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Operating Systems

Open apps faster via Windows' command line.

Get instant access to the Command Prompt to launch programs quicker than you can with mouse clicks.

I'm a big fan of using keyboard shortcuts to get more work done in less time. But there are only so many Ctrl and Alt key combinations available for creating your own shortcuts. Also, the ones I don't use regularly are difficult to remember without using a cheat sheet, and the time spent looking up the ones I can't remember on my own negates the productivity boost I'm shooting for.

That's why I find myself relying increasingly on Windows' Run dialog and command line to open programs. Vista puts a pseudo-command line one click away: just press the Windows key and start typing the name to locate an application or file you need. When you see it in the list that pops up, use the down arrow key to navigate to it (though it's usually the first--or only--option), and press Enter to get it started. In XP you can press the Windows key and then R to open the Run dialog box, and then type the name of the program's executable file and press Enter. To open a Command Prompt in either Windows version, type cmd and press Enter.

The Clavier+ keyboard-shortcut program
The Clavier+ donationware utility lets you create a keyboard shortcut to Windows' Command Prompt.

I saved myself a few keystrokes by installing a donationware utility that I used to assign a keyboard shortcut to the Command Prompt. Start by downloading and installing Clavier+, a keyboard-shortcut utility from Guillaume Ryder. Open the program, click the blue plus sign on the left side of the main screen, and navigate to Accessories>Command Prompt. Click in the Shortcut field, and press your preferred keystroke combination, making sure not to enter one you already use for some other purpose. (One that is available and easy for me to remember is Ctrl+Alt+C.) After you make your selection, click OK, and you'll see your new shortcut in the list at the top of the main Clavier+ window. Click OK once more to close the program, and now you've got access to the Command Prompt via the keyboard.

The Shortcut dialog box in the Clavier+ keyboard-shortcut utility
Assign the keystroke combination of your choice in Clavier+'s Shortcut dialog box.

You may be wondering why you can't simply right-click cmd.exe in Windows Explorer (it's in the C:/Windows/System32 folder), choose Create Shortcut, and then assign a keystroke combination to that shortcut by right-clicking it, choosing Properties>Shortcut, and entering the keys in the Shortcut key field. Windows won't let you. I don't know why, and I can't even find an explanation for the restriction. No matter what key combination I entered, I couldn't get it to open the Command Prompt window. For some reason, Clavier+ had no problem opening the window via the keystroke combo I assigned. Go figure.

Launch apps from the command line
With the Command Prompt open, type start winword and press Enter to open Microsoft Word, start excel to launch Excel, and start mplayer2 to open the old version of Windows Media Player (start wmplayer launches the newer release). Here are some other application file names you might find handy:

Internet Explorer: iexplore
Microsoft Outlook: outlook
Microsoft PowerPoint: powerpnt
Windows Explorer: explorer (or press the Windows key and E to open an Explorer window with My Computer highlighted)
Calculator: calc
Magnifier: magnify
Notepad: notepad
Paint: mspaint
Registry Editor: regedit
System Configuration Utility: msconfig
Tweak UI: tweakui
Windows Movie Maker: moviemk
WordPad: write

Most other applications can be launched simply by typing start and their name, such as "firefox", "thunderbird", "photoshop", "acrobat", and "itunes". To close the Command Prompt window, type exit and press Enter.

Of course, you can do much more from the command line than launch applications. The Microsoft TechNet site lists the commands available for system-management tasks, with descriptions of how to use them. But that's a subject for a future post.

Tomorrow: Fun with Microsoft Excel's Lookup function.