This is a repost from 2006.
One of the best ways to learn to use a software product fully is to try to automate it. Testers and automators have to learn the software’s interface really well, possibly better than the people who wrote it. Ok, the developers know the algorithms better than anyone else, but it is the person automating it who knows the ins and outs, pitfalls and quirks of the interface.
We all know how badly designed some Windows programs are. And in these days of fancy hi-res graphics and snazzy toolbar buttons it’s easy for the designers to forget about shortcut keys and keyboard navigation. The most productive way to use a PC is to forget the mouse and learn the keyboard shortcuts. You can get things done much more quickly. Yet even the most experienced Windows users don’t know half the keyboard shortcuts that exist in Windows (tips for keyboard navigation in Windows could be a post for another day).
Knowing these shortcuts makes automation so much easier and more reliable. Automating an application by sending mouse events and mouse clicks is unreliable and depends on the screen resolution never changing. Although you can use relative mouse coordinates, sooner or later something is going to change and the button you want to click is not in the place it was when the script was created.
The automation/test engineer is the one who figures out the keyboard shortcuts and finds the simplest, most reliable way of navigating an application. People who automate applications regularly have a good understanding of the different ways to move around Windows and Windows applications. Automated Software Testing can help find issues in the interface just from the process of building the automated test, even before the test script has been run. Building an automation routine for an application will help you find those missing or duplicated shortcut keys and other objects that can’t be driven by the keyboard.
Automators spend so much time fiddling with the software’s interface that they will often become more knowledgeable than the “power-users”. Testers also have the great advantage of being allowed to try unusual scenarios that developers never think about or are too busy to try. They are allowed to break things!
So it goes both ways. Find out the windows keyboard shortcuts and the hot-keys for the application you’re scripting and you can create a better script. Build an application with good keyboard support and your application can be automated more easily. If it can be automated easily it will be easy to use!