The most common complaint we get from Lifehacker readers in Windows IT lockdown is that the majority of our tips require installing third-party applications—which you can't do if you don't have the right permissions on your PC. If you don't have the rights to install software on your company-issued computer, there are still lots of ways you can make Windows a more productive place to work. Let's take a look at how you can maximise your computer productivity with keyboard shortcuts, desktop tweaks, search tricks and more—without installing a thing.
Driving your computer using a mouse pointer may be easiest, but it's also the slowest way to get things done. Take the time to learn Windows' built-in keyboard shortcuts for tasks you perform often, and assign your own to shortcuts you always launch.
Global Windows shortcuts: Windows comes with dozens of keyboard combinations built in. Here are a few of our favourites:
- Control+Esc opens the Start Menu. Update: So does one tap of the Windows key.
- F3 starts a file search
- Alt+Tab cycles through open programs
- First letter of a Desktop shortcut name places the focus on that shortcut, Enter to launch.
- Win+D toggles Show Desktop
- Win+E starts Windows Explorer
- Win+L locks computer
Search, don't browse, the Start menu (Vista only): Instead of clicking on the Start menu and dragging your pointer through menus and submenus of programs, launch what you need without ever taking your hands off the keyboard in Vista. With a single tap of the Windows key, you'll invoke the Start menu, and your cursor lands conveniently in the search box. Begin to enter the name of the program you need, and Vista will find it as you type. Hit Enter to launch the right choice.
Assign key combinations to any Windows shortcut: For files, folders or programs you use often, place a shortcut on your desktop and assign a keyboard combination to it—this way, with a few keystrokes you can launch it even when other programs are running in front. To do so:
- Place a shortcut to the frequently-used item on your desktop (Right-click, Send to Desktop as shortcut). Right click the new shortcut and click Properties.
- In the Properties dialog box, click the Shortcut tab. In the Shortcut key box, enter a Control-Alt key combination or a Control+Shift key combination then click OK.
Quick Launch Bar key combinations (Vista only): In Windows Vista, if you enable the Quick Launch toolbar on your taskbar and add shortcuts to it, they each automatically get a keyboard combination depending on their position. The first shortcut on the toolbar is Win+1, the second, Win+2, etc. Here's more on Vista's built-in Quick Launch keyboard combos.
Turn the Run Box into a Launcher
When you can't install something like Launchy, Windows XP's Run box—which you can invoke using the Win+R key combo—is a healthy substitute. As long as a shortcut to any program or document you want is in your system path, you can launch it by typing it into the Run box. Hit the play button below to hear Lifehacker reader Richard T. describe how he navigates Windows from the Run box.
Automatically Start Applications With Your Computer
Every day when you sit down at your desk, you start up the same programs—like Outlook, the company intranet, maybe Microsoft Word. Spare yourself the repetitive clicking and make Windows start up programs for you. Simply create a shortcut to the programs, documents, and folders you open first, and drop them into the Startup folder on your Programs menu.
Create Search Folders (Vista only)
The one feature that makes the Windows Vista upgrade look attractive is its built-in support for saved search folders. Stop organising your files into carefully-named folders; instead, you can tag your files and save searches as folders to find them later.
Turn Your Desktop into a Heads-Up Display
In Windows XP, you can set any web page to be your desktop wallpaper using that old (but still useful) feature called Active Desktop. If you use webapps to stay organised, this is one of the easiest ways to turn your desktop into a "heads-up display." Here's how to set your Google Calendar as your desktop wallpaper. Another Lifehacker reader embeds his to-do list into his desktop using the same method.
Vista users can get similar functionality using the built-in sidebar. Check out some useful Vista sidebar gadgets here.
Add More Memory to Your System with a USB Drive (Vista only)
Vista users who want a little more speed—but don't want to crack their case to install RAM—can add memory by simply plugging in a USB drive with extra space on it. Here's more on how to speed up your PC with a flash drive using ReadyBoost.
Get Portable Apps
When Windows' built-in features just don't cut the mustard and you must have something better—like, say, Firefox—it's time to start using portable applications. Check out Portable Apps for a wide selection of browsers, editors, chat clients and more which you can run on your PC even without admin rights. In terms of productivity, I can't recommend Adam's text substitution app Texter more—and it is portable, too.
What are your favourite Windows productivity tweaks—that don't involve third-party software? Shout 'em out in the comments. See also a few more IT lockdown survival tips.
Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker, thinks Windows ain't so bad on its own after all. Her weekly feature, Geek to Live, appears every Tuesday on Lifehacker AU.