Driving without a mouse

Lately I’ve been away from my Mac Pro and using the MacBook Pro quite a bit. With no permanent workstation I set up shop on the nearest table or use the MBP to warm up my legs while parked on my lap. My normal routine was to fish my Logitech mouse out of my laptop bag, plug it in and off I go.

The MBP has an excellent trackpad and even though it only has a single button on it I’ve been adjusting to using it instead of the mouse. Having the machine completely self contained does make it much more portable. Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to make it easier to get by without the mouse attached.

The MacBook Pro Trackpad
The trackpad on the MBP is great and an excellent substitute for a full range mouse. Without question the best feature for me is the two finger scrolling; it feels completely natural to simply slide my hands down the keyboard a bit and scroll away, then pop my hands right back to the keyboard and continue. I like not having to disengage from my keyboard in order to use the mouse – it feels much faster.

Clicking and dragging with the trackpad takes more focused attention than the mouse. Normally I just use my right hand’s thumb for clicking and index finger for dragging. If the distance and precision needed is high I’ll use my left thumb for the click and then drag with my right index finger. I also use secondary (right-clicking) all the time by holding two fingers down and clicking the button. Though the MBP supports tap to click I don’t use that feature—too easy to activate by accident.

Though there are other gestures available on the newer MacBook Pros though frankly I never find myself using them.

Mastering the Keyboard
I really like the feel of the MBP keyboard. With it’s contoured keys and excellent layout it is a pleasure to type on. As much as possible I try to use the keyboard to navigate around, especially while doing text entry on web pages. I spend a fair amount of time in a web browser with multiple tabs open.

When I want to pop a link into a blog post I usually go through the following steps:

Command-T (open a new tab)
Command-K (or Tab key to get to the Google search box)
Enter the search terms
Mouse / click on the appropriate link I want to reference
Command-L (focus on the address)
Command-C (copy the address to the clipboard)
Command-W (close the newly opened tab, returning me to the last tab I came from)

From here I generally switch back into mouse (trackpad) mode, highlight the phrase I want as my link and then paste in the link. Though it sounds like a lot of keys to remember it’s become second nature to me now and I do it without thinking.

I am a pretty heavy keyboard user so mastering the shortcuts is just something I’ve invested some time in and the results have been excellent for me. If you are a touch typist then don’t hesitate to learn them. I recommend taking a look at Dan Rodney’s excellent list.

Leveraging LaunchBar
Tools like Spotlight, Quicksilver or LaunchBar are the best alternatives to grabbing the mouse and clicking on an application to start it up. I personally now use LaunchBar and find myself incredibly productive using it. Not only do I use it as an application launcher, I’ve been leveraging it’s ability to tie files together.

An interesting exercise for me was to imagine not having LaunchBar (or QS or Spotlight) and thinking about how I would use my machine. The reality: a LOT more mousing around. I would be clicking on Dock Bar icons, opening the Finder and clicking on Applications and scrolling to find what I needed to run. Opening the Finder and dropping into one of my document folders to locate the file I needed.

If you are still plugging an external mouse into your MacBook or MBP and have thought about trying to drive your machine without that external mouse I hope this was helpful. Got a tip to make it easier? Please shout it out in the comments below.