Application shortcuts

Here is one work­flow thing I use all the time and I want to share —us­ing key­board short­cuts to switch be­tween ap­pli­ca­tions.

I’m talk­ing not about those sys­tem short­cuts —cmd+tab/alt+tab. They are aw­ful —be­cause they are modal. You can’t tell at any given time what would be the re­sult of us­ing such short­cut: those short­cuts switch fo­cus be­tween the re­cent used apps, so you need to re­mem­ber which ap­pli­ca­tions you used and in which or­der. Which could be rather frus­trat­ing when you use more than two ap­pli­ca­tions.

The so­lu­tion is rather easy (my col­league Vi­taly Harisov shown me it at de­cem­ber 2009): you just need to set a short­cut to any of­ten-used ap­pli­cation.

In 2009 I used Spaces in Mac OS for this —you could make a lot of spaces, each with just one app, and then set up the short­cut for each of those spaces. We used short­cuts like op­tion+A, op­tion+S, op­tion+D etc. —those keys are al­ways un­der your fin­gers, and the sym­bols you’d get by those na­tive short­cuts are not that use­ful any­way, so we could live with­out them.

Vi­taly of­fered me this lay­out: in the cen­tre raw of let­ters there were short­cuts for browsers, so you could switch be­tween of­ten to check your markup (some­thing had changed there since 2009, but the main idea is clear):

  • op­tion+A —Opera, that was our main browser, so let­ter A;
  • op­tion+SSafari;
  • op­tion+D —IE, D —'cause it was Dumb;
  • op­tion+F —Fire­fox.

Other apps were some­where near:

  • op­tion+Q —Ter­mi­nal, Q —rather close to other short­cuts;
  • op­tion+W —Finder, for the same rea­son;
  • op­tion+E —The main code Edi­tor.

I also added short­cuts us­ing shift, so op­tion+shift+E went for the sec­ondary code ed­i­tor, op­tion+shift+A —for the Opera Next etc.

Right now I have short­cuts for mes­sen­ger, mail, im­age ed­i­tor, iA Writer and a lot of other stuff I use.

With one Mac OS ver­sion Spaces be­come worse to use with short­cuts and at the same time I bought great Al­fred Pow­er­pack, which had a very handy way to set any apps or files to key­board short­cuts. With Al­fred the setup of such short­cuts be­come so much eas­ier, I got the sync for those set­tings across my two Mac­Books us­ing Drop­box, and the switch be­tween apps be­come even faster than with Spaces (even af­ter dis­abling the space switch­ing an­i­ma­tion). As I know, there are a bunch of sim­i­lar apps for Mac like Quick­Sil­ver or Bet­ter­Touch­Tool, that can do the same trick. I think there should be apps for other OS like this, so if there are —write me and I’ll add them here.

Any­way, you re­ally should try them —your work­flow would be so much faster and seam­less with them:

  1. When you’ll need to switch to any app, you'll just press its keys. You don’t need to re­mem­ber which app you used be­fore, if it is al­ready launched or not (Al­fred would launch it for you if it’s not) and about a lot of other need­less hassles.

  2. It’s way much faster and eas­ier than us­ing other ways of switch­ing —like us­ing your mouse or touch­pad, or call­ing apps us­ing Spot­light, Quick­sil­ver or Al­fred prompts.

  3. And if you’d use the same short­cuts in teams, it would be re­ally easy to come and show any­thing on your col­leagues’ ma­chines —you’ll know what to press to get the kind of app you need, even if your friends uses vim in­stead of your lovely ST, or an­other browser, or any­thing else. And they could have Dock hid­den in a place you’d never guess (or an­other mon­i­tor). But with the agree­ment on the com­mon short­cuts for apps you could just work with their en­vi­ron­ment as with yours.