I Can Search That Phrase in Three Keystrokes

Posted September 25th, 2006 by kyle

I perform a lot of web searches during an average day. The search engine I currently use most frequently is Google, but I also regularly search MSDN, Knowledgebase articles, Dictionary.com and a few others on occasion. Being a keyboard junkie, I’m always looking for ways to reduce keystrokes for common activities, and my goal is to be able to initiate a search from anywhere in three keystrokes (plus entering/pasting the search phrase itself).

I’ve tried some general-purpose tools for this, such as SlickRun, Dave’s Quick Search Bar, ActiveWords, and YubNub, but none of them ever stuck. While I am a keyboard junkie, I do like to have a visual reminder of the available options for a given context (launching, searching, etc.,) to keep from forgetting the available options, and none of those apps offer that.

With IE6, I had been using a registry hack that allows typing a short abbreviation in the address bar followed by the search phrase (i.e., ‘g my phrase<enter>’ to search Google, ‘d word<enter>’ to lookup on Dictionary.com, etc.). But this suffers from the same lack of visibility, items aren’t easily accessible in the browser history (for instance, to quickly search on a previously entered phrase in another search engine), and extra keystrokes are required to open/switch to IE and focus the address bar.

With IE7, I was excited about the new Firefox-style Search bar (accessed via Ctrl+E), because it offers a way to configure multiple search providers that are displayed in a drop-down list. It’s pretty simple to define your own providers. And while it does provide better visibility of the defined providers (pressing Ctrl+Down Arrow while in the search bar drops down the list) and does remember past search phrases, I still was not entirely happy with it.

You still need extra keystrokes to activate IE, focus the search bar, and view the list of providers. And if you change providers, it continues to use that provider for all future searches unless you change it back (I’m not really sure what the default provider is good for — perhaps it only takes effect on restarting IE). Also, if you have already entered a search phrase, then drop down the list and select another one via Enter, it immediately launches the search. There are two problems with this: 1) You can’t open the search in a new tab, and 2) the focus doesn’t return to the document, so another keystroke is required to get back there. Firefox doesn’t suffer from the last problem, but the other limitations apply to it as well.

I’ve also tried some of the search toolbars that integrate with the browser, but you must first activate the browser to access them, they tend to be search-engine-specific, and don’t provide very good keyboard accessibility.

So I threw together a simple application that allows me to search in two keystrokes (three for the non-default engine). I can now initiate a search at any time by pressing the Search button on my keyboard, type or paste the search phrase, and press Enter to start the search with the default engine, or press Alt+<letter> to change engines (all search engines I’ve defined are listed in the main application window, with the mnemonic letter underlined for each) followed by Enter.

Web Search

I’m pretty happy with this arrangement, and since I’m still not finding tabbed browsing to have any advantages, I may just stick with IE6 for now, since this method works with any browser.

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One Comment on “I Can Search That Phrase in Three Keystrokes”

  1. Kinook Software Blog » Blog Archive » IE7 Already Losing Its Luster Says:

    [...] One thing I like to do with my apps is minimize the screen real estate consumed by menus and toolbars, and IE7 seemed to make improvements in this area. But after trying again and giving up on tabbed browsing and finding more efficient search methods, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to use IE7, and it turns out that IE6 is actually more space efficient anyway. [...]