Bring Your Middle Mouse Button to Life

Take a close look at your mouse. Chances are good it has at least three buttons: left, right, and middle. (Note: Your middle button might be your scroll wheel, which on most mice is clickable.) I've already talked about getting the most from your mouse, but this week I thought I'd home in on the middle button.

Why would I want to do that? Well, I just took an informal poll of about ten people, and guess how many of them actually use that middle button? A grand total of one. One! People, people, people...

Close Browser Tabs Quickly

First up: browser tabs. I routinely have 10-15 tabs open in my browser at any given time. If I want to close a tab, I have to click it, then click the little X that appears on the tab. That's one more click than I prefer, and it brings into focus a tab I'm planning to close. Crazy, right?

If you middle-click any tab in Mozilla Firefox or Microsoft Internet Explorer, boom, it's gone. No need to make it visible first; no need to reach for the X. Just middle-click, boom.

Open Links in New Tabs

When you middle-click a link in Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer (not sure about Opera, but I'm guessing so), that link opens immediately in a new tab.

Incidentally, you can accomplish the same thing by holding down the Ctrl key and left-clicking a link. But why bother with that when you can just as easily click the middle mouse button?

Open All Your Oft-Used Sites

Let's say that you use Firefox or Internet Explorer and you've organized a handful of favorite sites--you know, the ones you visit daily--into a folder. Smart move.

Here's an even smarter one: You can instantly open every link in a folder, each in its own tab, by middle-clicking that folder.

This works regardless of where the folder is located: your bookmarks toolbar, your navigation toolbar, even a pull-down menu. One middle-click of a folder and presto: every link therein opens in a new tab.

Scroll In Your Docs

Have you ever wondered what happens when you click and hold the middle mouse button? Glad you asked. This action activates a handy page-scrolling option in applications like Microsoft Word and Excel, Adobe Reader, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.

In other words, when you click and hold the middle mouse button, you can then drag your mouse forward or back to scroll up or down the page, respectively. This feature is intended for folks who don't have a scroll wheel, but it works just as well with scroll wheels--and I know many people who prefer the speed of middle-click scrolling to the slow, steady pace of wheel scrolling.

Customize Your Scroll Speed

After the mouse itself, the mouse wheel is the single greatest navigation tool ever invented. Mine is spinning constantly, especially in Firefox, where I use it to zip up and down Web pages.

By default, however, one "turn" of the mouse wheel scrolls only a few lines at a time--and I want to move faster. Fortunately, there's a fairly easy way to adjust Firefox's scroll speed. Even better, there's a keyboard shortcut that can slow it down again for "precision" scrolling.

Here's how to change the default scroll speed:

  1. Open Firefox, then type about:config in the address bar and hit Enter.
  2. In the Filter box, type mousewheel.withnokey.
  3. Right-click mousewheel.withnokey.sysnumlines and then click Toggle. This should set the value to False.
  4. Right-click mousewheel.withnokey.numlines and then click Modify. Bump the value to 6 or so, click OK, and then switch to another tab to see if you like the scroll speed. (Thankfully, you don't have to restart Firefox every time you make a change.) If not, experiment a bit until you find a number you like.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog . Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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