Mouse-free Windows?
November 9, 2006 1:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I use Windows without touching a mouse? Will voice recognition software help?

I have increasingly severe wrist/shoulder pain which makes it impossible to use a mouse with either hand. I have tried MouseKeys but it's pretty pathetic and causes just as much strain as an actual mouse. I've also tried all different kinds of mouses (or mice, if you prefer), and nothing helps.

I would like to be able to control every aspect of Windows XP--menus, windows, dialogs, internet, etc.--without using a mouse.

I use a lot of keyboard shortcuts, but these are limited--there are many things which can't be done from the keyboard, e.g. especially things that would normally be accomplished by dragging.

(1) Is there any good software which will significantly expand my ability to do things using the keyboard?

(2) Better still, how much control over user interface elements would I have with Dragon Naturally Speaking? If it's worthwhile, do I need to shell out for the preferred (extra $100) or professional (extra $600) edition?

Thanks for your help.
posted by tabulem to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite just ran an article about this subject on Tuesday. Does that help?
posted by bDiddy at 1:14 PM on November 9, 2006

So you already tried things like the Vertical Mouse, trackballs, and graphics tablets? (I use the latter when my wrists start tingling - it's obviously pretty great with mouse gestures.)
posted by unmake at 1:38 PM on November 9, 2006

Actually, Windows Vista, to be released in January, but the RC2 is available on the internets for free and relatively legally at the moment, has built in speech recognition.

This speech recognition allows you to control the mouse by splitting the screen up into a grid. You can then tell it exactly what to click on. "Click 4" "Click 2" The grid gets smaller and more specific around the area you're focusing on.

You can also use intelligent application switching. "Switch to Notepad." "Switch to Rhapsody."

"Close this Window."

Here's a great demo that shows how accurate (and sometimes, unfortunately, not) it can be. It'll never be perfect, but it's constantly training and it's flexibility is pretty amazing. It's always going to be a bit slower than simply pointing and clicking, but that's the nature of the beast.
posted by disillusioned at 1:44 PM on November 9, 2006

You can do a great deal with the keyboard shortcuts. Some of my favorites:
Windows+D desktop. In any explorer window alt + D goes to the address bar. Backspace goes up a level in the directory. Context + W + F creates a new folder (and Context + W + T creates a new text file, etc.). Alt + tab is probably the biggest. Also get used to using windows + r to get to the run menu and then using that to launch programs. Add folders containing all your commonly used programs to the windows path so you can call them this way. Learn all the shift andthe arrow keys to select inclusively.)

Also, learn them not as keyboard shortcuts, but key combos. So Alt then v then i then s sorts a folder by file size.

There's many more and once you start looking you get pretty good at them.

Use firefox with caret browsing turned on. And install mouse gestures if you do have to use the mouse. I've made up some of my own custom gestures to reduce movement, like down + up takes me to the top of the page (it feels like opening a window blind) I have to do a lot of searching in my job and this particular gesture helps a lot.

You could always get a foot mouse if that doesn't help.
posted by miniape at 1:58 PM on November 9, 2006

Also, it may be just as bad or worse, but IBM sells a keyboard with a trackpoint. It the problem is in your hand and wrists mainly, it probably won't help, but it definitely reduces shoulder strain.
posted by miniape at 2:02 PM on November 9, 2006

Did anything consumer-level ever come of those systems developed a several years back that track what your eyeball is focused on and puts the cursor there?
posted by -harlequin- at 2:12 PM on November 9, 2006

The Dragon NaturallySpeaking does everything disillusioned mention Vista does. By the sound of it, the voice features of Vista are a clone of Dragon NaturallySpeaking. The reconition will naturally be much much more accurate with Dragon. The cheap version is fine.

My favorite alternative mousing device is the Fellowes Internet Touchpad. It is cheap and effective.

But, note that, if you are in as much pain as you sound you are, you should take more alarm than you seems you do. Getting pain in your mouse hand isn't just a matter of changing the mouse, you also have to take action so your hand can heal the wound that you have already openned.

Read the Brown CS page on RSI.

Read It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals

Read the other ask meta threads or RSI.

Then go to physiotherapy until the pain go away.
posted by gmarceau at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2006

Yes, if it is that bad, you do need to see a medical professional about it. I hated the vertical mouse, but love the Airobic Quill Mouse (using one right now). It is basically a platform that you can completely rest your hand on so there is no strain unless you are moving it, which you can do without using using your hand or wrist at all. Of course it might not go so well with your shoulder...

I would like to be able to control every aspect of Windows XP--menus, windows, dialogs, internet, etc.--without using a mouse.

You do have the option turned on that underlines accelerator keys in menus and dialogs, yes? I ask because the things you mention there can all be done quite easily with the keyboard. Remember, Alt+underlined letter = the menu or dialog item with that underline. To maximize a window: Alt+Space, x. Firefox's find as you type makes mouseless internet soooooo much easier. Use a third-party launcher designed for keyboard use instead of the Start Menu.

