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Keyboard shortcuts in Chrome

Keyboard shortcuts can really speed you up, and help stop you from being distracted by having to reach for the mouse and then back to the keyboard.  Here's some extensions for Google Chrome that give you configurable shortcuts.

I find that moving my hand off my computer's keyboard to use the mouse is a supreme distraction.  Maybe it's just that I got used to computers before mice were ubiquitous - i.e. maybe I'm just old - but I find that having to move my hand back from the mouse to the keyboard breaks my concentration just enough to be supremely irritating - like a small round stone in one's shoe: it's not painful, but it is distracting.

So I love keyboard shortcuts, keystrokes that equate to mouse actions, menu selections, etc.  With a good set of shortcuts - and a little time to get used to them - one's hands can fly across the keyboard.  And more importantly, I find my concentration is unbroken because I'm not having to move my hand to the mouse and then back to the keyboard.

I pretty much use only Google Chrome these days, and I was getting more and more frustrated with the typical mouse-oriented interactions, so I set about looking for a Chrome extension that would give me some control over the keyboard.

It took longer than I thought to find something reasonable, so I thought I'd share the fruits of my labour.

My first discovery was the aptly named Shortcut Manager.  It offers a nice interface in which you can enter any keystroke and bind it to one of many, many actions.  However, it doesn't work very well.  For one thing, it misunderstood some keystrokes (e.g. the Apple Command key - I use only Macs - was interpreted as three Escape characters).  Even worse, though, is that it messed up the javascript in the browser so that I couldn't use buttons in the WYSIWYG editor at wordpress.  That's a showstopper.

Then I noticed that the extension hadn't been updated since December 2009.  That probably explains the bugs - Chrome continued to change, but the extension didn't.  Indeed, I'd wager that Shortcut Manager is dead.

So, back to the drawing board.

Next up is Vimium.  This extension creates a set of default shortcuts that are reminiscent of the vim text editor, which has two modes - a command mode (cursor movement, opening lines, deleting words, etc.) and an input mode (where keys insert their characters into the text).  Vim is based on vi, one of the original Unix text editors, which existed before computer mice, even before function keys and numeric keypads.

Currently, I use Vimium, and it seems to work fine.  '?' brings up a summary of the shortcuts, which is great for users still getting used to it.  Scrolling left, down, up, and right are bound to h, j, k, and l.  (If you don't get this - put your fingers on those keys; you'll see how useful that is.)  Typing '/' will start a text search of the current page (not very useful in Chrome since it's Find command, bound to Command-F on Macs, is bloody brilliant).  'H' and 'L' go back and forward in the History.  If you want to turn off the bindings, so that you can for instance type something into a web form, you hit 'i', and to turn the shortcuts back on, you hit ESC.  This might not sound sensible, but trust me that it makes eminent sense to anyone who know vim or vi.

You can also rebind commands to different keys, and add your own shortcuts too, so there's plenty of room for you to tweak any of the shortcuts you don't like, and to get creative with shortcuts that are particular to your own browsing habits.

I also found a third extension: Keyboard-Fu. This extension seems much more powerful, giving far more flexibility by letting you associate complex chunks of javascript to a keystroke.  Unfortunately, it's still in "alpha," which means it's likely incomplete and quite buggy.  It is, however, under vigorous development, so I remain hopeful.

Bottom line: keyboard shortcuts are all that.  If you're looking for a good way to use shortcuts in Chrome, then go with Vimium for now.  But keep an eye on Keyboard-Fu; it's got great potential.

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