Wed 19 May 2010
To borrow a phrase from Mr. Jinks[i], “I hate meeses to pieces”. Before you call the SPCA, let me be clear that I’m talking about computer mice and not Mus musculus, the common household mouse. Further, I should narrow my context to that of programming because in many other areas of computing the mouse is indispensable.
In programming, however, the mouse can be one of the greatest productivity sinkholes. Time is wasted each time you lift your hand from the keyboard to grab the mouse, and more time is wasted when you move your hand back to home row in preparation for more typing.
So what’s the solution? Keep your hands on the keyboard! To do this use the SlickEdit® command line and bind commonly used commands to keys.
SlickEdit provides three ways to launch operations: key bindings, commands, and menus. OK, there are actually four, if you include icons. Since the focus of this article is how to keep your hands on the keyboard, I was going to skip that one.
Key bindings are the fastest way to launch an operation. They can be pressed at any time while editing. A key binding associates a key sequence with a command. A key sequence is a series of key strokes. Anything you do frequently should be bound to an easily remembered key sequence.
For example the key sequence Ctrl+A means hold down the Control key, typically labeled “Ctrl” on most keyboards, and press the A key. The letter A is represented as an uppercase letter, but this does not mean that you are to press the Shift key. If you are supposed to press the Shift key, the sequence will be written as Ctrl+Shift+A. We use the uppercase A to match the letter on the keyboard.
Commands are useful for less frequently used operations or operations that take arguments. They are executed from the SlickEdit command line and are nearly as fast as key bindings. Press the Escape key (in most emulations) to activate the command line, which is displayed at the bottom of the SlickEdit application window.
Figure 1, SlickEdit with Command Line
It offers a full command history and completions for command names and arguments. Use the arrow keys or the mouse to scroll through previous commands. As you type, a list of possible completions is displayed. Use the arrow keys or mouse to select a completion. SlickEdit stores recorded macros as commands. You can also use Slick-C to write new commands. Use the _command keyword to identify a macro as a command. Any command can be bound to a key sequence for faster launching.
Menus are accessed via the mouse or a keyboard shortcut. Menus are great for infrequently used items that may not be worth a key binding. They are also helpful to learn about new capabilities. But if you use an operation frequently, you will be more productive by binding it to a key sequence or launching it from the command line. Many menus list a keyboard shortcut to launch the operation. This is just the key binding for the associated command. So when you use a keyboard shortcut, you are really just using a key binding.
You can also operate the main menu through hotkeys. Enable the use of hotkeys by selecting Tools > Options > General, selecting the General tab, and putting a check in “Alt menu hotkeys”. This will be selected by default in many emulations. Once enabled, pressing the Alt key will display an underscore beneath each menu option, indicating the letter to press to activate that option. This is not as fast as key bindings, but it does keep your hands on the keyboard and is much faster than using the mouse. In some cases the menu hot key sequence is a good mnemonic for the command. For example, Alt+P, E (to bring up Project > Properties) may be easier to remember and type than binding project-edit to Ctrl plus some function key.
SlickEdit presents icons in a series of toolbars related to different tasks. Toolbars can be customized with an extensive set of additional icons. Icons are useful for die-hard mouse users or for setting up infrequently used operations for which you have a hard time remembering the associated command or key binding.
The Golden Triangle
The three methods (excluding icons) to launch an operation are related, forming the Golden Triangle of operation launching. If you know how to execute an operation with one of these, you can easily configure SlickEdit to launch the operation using the other two methods. Commands form the base for the other two…which is why it is shown as the apex of the triangle (Damn it, Jim, I’m an engineer, not an artist!). Maybe I should have used a Golden U or something.
Figure 2 the Golden Triangle; behold its majesty!
From Key Binding to Command
Sometimes you may want to change the key sequence to which an operation is bound. You first need to find the command associated with that key sequence. Use the what-is command from the SlickEdit command line or select Help > What Is Key from the main menu. The command line will be replaced with the prompt, “What is key:” Enter the key sequence in question, like Ctrl+A (hold down the Control key and press A), and SlickEdit displays the associated command. In CUA emulation, SlickEdit will output, “Ctrl+A runs the command select-all”. You can use the same approach to determine the commands associated with mouse events. After you run what-is, click any mouse button and you will be prompted with a list of mouse events. Select one from the list and SlickEdit displays the associated command. For example, if you select mbutton-down in CUA emulation, SlickEdit will output, “MButtonDn runs the command mou-paste”.
