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.


Vikram said...

I bought a cheap logitech mouse when i bought my macbook, but nearly 2 years later I hardly use it because I've got used to the macbook trackpad. Its really great and with tap to click it makes it even more easy to use…

Sprocketeer said...

I use the trackpad on my MBP a great deal; I also use a wireless Mighty Mouse to a lesser extent.

What I reeeaaaly want is a bluetooth trackball. This is a source of much frustration for me. Logitech makes wonderful trackballs; I've bought most of them. Why won't they make a bluetooth one? Next best option: why won't they let the user pair a wireless trackball with one of those receiver modules that very nearly disappear into a USB port on a laptop?

David Alison said...

@Sprocketeer: I would be more than willing to try a Bluetooth mouse other than the Mighty Mouse (which I don't care for at all). I did once but that just didn't work out.

Anonymous said...

Zooming in on the screen can be handy at times...

Sys prefs > Keyboard & Mouse > Trackpad > check "Zoom while holding" and choose a key.

Then the key with two fingers moving up the trackpad will zoom in and moving down will zoom out.

- Alan.

Anonymous said...

When I bought my first Powerbook in 2001 I thought I would have to buy a USB mouse to use instead of the trackpad. I never did. By the time I bought a Wacom tablet a few years later and tried to use the mouse that came with it, I couldn't stand to take my hands that far from the keyboard. (I use the pen, of course; that's what I bought it for. But I don't use it much, because I can't use it on my lap!) Two-finger scrolling makes it that much better. If I ever have a desktop again, it will have to have a trackpad.

Life without Launchbar? Nooooooo!

Mary Anne in Kentucky

SimpleLife said...

I like to mix it up a lot. Prevents the lactic build up and spreads the "love" around.

To page down or page up in browsers the space bar and shift+space bar is quick and super easy to reach.

Often, not always, delete and shift+delete work well for back and forward in browsers. Command+[ or Command+] always works, and works in iTunes Store also.

I also like the three finger horizontal swipe for back & forward. Doesn't work in Firefox 3 (I think. Wife uses FF3. I use WebKit).

Highly recommend WebKit Nightly Builds for anyone interested in the fastest browser of all. Here's a video link on installing & using WebKit. It works seamlessly along with Safari, and shares all preferences and bookmarks:

Two finger scroll works great, but I have to make sure to set the system preferences correctly. Warning: Firefox 3 scrolls much faster than all other OS X applications.

Sleep: command+option+eject. Just press the keys once and let go immediately, or else it can hang the system sometimes.

Fn+arrow keys: moves scrollbars (up, down, beginning, end)

Command+arrow keys: moves the cursor: (up, down, beginning, end)

The two above methods do different things, helpful to know.

The Mighty Mouse is definitely a preference issue. I mainly use it as a one button mouse. The main thing I love about it is the scroll ball. But it must be cleaned several times a day meticulously, or else it sticks. I'm not a big right clicker so it's a non-issue for me. I just like how it fits in my hands.

I have two Bluetooth Mighty Mouse: one for each hand. Spreads out the lactic acid love. They work very well with the smaller form factor wireless Bluetooth Apple Aluminum keyboard.

I also have the wired version of the keyboard hooked up for the 10 key pad AND because the wired Apple Aluminum keyboard is one of the quietest keyboards I've ever used. I use at night. The wireless version key actuation is different. A bit harder, but crisper, and noisier. Took some time to get used to it. It's different. I'm a bit slower on it, but way, way more accurate, so ends up being faster overall.

I'm a keyboard geek too. Be aware. There are production differences and tolerance differences. The MacBook Pro has one of the quietest, nicest keyboard of all. The MacBook Air is next quietest and softest along with the wired Aluminum. The MacBook is next crisper followed by the wireless version which is crispiest, and hardest. Again, this is in my testing in the last month, on all my gear I've bought and tested at stores.

I don't put my hands straight ahead. I do put them in a V similar to the "ergonomic" keyboards. The fingers still touch the homekeys, and the keyboarding works very well despite it being straight. It's all about technique and our individual differences and preferences.

Really nice reading everyone's comments.

SimpleLife said...

The zooming feature of OS X that Anomymous posted is an awesome feature. I use it for iTunes Store small font reviews.

Best use is when running updates, backups, syncing, or anytime there is a blue progress bar.

Zoom in to make the progress bar fill the screen. Then from across the room while you do something else, you can always know when the task at hand is completed.

Truly one of the best features.

Another keyboard tip:
Command + option + control + 8 inverts the screen colors to white on black. It can help with laptop battery life, and relieve eyestrain.

I very rarely use it myself but it's just another feature that's good to know about and to share.


Learn so much from this blog. I love David's experiences too. So funny and true.

Anonymous said...

I have to second the three-finger swipe for the back-action in Safari. I use it all the time, and between that, two-finger clicking for context menus, Command-L for the address bar, and Command-Option-F for the Google search field, I never miss a mouse. In fact, I plugged a mouse into my MacBook Air today for the first time in months, to play GalCon!


David Alison said...

Too bad the 3-finger swipe doesn't operate the back button in Firefox; that would be very useful. I'm playing around with it in different applications now and it's pretty cool. Thanks for the tips folks!

Brian said...

Great blog, David. I'm a devoted keyboard user. I switched to Mac a year ago and that's my biggest gripe. Windows has much better keyboard functionality. In Windows, you press the ALT key and have fast access to any menu bar menu. And within those menus, each command has its own keyboard letter to run it.

David, I see that you only used the mouse to click the Google link in your example Check out this link to Google Labs. I signed up for the Keyboard Shortcuts test and it's awesome! You can use the keyboard to select search results. It's incredibly easy. No installation.

David Alison said...

@Brian: That Google experiment is fantastic - I'd love to see that as the default search behavior. Thanks for the link! For those of you that are interested, join the experiment and it will update your default search behavior.

As for Windows being better at the keyboard I think it's mostly just a different approach. I agree that Windows is better at dealing with pull down menus (as you pointed out) and there are mnemonics for most dialogs, Mac menus and dialog windows are generally mouse driven affairs.

This changes when you look at overall shortcuts and the consistency among them within the Mac while working within things like documents and between applications. Now that I've completely adjusted to using my Macs I'm far more keyboard oriented than I ever was in Windows. Again, I think it's more of a different philosophy more than anything else.

Brian said...

I think it's the menu shortcuts that I miss the most. When I'm in Word on a PC and want to go to page setup, I press ALT-F for File and then the letter U for Page Setup. I'm changing margins within 5 seconds. On Mac Word, the menu commands take me so much longer. But it's encouraging to hear you are much faster now with the Mac keyboard than the PC!

SimpleLife said...

I think David hits it right on. In many ways things are just different and cannot be directly compared.

A different philosophy indeed.

It's very subtle and can be very frustrating for long-time Windows users and switchers. I think that's why this blog is so popular.

I used to share Brian's sentiments exactly. But I've learned to see the different Apple philosophy to things, and it has made me more productive and creative.

Like so many of the commenters here and for the many reasons David blogged about, I actually use the mouse less and the keyboard more, and much more productively.

Most of us are productive and creative people. We have a way of working. We're cruising along. Then for one reason or another, we stumble upon OS X.

Its sheer simplicity compared to Windows can be unnerving.

But it can also be very liberating. I used to be a very big 20-button mouse, application-specific mousing driver type of person.

Now I just love the one button mouse. Same with the one button trackpad.

It's like the Apple Cinema Displays. The only hardware buttons are power and brightness. That's it. Coming from Windows, I thought this was lunacy.

Over time, I've come to appreciate the magic of all the simplicity.

David is also very correct in that the shortcuts tend to be very consistent throughout the OS and UI. Almost always, Command + comma is preferences. Regardless of the application.

I like this blog because David shares his journey into this new and different environment and philosophy.

Yet it's a very common experience, especially for former Windows users: the hesitation, the indecision, the pondering, the frustration, and, for some, the swift conversion as things come into place and the productivity increases.

One of my favorites was how David made a video when he changed the Mac Pro's hard drive in like a minute. Chris Pirillo did a video on this too and changing the RAM. Both had this, "Wow. . .Cool. . ." attitude about it. It's just a darn hard drive and memory sticks. But it's just such a different approach and design to things.

It's not about whether one philosophy or approach is better than the other. That's for each individual to decide.

But there's just this certain giddiness and sweet spot, when we experience a new Mac way of doing something that we are always used doing in a Windows kinda way.

And it's really nice that many people take the time to blog about these experiences and provide other switchers with tips, videos, pics, links, and promoting discussion and sharing of experiences and ideas.

Kudos, mate.


PS Sorry about the long comments. I just think the blog is cool and appreciate all the comments being made. Reviewing the older blog posts and comments has really made my own transition much more pleasurable and a little bit less overwhelming. Thanks again, as always to everyone.

David Alison said...

@SimpleLife: Don't apologize for the long comments - you've been providing some great material! I get hundreds of hits a day from standard Google searches and the comments just make it more likely that someone will find a tip that helps.

SimpleLife said...

The mouse and keyboard we use ARE a big issue.

David has definitely blogged about it numerous times.

Having cured myself of 15 years of disabling "RSI", I have owned and tested almost all commercially available keyboards, mice, and software, and I am an expert end-user now with voice recognition for dictation and computer control on both Windows and OS X.

This is in addition to many years and money spent on traditional and alternative medical treatments.

Both Apple, Microsoft, and third-party manufacturers have spent much time, thought, and research on input devices.

Many internet sites are devoted to "RSI" and input devices.

After 15 years of disability, my cure was a small book by Dr. David Sarno that I learned through an RSI support group from Harvard students.

A big part of my cure was OS X and the Apple way of doing things. Because for me it was not RSI but TMS, the theory that Dr. Sarno discusses. And a big part of TMS is the emotional frustration that we feel in our lives and in our work. Without, realizing it computers are a big part of our emotional frustrations.

Heck, it's the whole storyline in the "Hi, I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC" ads.

In other words, I have much experience with input devices and their integration with operating systems.

Don't let the simplicity of Apple's philosophy fool you. They have chosen their path consciously and carefully.

I never ever needed to do my own blog because so many excellent blogs and websites already exist. Such as this one.

Anyone interested in my path and cure to RSI and my conversion to all things Apple can see my post here, where my username is RockinOut.


We all have to find our way through this crazy world. I'm just glad I found my way out of disability. I found my way because others were nice enough to share freely with others by posting on the web. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for me. All the info and numerous links are at the link above.

Thanks again, David for the wonderful blog. I know it is helping many, many people in many different ways.

"RSI" is gone from my life. Now it's just about comfort, basic ergonomics, and just being productive and creative, which is what computers are all about and what this wonderful blog is all about.


PS Although, voice recognition was an important part of my recovery, I no longer use it at all.

Scott Rose said...

You may also enjoy exploring:

Keyboard Maestro ( - this program lets you assign all sorts of keyboard shortcuts to almost anything on your Mac.

USB Overdrive ( -- this program gives you sooo much control over external USB mice.


Scott Rose

President, ScottWorld
Certified FileMaker & Mac Experts. Since 1992.

Contributing Editor, Mac|Life Magazine

Anonymous said...

I like your blog. As a 20+ year exclusive Mac user, it's interesting to see things from the perspective of one entering the light after years of darkness and despair.

Yes, LaunchBar is great, been using it for years I recommend it to people regularly.

Mice? I HATE them. I use a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball, which is perfect for multiple monitor use. it's a wonderful device, that I've used since it first appeared as the Mac Turbo Mouse! the current iteration as all optical and uses a scroll ring around the base of the ball, which is actually much easier to use than a standard scroll wheel.

The other device I use is a small Wacom tablet. I even carry it around to use with my MacBook Pro. Since it's flat, it fits perfectly in my Mac backpack. The nice thing about the tablet is that since it is mapped to the monitor, I can place the tablet off to the side and never even look at it. At times (plane, train or bus), I even put it on a seat next to me.

Using both devices, I've never had mouse claw RSI problems.

SimpleLife said...

I used a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball exclusively for many many years also. I do find the scroll wheel to not work well for me in OS X. I think it's a driver issue.

Obviously, all input devices are subject to individual differences and preferences, but the Expert Mouse has served me well for many years.

Browsing blog and typing this on the iPod Touch. I'm getting pretty fast at two thumb predictive typing.

Third party apps like the ones mentioned are definitely awesome too. OS X is almost unusable for me without TextExpander.

lhope26 said...

It looks like this one might not fit David Alison's needs, but I love it for designing (and I detest mice with forward and back buttons! I'm always hitting those buttons on accident!), even with my long fingers. Since I tend to use my laptop on non-desk surfaces, I hate having something that might break or disconnect attached to my USB ports! Yea Bluetooth!

alan said...

Inquisitor ( can help you save even more mouse clicks. When added to Safari, it creates a menu of the three top Google hits that you'd get if you actually got the Google web page.

SimpleLife said...

Cycle through apps using Command + Tab as usual.

Highlight the desired app. Keeping Command down, now press "q" to "quit" the app, or "w" to close the app/document/window.

Launchbar and QuickSilver have their place for sure. But, Finder works very well with the keyboard also to actually preview files.

Command + n opens a new window. Navigate using Tab key and arrow keys. Command + o or Command + down arrow to open.

In addition, Quick Look works great with the keyboard using the spacebar and arrow keys. Same with Cover Flow. It's speedy and fast. Also, Command + up arrow to move up.

Google, and there are also some very helpful Web Archive, Zip, and Folder view Quick Look plugins. Named BetterZipQL, FJNWebArchive, and Folder Quick Look respectively.

You can cycle through Finder icon, list, column, and Cover Flow view with Command 1, 2, 3, & 4.

I don't know about Firefox, but in Safari, Command 1, 2, 3, 4 . . . opens sequential bookmarks in the bookmark toolbar.

David Alison said...

@SimpleLife: Command-1,2,3,etc. switch to the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. tab in Firefox.

brian said...

David, didn't know of the Cmd 1,2,3! Nice! I have used SHIFT+Cmd+the brackets to cycle through the tabs. A little clunkier action though.

GrlGeek said...

Sorry to be running a few days behind, but I did want to 2nd Scott Rose's recommendation of Keyboard Maestro.

I've used it for about 2 weeks and love it. You can assign keyboard shortcuts, record macros, automate processes - all within a very easy to use, easy to understand user interface.

So far, I've saved a total of 37 minutes - I know because the program also tracks that for me. :v )

battery said...

Highly recommend WebKit Nightly Builds for anyone interested in the fastest browser of all. Here's a video link on installing & using WebKit. It works seamlessly along with Safari, and shares all preferences and bookmarks