Mac Gems: Vimari brings more keyboard control to Safari

Longtime readers of the Mac Gems column know that I'm a keyboard person. With few exceptions, I prefer to keep my fingers on the keyboard and off my mouse, trackpad, or trackball--sticking to the keyboard is better ergonomically, and it's often faster, as well.

But there's one app where it's been difficult for me to go keyboard-only: my Web browser. There's no easy--or fast--way to use the keyboard to navigate websites, open links, and the like. OS X includes some special accessibility features that let you use the keyboard for these tasks, but those features were designed with accessibility, not productivity, in mind.

So I was happy to discover Vimari, an extension for Safari, based on the nifty Vimium extension for Chrome, that lets you open links and more using the keyboard. (Vimari is much more limited than Vimium, focusing on links; Vimium provides a slew of additional navigation shortcuts.)

Once you've installed the Vimari extension in Safari, pressing Vimari's Link Hint shortcut (by default, Control+F) places a two-letter keyboard shortcut, highlighted in yellow, over every link on the current webpage. Shortcuts for links in particular areas of the screen tend to start with the same letter: For example, as you can see in the screenshot to the right, links in the navigation bar at the top of the webpage have shortcuts beginning with D; shortcuts for links in the middle of the page start with K.

To open a link, you just press its two letters in succession--for example, for FJ, you'd press F, then J. (In fact, when you press the first letter, Vimari shows only those shortcuts beginning with that letter, removing the shortcuts for all other links.) Safari behaves as if you'd clicked the respective link with the pointer, opening the link in the current tab or a new one, depending on the link's code.

If you'd prefer to force links to open in a new tab, simply add Shift to your Vimari shortcut. So, by default, you'd press Shift+Control+F. (You can choose a different shortcut in Vimari's settings screen, in the Extensions pane of Safari's preferences window.) You can also configure Vimari to not require a modifier key at all to enter Link Hint mode--you'd just press your chosen letter key--but I don't recommend this, as Vimari can get confused when, say, you're typing in a text field.

Vimari also offers limited navigation shortcuts. Control+K scrolls up the current webpage, and Control+J scrolls down, just as if you'd used the arrow keys. Control+Q switches to the next tab to the left, while Control+W switches to the next tab to the right. I especially like the scrolling shortcuts, as they mean I don't need to move my hands from the main keyboard area. However, the shortcuts for Next Tab and Previous Tab aren't ideal for quickly switching between numerous tabs--there's a roughly two-second delay between when you press, say, the shortcut for Next Tab and when you can press that same shortcut again. Because of this, I generally use Safari's own next/previous-tab shortcuts. (The Vimari documentation claims you can use Control+Z and Control+X to move back and forward, respectively, in your history, but I couldn't get those features to work.)

My only other complain is that on some pages (such as the ESPN home page), Vimari's link labels don't get the yellow highlight, making them difficult to differentiate from the webpage's text.

If you're a keyboard jockey like me, Vimari makes Safari a little bit more appealing and usable.

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This story, "Mac Gems: Vimari brings more keyboard control to Safari" was originally published by MacCentral.

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