When you get a laptop, you lose a typical convenience from using a desktop, where you could lay one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. From the moment that you open the lid for the first time, you gotta make the choice: trackpad or keyboard. I picked the keyboard as my favorite place to keep my hands, perhaps because I write quite a bit, you know?
Maybe you’re a writer, a developer or just can’t get used to the trackpad. Either way, this is a roundup of the best keyboard-centric apps for you, a keyboard lover.
You knew that these apps would be in this roundup, so I’ll take them out first. Hitting the shortcut to display any of these apps is opening such a large range of possibilities, it definitely wouldn’t fit into a single article. With both of these apps, you can dig into the deeper settings of your Mac, manipulate files in plenty of ways, and search through your computer in a way Spotlight envies. Launchbar and Alfred are the kind of apps that turn you into a keyboard-junkie by themselves.
Another easy pick, Keyboard Maestro defies the limits of what keyboard shortcuts can do. It allows you to create sequences of actions (macros) triggered by the keyboard or many other ways, such as system wake or wifi connection. You can organize your actions into palettes and only make them available from there, giving you almost infinite possibilities to activate your macros. It’s so much power, you can make any application keyboard-centric just by using this app.
Honestly, most window management apps could be here, like Spectacle, Divvy or Cinch; Moom just wins me over on personal preferences. It allows you to create specific window-sizes and assign keyboard shortcuts to them. That way, for example, you can designate your window to be only one-third of the screen or even move it to a different display with a keystroke. Moom and other window management apps are essentials to keyboard users, especially if they’re on a laptop, struggling to fit content on the screen.
Most may complain that the default Mail.app is no good to look at. That’s not a lie, although the real power of Mail is only unleashed after you tweak your workflow a bit and grab a few plugins. Mail Act-On the first and best, as it allows you to trigger Mail rules with keyboard shortcuts. It’s a beast working with MailTags, but a gem even on its own. For example, you can send emails perfectly formatted in HTML to Evernote with a single shortcut and some Applescript. Ain’t that wonderful?
If you just want a quick way to launch applications, perhaps the free Apptivate is your best shot. It lets you set quick shortcuts to any file in your Mac, including apps or even videos and music. What’s the most interesting about Apptivate are the combos of shortcuts it offers, for example, configuring an app to only open after 2 keyboard shortcuts are hit. Unfortunately, there’s no indication if you’re moving deeper within your shortcut sequences, so you’ve gotta work from memory.
Update: Actually, there is a way to see how deep you’re into a combo of shortcuts — just turn on “Suggestions” in Apptivate’s Preferences. Thanks to the Apptivate team for letting us know!
Scripts allow you to do wonders in your Mac, the only problem is activating them every time you need them. FastScripts not give you a quick access to most of the default scripts of your Mac from the menubar, but also lets you attach shortcuts to them, giving you an easy going way to trigger your favorite scripts from the keyboard. It is available with an unlimited trial with a limit of 10 script shortcuts — which maybe will be all the shortcuts you need.
Every previous mention is about triggering stuff, opening with your keyboard and navigating through your files. But what if you want to deal with the actual content in front of you from your keyboard, such as a website? This little beta, Shortcat, comes to your service. It searches your active window according to the terms you add as you call it from a shortcut. Then it highlights your options on the screen, which can also be accessed with an extra string. And you will never touch that mouse again.
If there’s one keyboard shortcut everyone knows, it is ⌘+Tab to open the application switcher. The one on the Mac is disappointing, especially if you manipulate more than a single instance from the same app. It’s the kind of thing to blame for your girlfriend having twenty Safari windows open without knowing it, causing her to call you complaining of the computer’s performance (true story). Hyperswitch brings window previews and allows you to select windows from the same app using the arrow keys and much more. It’s keyboard lover’s dream.
Just because you’re a keyboard lover doesn’t mean that you like typing at all. Actually, we try to avoid it as much as possible. TextExpander is easily the best known app for creating snippets of text triggered by tiny abbreviations; however, it is not about expanding into larger words as much as it is doing quick date maths, dealing with your clipboard, pressing common keys or creating templates for you to fill-in. Or maybe you just want to type your name quicker. TextExpander is there for you.
Truth be told, you can’t rely on your memory to keep track of every keyboard shortcut available out there in the wild. CheatSheet is a free app that, as you hold the ⌘ key for a few seconds will display every keyboard shortcut available from the active window. Then you can simply click on the action you want or use the prescribed string to proceed with your desired action. There’s also KeyCue for barely the same features, but that will set you back 25 bucks.
People say The Hit List is dead, and its users are switching to other GTD apps. Still, none of them offer what THL was always the best with: effortless interaction with the keyboard. THL went beyond the quick creation of tasks with shortcuts and introduced ways to move, manipulate and jump to different screens without leaving your keyboard even once. Plus easy, one-key shortcuts as those you find on Gmail and other web apps.
We reported before about The Hit List being abandonware back in October 2010. Seven months later, The Hit List hit the App Store without previous notice. Now yet again, it has been forsaken for more than a year with no public news from its developer, Andy Kim. I actually received an email from him a few weeks ago promising news from THL soon, though, so let’s cross our fingers for, at least, iCloud sync and the promise of more active development before Mavericks comes along.
There you have it, at your fingertips: a list of apps that will make you never touch your trackpad again. Ok, maybe that’s too much to expect, but at least you won’t be so dependent on it. Plus, with these apps, you just opened the possibilities of automatization in your Mac. If you don’t want any app at all, remember you can do a few magic tricks with keyboard shortcuts from the Keyboard settings at System Preferences. Or, with a bit more keyboard work, you could code up your own keyboard centric apps — and get the rest of us to switch to them!
What’s your favorite keyboard centric apps? We’d love to hear your favorites in the comments below.