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My intuition and own experience tells me keyboard shortcut keys can be faster than using the mouse. However, some tasks like browsing the internet or a folder hierarchy truly benefit from using a mouse pointer. As is often the case, I believe there is no 'one solution', e.g. using a keyboard exclusively. I would like to argue it's important to offer both keyboard and mouse access for common operations. Depending on which input device you are holding using one or the other could be faster.

Considering the 'optimal' way to use a computer is a combination of keyboard and mouse, I'm wondering: has any research been done relating to the cost of switching between them?

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As an aside, I would argue that navigating a GUI folder structure is easier with a keyboard than with a mouse. –  Matt Jan 16 '12 at 13:56
    
@Matt: In some cases, when holding the keyboard it can be. But constantly going up and down a folder structure, traversing a tree and scrolling through long lists of files can be easier using a mouse. –  Steven Jeuris Jan 16 '12 at 14:03
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I'd be curious if there is any difference between left-handed and right-handed users too. For instance people who use shortcut keys (Ctrl+C) while using the mouse in their left hand; how do they cope with switching between keyboard and mouse? –  JonW Jan 16 '12 at 17:31
    
These things aren't so much features of mice and keyboards as the PARTICULAR mouse / keyboard conventions we have. The tab-complete in Unix is wonderfully fast for moving around the file-system. If GUI file-browsers adopted it, with the right focus changing conventions, and convention for opening and closing subtrees and for page-upping and page-downing, I'm sure it would be revolutionary. And way faster than the mouse. –  interstar Feb 13 at 4:43
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2 Answers 2

Key Stroke Modeling(KLM) that is part of GOMS method has some answers regarding this. According to an article by Jeff Sauro:

Card, Moran and Newell brought in hundreds of users and had them complete tasks repeatedly. They decomposed large tasks like typing a letter or using a spreadsheet into millisecond level actions (called operators). They found just a few of these operators can construct almost any task a user does on a computer.

  • Homing: Moving Hand to Keyboard or Mouse: 360ms
  • Clicking: the Mouse: 230 ms
  • Pointing: with the Mouse: 1100ms
  • Mental Operations: (Deciding what to Do): 1350 ms
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Perfectly valid but very dated. I think that if repeated today, the results may be different, because most users are more used to workign between the mouse and keyboard. –  Schroedingers Cat Jan 16 '12 at 17:26
    
Thanks, now I at least have some names to start searching. A few simple keyword searches didn't seem to work for me. Card again. :) My thesis is pretty much about a very dated subject he wrote about a long time ago. Probably no coincidence. –  Steven Jeuris Jan 16 '12 at 18:19
    
There's also one paper about how well KLM works in one setting facweb.cs.depaul.edu/cmiller/hciEdDraft.pdf –  Illotus Jan 16 '12 at 18:25
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As mentioned above, the action of switching between mouse and keyboard is called homing.

You can make your own experience ("research") online at the "Homing Experiment: Keyboard and Mouse Use" of the Cornell University Ergonomics Web, or contact the authors to find out what values did they gather on a larger sample of testers. (They have other experiments for the basic input operations on the site too.)

Personally I'd like to know the difference in homing time for a mouse, touchpad or trackpoint on a laptop.

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