Surfing The Web Without a Mouse [Linux]

If you are a fan of ’90s movies like me, you will see that all the geeks and hackers have their hands stuck to their keyboards and never use their mice. I’ve always been curious to know how they were achieving this, and what they could be typing so fast all the time. It seems impossible to do the same today. How would you go on Facebook or YouTube without using your mouse? Well, if you are really dedicated to look cool, don’t have a mouse, or want to become faster on the keyboard, there are a couple of web navigators that can be entirely controlled by keyboard shortcuts.

As a first example, xxxterm is a very powerful browser entirely written in C and enhanced for security. You can control by default the saved cookies, scripts, and certificates of the webpages that you visit. What makes xxxterm really interesting is that it adopts vi-like shortcuts for the navigation. If you are not familiar with vi, I invite you to take a look at one of my previous articles about its basics.

surfing_without_a_mouse-xxterm

On Ubuntu, you can install xxxterm with a simple command:

 sudo apt-get install xxxterm

Again, if you have little experience in vi, you will not be lost here. A good example: the command “:w” will save the current session while “:wq” will save and quit for a future restoration of the tabs. The main issue with surfing without a mouse is the need to select links. When you are on a web page, how can you click on “Home” or go to the website’s search engine if you don’t have a mouse? The answer lies in the command “.” (dot) or “f” which will highlight all of the links on a page and attribute each one to a number. You can then type the number corresponding to the link and navigate; or type the first letter of the link to reduce the number of links highlighted. Be careful with the last technique because xxxterm is case sensitive: “m” is different from “M“.

surfing_without_a_mouse-xxterm_links_highlighting

For a better navigation experience, I invite you to visit the wiki page of the project where all the shortcuts are explained. However, if you just want to test it now, here are a few commands to start with right away:

  • “/” for searching within a page
  • “Ctrl+r” to refresh
  • Backspace to go to the previous page
  • Up and down arrows to scroll
  • “Shift+f” for the favorites
  • “Ctrl+t” for a new tab
  • “Ctrl+w” to close a tab
  • “Ctrl+arrow key” to switch the view between tabs
  • “p” to paste
  • “.” to highlight links
  • “i” to focus on the page input
  • Escape to remove focus (just like Vi)

“Uzbl” means “usable” in lolspeak. Also written in C, the development of this browser is incomplete, yet it is already one of the best minimalist navigators. It has everything: scripts, downloads, history, form filling, etc. Except for tab navigation: one instance per window or nothing. However, the uzbl-tabbed browser will soon correct that.

On Ubuntu, start with

sudo apt-get install uzbl

The shortcuts are a bit different from xxxterm’s, but again, some of them are very similar to Vi, so you should not be too lost.

  • “o” to open a URL
  • “b” to go back
  • “fl” to highlight links

surfing_without_a_mouse-uzbl_links_highlighting

  • “Fl” to highlight links and open one of them in a new window
  • “w” for a new window
  • “c” to close a window
  • The traditional set j, k, h, l to move within a page
  • “Ctrl+i” to focus on the page input
  • Escape to remove focus

For a more exhaustive list of shortcuts and commands, I invite you to go on the official wiki, or the Archlinux wiki which is also pretty complete.

Personally, I really like Uzbl. Even if it is not complete yet, it seems very promising, and perfect for small or old computers. Xxxterm is not bad either, and the vi-like behavior is very attractive. For more keyboard-based browsers, you might also want to try out Vimperator – a fork of Firefox with the same shortcuts as Vim. There is no doubt about it: if you really want to look like a cool (’90s) geek while surfing, these browsers are made for you.

Which one do you prefer? Do you stick with the mouse? Are there any other shortcuts that you would like to share? Please let us know in the comments.