Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Keyboard or Mouse, You Decide

By Bob Jarecke

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

[Sidebar to Pathways to Macintosh Learning]

Keyboard or mouse: this simple choice reflects the fact that there is more than one way to do almost anything on your Mac. Which preference constitutes the best approach for you is an important question. If your goal is to improve your Mac skills, you may want to learn how to better use the Mac tools, which in this case are the keyboard and mouse.

Case in point: do you exclusively use the mouse-driven cursor along with application menus to get many things done? How could you not, you might say; however, there is another way, by using shortcuts on your keyboard. I actually find combining the two works best for me. I anchor my left hand on the bottom left area of my keyboard, keeping the right hand on the mouse or just to the right of the trackpad if I am using my MacBook. With this positioning, I can easily reach three important keys with my left thumb: the Control key, the Option key, and the Command or Apple key while activating other keys with the remaining fingers. Over the course of writing an article like this one, loads of time is saved because my hands rarely leave the keyboard. Let me illustrate.

First, combining both the Control (ctrl)* key and a click of the mouse (ctrl-click) will display a contextual menu, a small menu that pops up under the cursor.** These little menus contain alternate ways to use commands contained in the application menu, as well as other options. Even in Finder, ctrl-click will yield different contextual menus based on where the cursor is located in the Finder window. This is an easy way to select important menu items without having to move the mouse all the way up to the menu at the top of your display. Try it in Finder and various applications to see what options are available.

Next, the option key, what is it good for?*** It is a modifier key and needs something else to occur in conjunction with its use. An example or two will help illustrate this.

While editing text, hold the option key and use the right arrow key to advance the cursor from word to word. Using the left arrow causes the opposite, while with each click of the up or down arrow key, the cursor moves up or down to the start of each earlier or subsequent paragraphs. This means is you don’t have to use the mouse to move the cursor to another part of your composition. Just hold option and the down arrow and you are zooming south, a paragraph at a time!

In another case, using the option and Shift keys in conjunction with the arrow keys highlights text as the cursor moves from word to word. No more having to reach over for the mouse to click on or drag across words to highlight them. Your hands stay put! And what can you do with highlighted text?

The Command (cmd) key — the one with the cloverleaf-looking character (⌘) next to the Apple — is a powerful key! Holding this key and selecting one or two other keys can abbreviate some tasks by eliminating significant cursor movements were you to use the application menu instead. An excellent example of this is the Copy and Paste task, something I do endlessly as I compose and edit. After highlighting text, preferably with keystrokes as mentioned above, hold down the cmd key and then tap the C key (cmd-C). This action will copy the highlighted text to the clipboard, which simply places the text in memory. Then after you designate where you want the text to go by placing the cursor at the spot, you can use cmd-V keystrokes and the text will be pasted at that spot. You have to admit: that is a lot easier than mousing all over the place to get this task done.

The point of giving you a brief glimpse at using keystrokes and such is to give you the awareness that there are usually several ways to do the same task on a Mac. The Mac operating system, Apple and third-party applications abound in neat features and clever ways to make computing easy and fun. Only if you learn more about the capabilities of the Mac and practice these different ways will you be able to determine the methods and practices that are best for you. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Just get him a Mac and watch him learn! Woof!

* The Control key depiction looks like this (^).
** Control – click can also be activated on a two-button mouse by right clicking.
*** The Option key depiction looks like this (⌥).