Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On Chromebooks - Second Week [Part 02]

Shortcuts to happiness

It is no secret that I love shortcuts in my computing experience. I like the built-in shortcuts. I like custom macro actions. I like shortcuts I can define for myself. I've even caused problems for myself by becoming too reliant on the shortcuts I've programmed into my mouse at work. In all the time I've spent learning the Windows computing environment, I've become very accustomed to the shortcuts offered by Windows and I've immediately noticed their absence where ChromeOS diverges from Windows.

For instance, there is no need for a Windows key in ChromeOS, yet I continually try to press it to open the "search" (where all of the Chrome and Google Play apps reside). There is, in fact a key to accomplish this action, but Google placed it where the caps lock would normally reside. I use the word "normally" because it is normal for me. Of course, if I had used ChromeOS all my life and was moving to Windows, I would find the placement of the Windows key strange. But that was never an option, so let's ignore it.

If I connect a standard Windows keyboard to my Chromebook, I can observe the Windows key is interpreted as the search key. The caps lock key is interpreted as the caps lock key. Therefore, my assessment of the situation is that Google decided to change the caps lock and... well, I am not sure what to call it now. Is it the search key or the windows key? This depends on the environment, but I think a universal term would be convenient. It is probably something else in whatever Apple calls their operating system. It is the menu key, perhaps. The UX dongle. Anyway, this Chromebook keyboard has placed the UX dongle where the caps lock would be located on almost any other keyboard and I am not certain I am in favor of this decision.

I have noted there is a shortcut to the caps lock function via alt+UX Dongle. This isn't horrible, but it will take some measure of adjustment. I have also noted ChromeOS will allow me to change the UX dongle to a caps lock key and assign some other combination of alt+key to the search function it is assigned by default in ChromeOS. This seems reasonable, but I am not completely sold on doing so. Should I need to powerwash my Chromebook and move to a different channel, I would have to remember to make this change again. This isn't a hardship, simply a matter of whether I want to remember to do so each time or simply become accustomed to using the key the way my Chromebook is asking me to.

The print screen combinations for ChromeOS are a bit more streamlined in my opinion. Perhaps this is because it is so clearly laid out in the help sections for the OS, whereas in Windows there is some mystery as to when, why and with what button combinations the print screen feature will work, The task switcher button is expected and this in concert with the ctrl key will capture your screen. Add shift and it will capture the app in focus. That is fairly simple to remember.

F2 is more problematic. In Windows, this is the default key for rename across all applications. In ChromeOS there is presumed to be no need for a universal rename/insert function. I have found a replacement in ctrl+enter which seems situational, but perhaps I have just not explored it enough. There is, of course, always the option to rebind some other key, but as stated before I am not necessarily interested in this. I have also observed that using a mouse button bound to F2 has no meaning in ChromeOS. It doesn't recognize the command at all.

F5 is not refresh in ChromeOS. It is the task switching button. Refresh is bound to F3 instead. Aside from this undercutting my old concept for a web design company named F5 (for refresh or refreshing), it isn't that terrible of a change. I do find myself pressing the task switcher by accident, though, as the positioning is different enough to confuse my unfocused muscle memory. I don't think I hold this change against ChromeOS as much as I simply wonder why it is necessary. Why move refresh at all? Most people would be familiar with the F5 placement, so why not just arrange things according to this familiarity? These are probably not questions I can ever answer, but there they are.

Otherwise, all of the shortcut keys in ChromeOS appear to work exactly as I would expect them to, which is a bonus. I haven't attained enough distance from either computing environment (nor do I think I am likely to) to be able to say objectively which arrangement is better. My current conclusion is that neither is better, but since once is more pervasive it should be used as a standard. Therefore I see the changes made in ChromeOS as a disadvantage instead of simply as a change.

I try to assess all of this via the perspective that versatility breeds complication. In Windows I can assign complex macros to my mouse buttons. In ChromeOS, I can do the same, but not natively - I still need a Windows computer nearby to program the mouse. The macros I program in Windows don't necessarily work in ChromeOS and the macros I program for ChromeOS don't necessarily work in Windows (there is a little overlap). No real advantage there to either system.

The more I use ChromeOS, the more clearly I see that the goal here is simplicity. I want to replace my Windows computer, so I keep trying to complicate things. Doing all the activities I have become accustomed to is complicated. I don't think ChromeOS will ever "get there" in terms of what I am trying to do with it. I don't think the people developing it have those intentions. ChromeOS is a beautifully simple and focused environment. It is meant for simple things and it is meant to do them simply. I am starting to see how that can be good, even though I foster disappointments over the things I hoped for when beginning this process.

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