What sort of things do you find you really need a mouse for? Tell us, even the draggy things, and we might be able to give you some keyboard suggestions you might not have thought of.
posted by grouse at 2:46 PM on November 9, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, there is so much useful info here.

Suppose you are using Thunderbird and you want to put a message in a folder, can you do it without dragging?

Or how about just moving a file from one folder to another?

The Vista demo was impressive. The reviews I read suggest Vista is not quite ready for public consumption yet, and I have a lot of specialized software for my work so I would probably run into issues if I upgraded. If Dragon does all that kind of stuff, then I think I'll give it a try.

Re being alarmed, you are right, that's what all my friends say too. I know I need a month without even looking a monitor, let alone a mouse. But I just can't stay away!
posted by tabulem at 3:32 PM on November 9, 2006

Suppose you are using Thunderbird and you want to put a message in a folder, can you do it without dragging?

Alt+M, M, then use letters and arrow keys. I believe there is an extension to add numerical accelerators to these menus as was the case in Netscape Mail 4.x. I used to use those in Netscape and it was a lot better than arrow keys+letters, so I recommend investigating that. But even moreso, I would recommend switching to PC-Pine, which is much easier for keyboard access.

To move a file, just cut with Ctrl+X, paste with Ctrl+V.

But I just can't stay away!

I know how that is. Well, if you won't do what you know you should, you must install Workrave to ensure that you will get frequent breaks. I think that is the number one ingredient in my RSI recovery (physio is probably number two). Do it now.
posted by grouse at 4:08 PM on November 9, 2006

Suppose you are using Thunderbird and you want to put a message in a folder, can you do it without dragging?
The extension
does this in a pretty nice way, hit G,S or C (for Go, Save or Copy), then begin typing the folder name and it gives a list of possible folders which match, and prunes the possibilities down as you keep typing and reducing the possible matches.
posted by Boobus Tuber at 5:32 PM on November 9, 2006

TBird, tab moves to folder list, then content. Highlight the email you want to move, use the "rightclick" key on the keyboard, choose Move to and follow the menu choices.

I find it hard to use the web without a mouse, but there are keyboard alternatives for most productivity software.
posted by theora55 at 9:50 PM on November 9, 2006

Hi tabulem,

I found myself in the situation at the beginning of this year where I was unable to use a mouse at all due to significant pain.

I used Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional for a month or two, and found I was able to be almost completely hands free.

I feverishly read everything I could on writing macros etc for DNS, and would highly recommend the Knowbrainer forums - I found these the most active and knowledgeable forums on speech recognition.

Spend the money on a decent noise cancelling headset.

Additionally, if you only read one book, I agree with GMarceau on It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals.

Feel free to email me if you need more advice.
posted by girlgeeknz at 3:41 AM on November 10, 2006

> But I just can't stay away!

These are disaster words. If you continue with business as usual, the wound in your wrists will continue to worsen, until your pain reaches your pain tolerance thresold. At that point you will be in serious irrecovrable trouble. Save yourself now while it is still possible.

Look, nobody twists their ankle and expect to go back playing basketball the next day. Those who try hurt themselves deeper, until their ankle is mangled so bad it never heals quite right. Same with the wrists.

Go read the Sorehands mailling list archives, and see how much trouble you could get yourself into, then reconsider your situation.

> I know I need a month without even looking a monitor

For all typing of English, there is Dragon NaturallySpeaking. If your are a programmer, then schedule to spend a month or two pair programming exclusively. Read more papers (you are a grad student after all), read more books.

Here is my plan for you. Workrave is free, the Fellowes Touchpad is 25$, Dragon NaturallySpeaking is 100$, and a good mike is also 100$. The Kinesis Ergo keyboard also helps, and that's an extra 250$. Max 475$. That is easy money to save your hands.

Then go see a doctor and start physiotherapy.
posted by gmarceau at 7:51 AM on November 10, 2006

Response by poster: I'm not actually a grad student anymore, I was but I graduated...

I do a lot of programming in my research. Obviously that will be a serious challenge with Dragon. The "pair programming" idea is an interesting one. It occurred to me that there may be grad students in my new lab who are beginner or intermediate programmers who would actually stand to gain a lot of knowledge by sitting at the console and typing everything that i say. It could be a win-win situation.
posted by tabulem at 9:38 AM on November 10, 2006

If you are ready to program in Scheme, you sould try DivaScheme, my editor mode for DrScheme. It is light on the hands, because most of the functionality is unchorded, and commands operates on whole expressions by default. It also makes it easier to dictate editting command to your peer coder.

That's what I've been doing all year, pair coding via DivaScheme.
posted by gmarceau at 12:41 AM on November 11, 2006

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