Super Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts

Get more work done in less time by taking advantage of Windows 7's handy key combinations for managing open windows, launching applications, and navigating in Windows Explorer.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

The other day a visiting relative asked if he could use my laptop to check his Facebook account. He couldn't make it past the desktop. "Hey, don't you have Firefox on this machine?"

"Press the Windows key, type f, and press Enter," I told him.

I had been using Windows 7's Start menu search box to launch Firefox and other apps for so long I neglected to add a Firefox shortcut to my taskbar. (I prefer to keep my desktop clear of icons by placing my desktop shortcuts on a menu that pops out of the taskbar, as I explained in a post from May 2008.)

Keyboard shortcuts are such great time-savers that I mistakenly assume everyone uses them. Back in April 2008 I described how to create an easy-access list of keyboard shortcuts and Windows commands. I enhanced the list last May with a bunch of keyboard shortcuts specifically for Microsoft Word.

The most recent additions to my handy-dandy roster of keystroke combos help you navigate in Windows 7. They let you launch applications, jump between and rearrange open windows, and sort through layers of folders in Windows Explorer faster than you can with a mouse.

Resize, rearrange, and reorganize open windows from the keyboard
One of the most popular of Windows 7's interface enhancements is the ability to dock windows to the left and right side of the screen simply by dragging them to either screen edge. You can achieve the same effect by pressing the Windows key and the left or right arrow keys.

To maximize the window, press the Windows key and the up arrow key; to restore or minimize the window, hit the Windows key and the down arrow key. (Pressing the Windows+Shift+up arrow/down arrow keys docks the window to the top and bottom of the screen, respectively.)

Get a quick glimpse of the desktop
Windows 7's taskbar adds the Aero Peek box on the far right (or the bottom of taskbars arranged vertically). Scrolling over the box hides all open windows to show the desktop. This differs from the Windows key+D shortcut in that the Aero Peek focus doesn't shift to the desktop but returns to the active window when you scroll away.

Windows 7 taskbar's Aero Peek box
The Aero Peek box at the end of the Windows 7 taskbar provides a quick glimpse of the desktop. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

You can get the same temporary desktop glimpse by pressing the Windows key and the spacebar. Release the Windows key to revert to the active window. The fastest way to launch one of the first five shortcuts on the taskbar is to press the Windows key and then the corresponding number. For example, a Google Chrome shortcut is the fourth one on my taskbar, so I open the browser simply by pressing Windows key+4.

(To open one of the programs on your taskbar with administrator privileges, press Ctrl+Shift while you click; this shortcut also works in previous versions of Windows. Likewise, you can open a new instance of a program that's already open by pressing Shift while clicking its taskbar icon. Another option is to press the Windows key+T to move the focus to the taskbar and then use the arrow keys to select the shortcut you want.)

Race through Windows Explorer's folder tree
Here are my favorite keystroke combinations for navigating through folders in Windows Explorer (most of these work in all versions of Windows, and several also work in browsers and other applications):

Ctrl+N opens a new window
Ctrl+W closes the current window
Ctrl+Shift+N creates a new folder
End moves to the bottom of the active window
Home moves to the top of the active window
F11 maximizes/minimizes the active window
Ctrl+period (.) rotates an image clockwise
Ctrl+comma (,) rotates an image counter-clockwise
Num Lock+asterisk (*) on the numeric keypad shows all subfolders under the selected folder
Num Lock+plus sign (+) on the numeric keypad shows the contents of the selected folder
Num Lock+minus sign (-) on the numeric keypad collapses the selected folder
Left arrow collapses the current selection if it's expanded, or selects the parent folder
Alt+Enter opens the Properties dialog for the selected item
Alt+P shows the preview pane
Alt+left arrow shows the previous folder (same as pressing the backspace key)
Right arrow shows the current selection if it's collapsed, or selects the first subfolder
Alt+right arrow moves to the next folder
Alt+up arrow shows the parent folder
Ctrl+Shift+E shows all folders above the selected folder
Alt+D moves the focus to the address bar
Ctrl+E and Ctrl+F move the focus to the search box

Microsoft provides a longer list of Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts on its Help & How-to site, including some specific to WordPad, Paint, and other Windows applications.