As I've written before, Windows is immensely better than OS X at keyboard navigation. This makes a real difference in the quality of the experience and especially the speed with which you can get work done. I've been thinking about how to work around this, and the only answer is another key on the keyboard, named Menu.

For the three percent of the audience who don't know about this virtue of Windows, on that OS you can access the File menu by pressing Alt-F, the Edit menu by pressing Alt-E, and so on; if two menus begin with the same letter, one of the other letters in one of them will be helpfully highlighted so you know how to get to it. Then when the menu drops down, each entry has a letter (usually the first) highlighted; typing that letter invokes that menu choice. So, for example, on virtually every Windows app, Alt-F A invokes Save as. Once you get used to this, when you're motoring away in heads-down mode in some program, the only time you have to move your hand away from the keyboard is either to use your mouse to do something really graphical.

Yes, Mac apps have keyboard shortcuts, but they suck:

  • Not all menu items have them.
  • The key combinations were apparently dreamed up by a madcap humorist with the help of a random number generator, and remembering them requires that I dedicate memory resources in my brain to the task, which is stupid.
  • I've been using this thing for a year now, and the little glyphs that are supposed to denote the ctrl, option, and shift keys remain opaque to me.

Since all of these keys are pretty fully used, and you can't break the old keyboard shortcuts, I suspect that the only answer is another key. There's bloody well room, Macs are underconfigured with keys anyhow, I'd really like to have a PgUp or a real Delete key but I'd cheerfully settle for a Menu key, I'd be able to work faster and everything would be more consistent.

Now, there is one thing profoundly wrong with the way Windows does this: the Alt key is modal; that means, if you accidentally press it, the application isn't getting your keystrokes any more until you do the menu thing or hit Esc. This is stupid and irritating and need not be replicated on the Mac.

The Mac's menu system, fixed in place and shared between apps, is in all other respects better than Windows’ - all they need to do is fix this one major botch and OS X would be miles ahead.

author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
picture of the day
April 20, 2003
· Technology (77 fragments)
· · Mac OS X (113 more)

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