Services & Software

The most useful keyboard shortcuts you probably don't know about

You'll get your work done faster by keeping your hands on the keyboard and off the mouse. Here are my favorite keystroke time-savers.

Mice, bah!

Every time you lift your hands off the keyboard to select something with your mouse, you're lengthening your workday. I don't need any double-blind studies to convince me that keyboard shortcuts save time: I experience it first-hand whenever I learn a new key combination that accomplishes some task that I thought required a mouse click. Or two. Or three.

Here are some of my favorite multi-keystroke time-savers.

Keystrokes for Working in Windows
I wish I had a nickel for every time I clicked the little folder icon in the Quick Launch toolbar to open the My Documents folder in Windows Explorer. Even worse, since I don't store my documents in My Documents (too obvious), I had to navigate manually to whatever folder I was aiming for. The icon is gathering dust since I found out you can open Explorer to My Computer (Computer in Vista) by pressing the Windows key and E.

Another frequently clicked Quick Launch icon is the one that shows your desktop. Get there without any clicks by pressing the Windows key and D. Then press the Tab key to move to the Start button (which you can also open simply by pressing the Windows key alone). Tab again to highlight the first shortcut in the Quick Launch toolbar (hit the right-arrow key to move to the next shortcuts in succession), press it once more to highlight your first open app in the toolbar, and on and on, all the way to your system-tray icons. And here's an even-shorter shortcut: Get to the system tray in a jiffy by pressing the Windows key and B. (Sorry, XP users, this one appears to work only in Vista.)

Gotcha Alert
I found a glitch with this method of tooling around your desktop: I like an unobstructed view, so I got rid of the icons cluttering up my desktop by right-clicking it, choosing View, and unchecking Show Desktop Icons. Then I right-clicked in the toolbar and chose Toolbars*Desktop) to put the shortcuts there. To make room on the toolbar for my open-app shortcuts, I slid the Desktop toolbar to the right until only the word "Desktop" and the double-chevron show. This is a great way to maximize use of the toolbar, but when you tab to this shortcut, it pops up the list of desktop items automatically, requiring you to press Esc to close the menu before you can tab again to your system-tray icons.

Vista's Best New Feature: The Start Search Box
I am no fan of Microsoft's new operating system, but I have to admit I've come to rely on the Start Search text box to open programs, Windows utilities, even my oft-accessed files. Just press the Windows key and start typing the name of whatever it is you're looking for: Word to open that app, Device Manager to get a look at the status of your hardware, even the names of your IE shortcuts or Firefox bookmarks. You may have to press Tab and then the down arrow a couple of times to select the file or resource you want, but it's still faster than navigating in Explorer or the Start menu to open an application or file.

Okay, one more trick with the Windows key: Press it along with L to lock down your PC.

More Not-So-Stupid Keyboard Tricks
I don't have to tell you about Ctrl-X (cuts the selection), Ctrl-C (copies the selection), Ctrl-V (pastes the selection), Ctrl-A (selects the entire document), Ctrl-Z (undoes the last action), or Ctrl-S (saves the file currently open), but I just did anyway. Here are some other key-combination chestnuts that you may have forgotten, or missed hearing about:

Alt-F4 (or Alt-spacebar and then C) closes the open window.

Alt-Enter opens the Properties dialog box of the item selected.

Press Shift as you insert a CD or DVD to keep it from playing automatically.

And last but not least, Shift-F10 opens the right-click menu of the item selected.

For a more extensive list of keyboard shortcuts for Windows and applications, just visit your favorite search engine and enter keyboard shortcuts.

Tomorrow: A freebie that's guaranteed to clear the cobwebs out of any version of Windows.