From Command to Key Binding
To find the key binding for a command, use the where-is command or select Tools > Options > Key Bindings from the main menu. The where-is command works just like what-is, except you type in the command name and it outputs the key sequence. The Key Bindings dialog displays a list of the commands. You can scroll through the list or search for a command by typing the command in the text box at the top. The key binding for the selected command is displayed in the dialog.
Figure 3, Key Bindings Dialog
Modifying Key Bindings
The Key Bindings dialog can also be used to set a key binding. Type the command in the Command field, or select one from the list. Then click the “Add Key or Mouse Click” button. Now type the key sequence you want to use. For example, to bind a command to Ctrl+A, hold down the Control key and press A. To bind a command to a mouse event, click any mouse button and then select the appropriate event from the list. When you are finished, click the Bind button. To exit the dialog, click Done.
From Menu to Command
If the menu entry displays a keyboard shortcut, you can quickly find the associated command using what-is and entering the key sequence. If the menu entry does not display a shortcut, then finding the command for an entry involves a little more work.
SlickEdit provides a convenient UI under Macro > Menus that allows you to view and modify menus in SlickEdit. To find commands for the items on the main menu, select “_mdi_menu” from the list and then click the Open button. You are presented with a menu hierarchy that you can expand to find the menu entry in question. Once selected, information about the entry is displayed including the command executed. You can use this menu to add or change the shortcut for a menu item. Doing so has the same effect as using the Key Bindings dialog to bind the menu entry’s command to a key sequence.
Figure 4, Menu Editor
Some menu entries are added dynamically by SlickEdit, so you may have to search the code to find the associated command. One example of this is Build > Java Options, which is only present when a Java project is active. Unfortunately, finding the associated commands for these entries can be very difficult and not easily covered in an article like this.
It is also easy to find the commands in the context menu for the editor window. The context menu, itself, contains an entry to “Edit This Menu”. Selecting this option brings up a dialog that lists the menu entries and associated information, including the command. Use this dialog to modify the context menus. Note that there are two context menus for the editor window: one when a selection is made and one when no selection is made. You can view or change the function that is used for these menus by selecting Tools > Options > File Extension Setup and selecting the Advanced tab.
From Key Binding to Menu and Back
Menu entries map to key bindings through commands, so key bindings are not directly associated with menu entries. To map from a key binding to a menu or vice versa, you need to look up the associated command. That Golden U is looking better all the time!
Customizing Toolbar Icons
The focus of this article has been to help you keep your hands on the keyboard, so icons weren’t included in the Golden Triangle. Besides, then I would have needed a Golden Square or some other form of rhombus, and that just doesn’t sound cool. You may find it helpful to change the set of displayed toolbars, add or remove icons, or change the behavior for an icon. SlickEdit uses the term “toolbar” to refer to both icon bars and tool windows. To change the set of displayed toolbars, select View > Toolbars and check/uncheck one of the listed toolbars.
The list is divided into two groups. The top group is comprised of tool windows, like the Symbol view and the Projects view. The bottom group is made up of icon bars.
Additional options are available on the Toolbar Customization dialog by selecting View > Toolbars > Customize. The Toolbars tab provides a way to control the visibility of the toolbars. The Toolbars tab allows you to set options for which toolbars are visible, whether they are dockable, etc.
The Categories tab displays the complete set of available icons. These can be added to any icon toolbar by dragging them to the desired location. All of the icons have pre-defined behaviors, except the set in the “User Definable Tools” category. Use these to add your own functionality.
Each icon has an associated command that defines what happens when it is clicked. To view or change that command, right-click on the icon and select Properties. The icon needs to be located in a toolbar to do this. You cannot access the properties for an icon in the Toolbar Customizations dialog.
“Exit, Stage Left”
OK, that one is a Snagglepuss reference[ii]. Whatever angst I previously expressed for mice has now been transferred to the Golden Polygon of Unspecified Dimensions. Regardless of the shape, you now have the tools you need to configure SlickEdit to work the way YOU think it should, using the key bindings you find natural. This is one of the essential steps in being a true power programmer.