While it often takes a bit of practice to familiarize yourself and get skilled with mouse-less computer use, the effort can be well worth your while. Any data entry worker or software developer will tell you that keyboard and keyboard shortcuts allow you to accomplish tasks with a lot more speed than you would with a mouse. Today we’ll look at how to apply that philosophy in your internet browsing.
An Introduction to Mouse-Less Browsing
Someone unfamiliar with it may be confused: how do you follow links without a mouse to click on them? Most mouse-less solutions overlay each clickable item on a webpage with a unique “hint”, which is basically a temporary keyboard shortcut that allows you to click the item.
Rest assured though that if the hints don’t work, most of these apps and extensions will still allow you to use a mouse when you need it.
We’ll first cover a few extensions available for popular browsers, and then we’ll explore some alternative browsers designed primarily for browsing without a mouse. All are free, and most are open source.
Calling itself “the hacker’s browser,” Vimium is a free extension for Chrome and one of the most popular Vim-based keyboard browsing utilities.
Vimium, as well as many of the other software we’re looking at today, will say they are based on or inspired by Vim, which is a command line text editor used primarily by developers. First released in 1991 for the Amiga, Vim has since seen cross-platform development that continues to this day, and its influence is prolific.
If you’ve not used command line text editors like Vim before, using Vimium may take a little practice. Vimium’s website features a short video demo if you’re curious about the experience.
If you’re a Firefox user and want to try Vimium, there’s a port available called Vimium-FF.
Download: Vimium for Chrome (Free)
Tridactyl is similar to Vimium, but exclusively an extension for Firefox. It’s designed to emulate Vimperator, a keyboard-based Firefox extension that’s no longer compatible with the latest versions of Firefox.
If you’re a web developer, Tridactyl might appeal to you with its HTML development tools. It’s very customizable too, allowing you to add your own commands or edit Tridactyl’s standard commands.
To start using it quickly, type f while viewing a webpage, and hints will pop up as little red icons. Type the hint you see on the link or object you want to click, and Tridactyl will click it for you. Accomplishing tasks like entering text-input mode and navigating tabs might take a little more time to get used to, but the hint function is a great introduction.
Download: Tridactyl for Firefox (Free)
DeadMouse is a free Chrome extension that takes a slightly different approach than Vimium and Tridactyl. Rather than creating unique hints for each link on the page, DeadMouse simply allows you to start typing the text in the link you want to click, and the extension will try to identify the link with a wiggle animation. You can then either hit Enter to click it or Tab to go to the next closest match.
If that sounds confusing, DeadMouse’s website allows you to try it without installing it, and you’ll see it’s an uncomplicated approach to keyboard-based browsing.
Some might consider DeadMouse’s process to be more intuitive than the other extensions, in which the created hints are not precise representations of the links they’re highlighting. Of course, a good amount of links you encounter and use on the internet are pictures or icons, not text, and DeadMouse might not handle those correctly.
As it doesn’t have as many features as other options on this list, you might choose DeadMouse if you don’t consider yourself any kind of power user, and you just want the option to quickly select text links when it’s convenient.
Download: DeadMouse for Chrome (Free)
Qutebrowser is a free and open-source browser designed in the spirit of Vimprobable, another Vim-based browser that’s no longer in development.
Like the other Vim-based browsers and extensions, you must enter f and hints to follow links on the screen, as demonstrated in the photo.
Qutebrowser also has a very minimal interface, so to access most features, like bookmarks and downloads, you must enter the correct command. You’ll also find it highly customizable, although you must be prepared to edit configuration files.
Originally written by visually-impaired developer Karl Dahlke, Edbrowse is unique in this list as the only command-line browser. That means it allows you to, through the terminal, browse the internet line-by-line.
If that sounds slow and cumbersome, that’s because it is—at first. But if you take the time to learn its commands and interface, you may change your mind about that.
As Karl explains in the user guide, most people use their eyes to scan websites to sort and get to the info they really want. Edbrowse’s commands offload that work from your eyes to your computer. If you’ve ever used the common Ctrl + F shortcut to quickly find a certain word for phrase on a page, it’s essentially the same function.
You may be asking how Lynx can be useful to anyone. It’s useful if you browse a lot of server files, or if you’re using a “headless” operating system (like Ubuntu Server) with little or no graphical capabilities. Additionally, if you have access to a very limited internet bandwidth, Lynx uses a significantly smaller amount relative to what you would use accessing the same websites with a traditional browser.
Lynx is free and open source, and its developers have been actively improving it since the 1990s. Thus, even if it doesn’t do many things modern browsers do, you can trust it’s achieving its goals and purposes to the highest degree possible.
Get Around the Web With Just a Keyboard
There are more mouse-less browsing solutions, although many are defunct projects (often the inspiration for those we did mention) or are extensions that only work with older browsers. Some are still somewhat popular, but we didn’t cover them because browsing the internet with non-updated applications is dangerous.
If you want to continue making your workflow more efficient, there are plenty of ways to more efficiently utilize your computer’s keyboard, even beyond internet browsing.