“The finger cut, to save the hand”: Keyboard Shortcuts in Mathcad Prime

**Guest Post by Anji Seberino**

Lately there has been a lot of discussion, and expressed frustration, over shortcuts in Mathcad Prime. The frustration seems to focus on two general areas. The first is the fact that the shortcut for variable subscripts [aka literal subscripts] has changed, and the second is the perception that there are far fewer shortcuts available in Mathcad Prime when compared to Mathcad 15.

Let’s consider the case of the changed shortcut for variable subscripts. This change has perplexed many Mathcad users around the world. About three months ago, I read a book completely unrelated to Mathcad. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been observing the expressed frustration on this topic. This past weekend, we dealt with horrible fires here in San Diego County that destroyed thousands of acres and burned people’s homes to the ground. On the news, the media showed a beautiful home burning down, and the newscaster explained that firefighters made the decision to sacrifice that home in order to save the rest of the neighborhood. That’s when it hit me… a quote from the book I read:

“The finger cut, to save the hand”
-Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

Let’s make one thing clear – In no way what-so-ever am I drawing a comparison between the devastation of losing one’s home to a change in a piece of software. My thoughts are with all the families that were impacted, some of whom are my close friends. When the media showed that particular house, I realized that what the newscaster said is a recurring theme in everyday life and everyday business. When I read the book, I didn’t stop, ponder, or pay much attention to those words. But now, they pop up in my head regularly and I see their relevance in multiple situations each and every day. They describe the case of the changed shortcut for variable subscripts quite well.

One of the objectives of Mathcad Prime was to create a more intuitive version of Mathcad. In order to do that, some shortcuts (the variable subscript in-particular) had to be changed. In Mathcad 15, the <period> key is used for this shortcut. This is convenient; however,it is not intuitive. I will agree with everyone on this point – use of the period to define subscripts is incredibly convenient. I cannot possibly argue with that. Now let’s switch gears and consider the case of the shortcut used to define range variables in Mathcad 15 – range variables are visually represented by two sequential dots (two sequential periods), where the shortcut is the <semicolon> key.

This is neither convenient, nor intuitive. This is one area in Mathcad Prime where we could make a sacrifice in one area in order to make an improvement on a broader scale. Range variables are used quite frequently, since they provide a quick and easy way to generate outputs by iterating over a sequence of inputs – a very common and necessary practice in engineering. In order to make the range variable shortcut more intuitive in Mathcad Prime, we used the keyboard sequence <period><period> instead of<semicolon>.

Since use of the <period> was reallocated to the range variable definition, this meant that unfortunately it would no longer be available for defining variable subscripts. The new keyboard shortcut for defining variable subscripts in Mathcad Prime is <Ctrl><underscore>. Making this change resulted in increased convenience and intuitiveness in the area of working with range variables, but compromised convenience in working with variable subscripts. It’s not ideal, but back to my quote – it’s an example where a sacrifice based on convenience was made to make improvements in another area and for the overall betterment of a situation. I realize that this may not alleviate the frustration associated with the change and the inconvenience, but hopefully it will shed some light onto why the change was made.

The case of the variable subscript aside, some other shortcuts had to change as well. For instance, in order to implement shortcuts consistent with industry standard Microsoft Office for formatting text, it was necessary to use <Ctrl><b>, <Ctrl><i>, and <Ctrl><u> for bolding, italicizing, and underlining text. In Mathcad 15, <Ctrl><i> is a shortcut for inserting an integration operator, and <Ctrl><u> is a shortcut for invoking the Insert Unit Dialog. To use <Ctrl><i> in Mathcad Prime for italicizing text, something else had to be used for inserting an integration operator.

There’s also been some speculation that Mathcad Prime does not have as many keyboard shortcuts as Mathcad 15. To be honest, when I started writing this, I didn’t know which version had more shortcuts. I decided to count them. I visited the shortcut quick reference guides in both Mathcad 15 and Mathcad Prime, printed them out, and tallied them up. Keep in mind that this method of counting does not necessarily compare apples to apples, mainly because we are comparing a ribbon-oriented user interface to a toolbar-oriented user interface. Nevertheless, here are the raw numbers:

Mathcad Prime 3: 106

Mathcad 15: 78

I am not going to cross-check each and every keyboard shortcut to assess which ones are the same, which ones are different, and which ones are new. I will say that the shortcuts in Mathcad 15 are centered around the toolbars, with an additional 13 shortcuts for various operations. The shortcuts in Mathcad Prime 3 include these toolbar-centric shortcuts from Mathcad 15 (the toolbar operators have been relocated into the ribbon), plus a collection of new shortcuts for creating different types of regions, working within regions, and working with the document.

All in all, many of the shortcuts have remained the same from Mathcad 15 to Prime 3. For those shortcuts that have changed, hopefully this helps to explain the reasoning behind the changes. “The finger cut, to save the hand” might sound a little aggressive, but the fact is that we make decisions in our everyday lives based on this premise, and in the case of Mathcad, it is no different.