Focus Follow Mouse and other *nix wonders

Back in the days at the UCSD Center for fMRI, I had the opportunity to get my hands dirty with a few types of *nix systems that most people have never heard of, much less use. My boss was also pretty keen on very specific configurations that he insisted his employees put on their computers for those infrequent times he’d be on our workstations. For the record, they were:

  • Always use Emacs
  • Make sure that key to the left of the “A” key was your control key, map it to control if it wasn’t already
  • Make sure focus follows mouse set to enabled.
These are no big deal on various *nix systems, but to most Mac people, completely novel ideas

Caps Lock to Ctrl

Briefly, that control key thing. I hated it at first. Then I started using Emacs quite a bit and it made sense. It much better on your poor little pinky finger to press down without having to contort your hand. Old Solaris systems actually made that the hardware control key. Any other keyboard has to be remapped via software so “caps lock” wasn’t really caps lock. I highly recommend it, but people are soooo confused when they’re using my machine and the caps lock doesn’t work. Or control doesn’t work and makes all their text in capitals.

Focus Follows Mouse

I don’t know why I forget to do this one. The idea is that window focus (the act of becoming active) can be controlled by simply moving your mouse over the window rather than having to physically click on it and bring the window to the foreground. FFM is particularly handy because the window isn’t brought to the foreground, but is still takes input from the keyboard. I use this most often when working with the terminal – where often I only care most about the last several lines of output, and not all the clutter of text and OS UI above it. It leaves the main window that might be referencing right where it is.

On your Mac, open Terminal, and do this:

defaults write com.apple.terminal FocusFollowsMouse -string YES

Quit terminal. Re-open, and open a second terminal window (not tab). Hover your mouse over one of them and start typing. Now, hover your mouse over the other one and type. See what happens? If everything worked properly, the typing occurs in the window your mouse is hovered over. The only caveat is that it acts a little funny if the terminal is in the background to another app, but it still works. I found that sometimes you have to hover out & over another app then back to the other term window. Not a huge deal, I guess. Try it out. If you don’t like it, change the above command from … YES to … NO

It’s a time saver and convenience – especially useful on constrained displays. You might just fall in love. Now if only the whole OS would let me do that.

 

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