SOFTWARE ENGINEERING blog & .lessons_learned
manuel aldana
Manuel Aldana

March 11th, 2008 · No Comments

The keyboard rules!

Even in rich GUI applications days I think that the keyboard is the best and quickest way to fulfill common tasks. This of course is not restricted to typing in text into IDEs, word processors or alike. Still, many people are browsing file system, coyping files or executing application commands (Save, Copy/Paste, etc.) by using the mouse only. When I see this I always think that these people could speed up their work considerably if they would just invest to learn shortcuts or using the command line properly. To sum-up: Different to the vital animals in basements or backyards their computer counterparts are most likely the bottleneck of your work. You may wonder why I put this kind of topic into a software engineering blog… Well, to me mastering the keyboard and the command line is a very important part in my daily job. High Speed of obvious tasks should be your friend to get more time for the more interesting things.

I do remember that I had been a very mousy kind of person, too. Nearly every task was done with the mouse and I often looked suspicious to the people who fulfilled their work mainly with the keyboard. I noticed from far that persons hacked in key-strokes and hardly touched the mouse. In my view they were kind of old-style people who could not appreciate the newer times with all these nice widgets and could just not step forward and doing something more with the nice mouse-pointer on the screen. After I started to work at my first job I changed my mind very quickly. This time I sat next to a keyboard-kind of person and could actually see how quick he was using his computer environment. When I asked him to move some files around it was just a matter of seconds, no way to accomplish this with moving and clicking with the mouse. When asking him to check out latest sources from CVS repository he did not use a graphical interface merely the command line and this job was done instantly. In the first time I was kind of depressed how much time I wasted in former times, so to improve I decided to follow his way. I installed nice little apps: TotalCommander, Cygwin (unix command line clone for windows) and a lightweight Editor (you really don’t want to start eclipse to edit a single file, will you…?). At this point I like to emphasize that using the keyboard is not restricted to the more command-line focused Unix system, but is definitely possible inside windows.

Tools are one side of the coin, the other one often is harder: I needed to change my habits: Everytime when I felt tempted to use the mouse I had a look for a shortcut of the application or tried to use the command line. In fact many great tools are implemented as command line programs, which often not only make your work quicker but make it possible the first time. I just name great ’sed’, ‘grep’, ‘find’, which on top can be combined with pipes or similar, so you can build up even bigger and customized tools. Mentioning this shell-clone cygwin is available for windows, so you do not need to bother crappy windows command line. Apart from shell-helpers other software-engineer’s programs like version control, build-tools etc. nearly always got a command-line counterpart which speeds up things and thus can be included inside scripts. This way batch tasks can be executed and run without human interference. Another great helper is total commander, which is a clone of the infamous norton commander. With this working with the file system is just a matter of seconds. Even learning the shortcuts of tools already in use like Eclipse or Firefox browser had been a delight. Looking back I estimate that fulfilling my work tasks nowadays with help of the keyboard got quicker around 5-times and quality improved also for I used command-line tools which had not been available to the mouse-world before.

I know changing old habits can be tough but have a try on it and I bet it will pay off. Generally spread the word and for instance show team mates what shortcuts exist they did not know of so far. If they notice the speed-improvement while looking over your shoulders they surely will adopt it too.

Tags: Software Engineering

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