in the same application. As a result, my primary input device is the mouse. In the past I have tried to learn to type with ten fingers on the old mechanical typewriter of my mother, but due to my mouse use I have fallen back to a two finger system.

But things are changing. As my work slowly shifts from technical support to marketing and sales, I find myself writing more texts. And the more I write, the more I feel limited by my two–finger technique. I write slow and make many nmistakes. So I decided to use the mouse less and improve my typing skills, preferably using all ten fingers. I am aware that this is going to be very difficult, since old habits are hard to shake off and starting to write with ten fingers will initially decrease my typing speed even more, but I am convinced that I will be more efficient in the long term.

I do not have time to do a special training, but would rather learn it be gradually changing my habits. And of course a gadget freak like me needs some tools to help me. So the first step I took was to install ActiveWords on my computer. ActiveWords is a wonderful application in which you configure words to trigger events. To open the Firefox browser, I simply type firefox and my favourite browser starts. The trick for me is that ActiveWords lets me start applications faster by keyboard than by mouse, even if I use ten fingers to type. Another benefit of ActiveWords is that the Misspellings plug-in corrects my mistypings within any application! It works exactly like the auto correct feature of Microsoft Word, but is works system wide. I have been using ActiveWords for some days now, and even though I sometimes enter the keywords with only two fingers, I am very happy about it.

Another tool which I am planning to use more is Emacs, the amazing extensible, customizable, self-documenting real-time display editor. Emacs interests me for its huge range of features, which all can be controlled by keyboard. In the past I have met some Emacs-wizards who were able to write and edit very efficiently and I have used it a little bit in my UNIX days. I am aware that Emacs has a steep learning curve but it looks like a long-term winner for me.

Jeroen Sangers @jeroensangers