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Command Keys

Nisus 3.0 has some nice features, one of which allows you to map any menu item to a command key sequence. In previous versions you were limited to just combinations of the command key and another letter, but that has changed in 3.0. Now you can add the control, shift, or option keys and you are even allowed to use the function keys and the keys on the numeric keypad. Wait, there's more. If you want to assign a mnemonic sequence to a command, say, Edit Macro, you could just use Command-E, but that may already be in use for Extend. In Nisus 3.0 you can assign up to three alphanumeric keys in addition to the modifier key, so on my system, Edit Macro is mapped to Command-EM (which is achieved by hitting Command-E and then M while the command key is still down). This smells slightly of WordStar's arcane commands, but because you assign the keys they hopefully aren't particularly arcane.

The point of this article is not to crow about Nisus, although it's hard to avoid at times. Instead, the problem arose that Nisus does not allow you to just use a modifier key other than the command key along with an alphanumeric key. jOn mAtOUsEk (that's how he capitalizes it, not me) wrote that part of Nisus and on Usenet defended his decision by saying that the Apple guidelines want every modifier key sequence to include the command key. Evidently he took enough flak for allowing multiple alphanumeric keys to be assigned to a command and decided not to further stretch Apple's rules. This inability frustrated some people on Usenet who wanted to map all the basic editing commands of the mainframe EMACS editor to Nisus - I won't speculate as to why :-).

When jOn asked what everyone thought about the command keys, the general consensus was that users should be able to use all the modifier keys without having to include the command key, contrary to Apple guidelines. One person suggested that there be an option to toggle that feature so as not to confuse new users, although command keys tend not to be the confusing part for beginners.

It seems to us that everyone should have the maximum flexibility in configuring the short-cuts in a program because short-cuts by definition should be personalized and easy to use. There's no need to force a certain key into everyone's short-cuts. Also, Paragon has chosen a good method of going about this by defining some of the common command key equivalents such as Command-B for Bold, etc., but they leave the use of the fancier customization options totally to the user. In contrast, Microsoft's Word 4.0 defines many command keys extremely haphazardly. For instance, Section Format is Option-F14 for no apparent reason. I have no idea what it is set to if you don't have an extended keyboard. Users can modify all of Word 4.0's command keys, but they are less likely to because of the definitions Microsoft included. The main problem with customizing Word 4.0 is that users have control over menu items as well, so a user can completely move the menu items around. Presumably Microsoft did this so people could create a reasonable interface for Word - the Table commands are in three different menus - but the feature is a nightmare for consultants ("So where did you put the Save item?"). In addition, macro packages like QuicKeys allow you do assign modifier key sequences to actions without using the command key. So, Paragon, we vote that you allow users to avoid using the command key if they want.

Paragon Concepts -- 800/922-2993 -- 619/481-1477

Information from:
Pete Keleher --
Jon Matousek --
Gilbert Harman -- ghh@clarity.Princeton.EDU
Chaz Larson --
Wolfgang N. Naegeli --
Sherman Wilcox --
Adam C. Engst -- TidBITS Editor


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