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Screenshot tour: Vimium Chrome extension provides ultimate keyboard surfing


Vimium is an incredible Chrome add-on for keyboard-only Web navigation. Its basic shortcuts are modeled after those used in the ubergeek-oriented Vim text editor. The idea behind Vimium is that all of the most common actions (scrolling up and down, switching tabs, zooming) can be done using keys that are either on the home row of the keyboard, or otherwise very easy to reach (such as "zi" for Zoom In). Fortunately, they can be customized. That's one of the main things I like about it, since I use an alternative keyboard layout (Colemak). Once you get used to the shortcuts, you can do just about anything (navigate to links, find text, switch tabs, zoom in and out) without moving your fingers, much less reaching for the mouse.

Out of the box, Vimium is aimed at power-users. For example, you just need a single keystroke to close a tab - "d." Plus, if that's the only tab you've got open at the moment, hitting "d" will close Chrome entirely. There are no prompts. That can be disconcerting at first, but you'll get used to it very quickly (or unmap the keys).

I explored Vimium's interface quite a bit; join me after the jump for some heavy keyboard action (and a video from the Vimium guys).

This is a part of Vimium's options dialog (Extensions > Vimium > Options, no toolbar button for this one). You can see I started tweaking it for Colemak: I mapped N and E for scrolling up and down, and unmapped the existing keys (in case you're wondering how I figured out it's "scrollUp" and "scrollDown", see the next screenshot). I also configured the letters used for the link hints (also shown below).

This is how I knew how to remap the commands. When you're in the Options screen, there's a link which says "Show available commands." Once you click it, you get the standard help screen, but each command is followed by its name in monospaced font.

Here, you can see what the help screen (launched by hitting "?", by the way) looks like, after I tweaked the key mappings. Also, you may have noticed that "?" is already used in Gmail for keyboard shortcuts. That's why Vimium lets you configure "excluded websites," which have their own keyboard shortcuts. Simply put Gmail on your exclusion list, and there will be no conflicts.

This is how the link hint feature works. When you hit f (by default), each link on the page gets a small label with a two-letter combination. Once you type that combination, Chrome goes there. If you invoke the hint feature with F (shift+f), it takes you to the link in a new tab.

What's cool about this is that, as soon as you start typing the first letter of a label, labels that do not correspond to it disappear, as you can see on the bottom screenshot (I typed "a"). The Firefox add-on I used for this (Hit-a-Hint) didn't have this functionality at the time (although maybe, by now, it does).

Finally, let's round it off with a nice video from the Vimium guys. If you read all the way here you won't find many new features in the video, but it's nice to see the extension in action:

Tags: chrome, chromium, extensions, google, keyboard, vim