There’s nothing wrong with a mouse cursor, but for many tasks keyboard shortcuts are far more efficient than picking your hands up off the keyboard and pointing then clicking. Most users can name at least a few combinations off the top of their heads, and almost everyone knows the infamous Ctrl+Alt+Delete, but many of the best shortcuts are tragically overlooked.
So to round out your keyboard navigating skills, here are nine combos that every Windows 7 user should know.
If you only memorize one Windows keyboard shortcut, this should be it. Pressing Windows key+L locks a Windows workstation so that no one can use it without a password, yet it won’t log out the current user or close any open programs. Locking your workstation prevents spying eyes from looking through your personal data and communications, plus it keeps out that one friend who still thinks it’s hilarious to hijack someone else’s Facebook account.
Don’t just memorize this combo, make it a habit. If you’re getting up from a machine and won’t be able to keep it in view, Windows key+L should be a reflex.
Multiple-monitor setups make it easy to keep track of different windows, but when you’ve only got one screen to work with Alt+Tab is your best friend. Hold down Alt, then press Tab to bring up the Windows 7 Peek of everything you have open (even the stuff that’s minimized). With Alt held, keep pressing Tab to cycle through the different windows, and once you find what you’re looking for just release Alt to make it the focus.
The best thing about Alt+Tab is that tapping it quickly will switch you back and forth between the two most recently used windows — perfect for bouncing between research and a document you’re writing.
Windows key+left/right arrows
If you have plenty of horizontal screen space to work with, the half-screen “Snap” feature in Windows 7 is also a nice way to manage two items at once. Most people Snap their windows into place using a mouse, dragging each one all the way to the edge of the screen to lock it in. But there’s a quicker way: Windows key+the left or right arrows. It might seem silly to bother with a keyboard shortcut for something so simple, but once you start using it you’ll never go back to the mouse method. By mixing this combo with the one above, you can even put two windows into half-screen mode without taking your hands off the keyboard: Windows key+left arrow, Alt+Tab, Windows key+right arrow. As you might expect, Windows key+up arrow is the shortcut for a top-of-the-screen Snap, which maximizes the current window.
Windows key+shift+left/right arrows
“But I don’t need Snap,” you might be saying, “because I’ve got dual monitors!” If that’s the case, the shortcut for you is Windows key+shift+left/right arrows — just a slight modification of the Snap method. Using this combination will full-screen the current window into the left or right monitor. It’s a nice way to to push an item out of the way, but still have it visible when you need to refer to it.
By default, Windows 7 hides the Run option that was once a Start menu fixture. But that power tool isn’t gone, and the same Windows key+r shortcut that brought it up in past Windows versions still works. There’s a long list of commands that you can use once the Run dialog box is up, but here are a few of the basics:
- cmd – opens a command prompt window
- control – opens the control panel
- control userpasswords2 – opens the classic Users and Passwords config screen
- dxdiag – opens DirectX diagnostics, if installed
Any list of Windows shortcuts would be incomplete without a mention of Ctrl+Alt+Delete, the go-to key combination when things go wrong. But the problem with Ctrl+Alt+Delete is that it doesn’t take you directly to the Task Manager, the section that you actually want when a program needs to be forced-closed. Fortunately, Task Manager has its own dedicated shortcut: Ctrl+Shift+Escape. If you can break your Ctrl+Alt+Delete habit, this combination will save you a click.
You know that rectangular button at the right end of the Windows 7 taskbar, the one that instantly minimizes everything and gets you back to the desktop? You don’t need it. The Windows key+d combo does the exact same thing, and doesn’t require mousing down to the lower-right corner every time.
Windows 7 made search a bigger focus by integrating a text field right into the Start menu, but that’s not the quickest way to look for a missing file. Windows key+F will take you straight into a search window, and put the cursor in the text field so you can start typing immediately .
Ctrl+z and Ctrl+y
You probably know that the standard text editing shortcuts also apply within Windows: Ctrl+C to copy a selected file, Ctrl+X to cut it, Ctrl+V to paste it somewhere else. But a lot of people don’t realize that the standard Undo (Ctrl+Z) and Redo (Ctrl+Y) shortcuts work in Windows as well. Have you ever accidentally deleted a file, and then had to open your Recycle Bin to restore it? Have you ever then realized that you haven’t cleaned out your Recycle Bin in, like, a year, and then dug through hundreds of old files looking for the right one? Now you can get around all of that with a quick Ctrl+Z.
Keyboard shortcuts are quick, efficient, and they make you look like a wizard. But unless you take the time to use and memorize them, you’ll just fall back on those slower mouse-centric methods. Make a list of a few shortcuts you want to start using, and keep it by your computer for reference.
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