I’ve been a heavy mouse user ever since I first started using the Mac. But I’d be the first to admit that constantly moving my right hand over to the trackpad gets seriously tiresome—and it is probably counter productive. I could save a few seconds per task if I kept my hand on the keyboard, and stuck more with using keyboard shortcuts. I could also possibly benefit from a new keyboard navigation application called Shortcat. (You get it?: Shortcut, Shortcat!)
Shortcat, which is in alpha stage of development, enables you to keep your hands on your keyboard and navigate to any part of an application, webpage, or even System Preferences controls. Using a few keyboard shortcuts to activate Shortcat will cause what are called “accessibility attributes” to be highlighted. From there you use the keyboard to activate any highlighted element.
How It Works
The default keyboard shortcut to activate Shortcat is Comd+Shift+Space. When activated, Shortcat will highlight the front window of the front-most application. Next, a small Shortcat query box will pop-up at the bottom of the window. From there you type a “.” which will then highlight all the accessible elements in the window.
Okay, the plethora of highlighted areas in the above screenshot may seem a little overwhelming, but when you give it a try, you might find it pretty cool to be able to select an element without raising your hand off the keyboard.
To activate an element, you type the corresponding letter or combination of letters, and then hit the return key. For example, if you wanted to activate the Search box in MUO, you’d type the corresponding “A” letter for the Search box. That highlight will turn green, and then you hit the return key to put the cursor in the box.
So what about previewing or opening a file in the Finder? Well, it involves the same process. But to open the Shortcat highlighted file, you use the normal keyboard shortcut, Cmd+o. If you want to preview the highlighted file, you will need to first hit the Esc key to get out of Shortcat, and then hit the Spacebar to preview the file using Quick Look. This all may seem like a lot of steps, but apparently the more you practice this method, the faster you will become.
Shortcat can also activate drop-down panels in the toolbar of applications. When a panel appears, you use the up and down arrow keys, plus the return key to activate those menu items. However, Shortcat does not highlight items in the menu bar that’s right at the top in any application.
There are a few other features you should read about on the support page for Shortcat, including how to change the default activation shortcut, in Terminal, for Shortcat.
In its alpha stage, Shortcat works well in Safari, Chrome, Skype, the Finder, X-Code, 1Password, Textual, and MarsEdit—the last application is the one I’m using to write this article. But the developer says Shortcat is incompatible or only partially works in applications like Twitter, Reeder, Sublime Text 2, and Sparrow. I found limitations also when trying to use Shortcat in the Rdio player, but it seems okay in iTunes.
Can It Work?
There are many Mac users out there who say they perform 90% percent of their computer activities strictly from the keyboard. I’m sorry to say I’m not one of them. However, as I wrote this article I did try to see how much I could get done without using the trackpad. I discovered that Shortcat alone would not be enough for me to meet the keyboard-only challenge.
In addition to Shortcat, you will need to use as many regular keyboard shortcuts as possible for activating menu items in an application. CheatSheet is possibly a good tool for learning keyboard shortcuts. When installed, you simply hold down the Command key, and in about a second, a cheat sheet will pop-up with a listing of all the menu items and corresponding keyboard shortcuts for the application you’re working in.
Another Mac application you will want to use is Alfred, or a similar application launcher. Alfred is useful for not only launching or activating applications, it’s also useful for launching files and searching and opening other content on your Mac, e.g., contacts and Calendar events.
Since I heavily rely on computer automation programs like Hazel and Keyboard Maestro, I can take advantage of some hacks that enable me to also navigate on my computer and activate certain tasks automatically or with a few keystrokes. For example, using Keyboard Maestro, I created a macro that performed the three-step activation process for Shortcat. I can simply type “jm” and the macro will type the keyboard shortcut for Shortcat, plus the “.”.
This is not say Shortcat is not useful. It can be very handy for navigating web pages where you simply might want to decrease your use of the mouse. For example, I’ll definitely be using it in WordPress to add URL links, instead of manually scrolling up to the WordPress toolbar to activate the link tool.
Because it’s an alpha level, there’s more in store for Shortcat, so download it now and let the developer know what you think of the app. And let us know if you’re looking to become a keyboard Ninja.
For other keyboard related ideas, check out these articles: