Many people don't realise that rather than installing dozens of applications, you can control nearly any aspect of your computer with simple shortcuts that don't take up any resources. You can even take this approach a step further and assign shortcut keys using the built-in Windows hotkey functionality, or access them from the keyboard using your favourite application launcher. Let's take a look at a number of simple shortcuts to control some frequently used tasks.
Mute the System Volume
If you use your computer to listen to music, you've no doubt had to fumble for the volume controls or hit the off switch so the person calling won't know that you are listening to Cornflake Girl loud enough to wake the dead. What I've always done is create a shortcut key that will instantly mute the speakers so I can answer the phone. Of course if you have a multimedia keyboard you probably already have a mute button, but that only works if you are running the keyboard software.
Clean Up Your Computer
There's loads of commands out there that will let you clear your history or recent documents from a shortcut, but the much simpler option is to setup CCleaner with a shortcut to quickly clear out everything. You can even assign a hotkey to clean your computer with a keystroke. The great thing about this technique is that it runs silently and quickly.
Open Task Manager in All Users View
If you are using Windows Vista, you've probably noticed that in order to see the full process list in Task Manager, you have to first open Task Manager, and then click on the All Users button... instead of dealing with that, why not just create a shortcut that opens it directly in All Users view?
Turn Desktop Icons On or Off
As a big fan of a clutter-free desktop, I like to keep the icons hidden most of the time, but sometimes it's just easier to access files through icons on the desktop. You can create a shortcut or hotkey that quickly turns the icons on or off, keeping your desktop nice and clean unless you actually want to see the icons. If you like to see your icons instead, you can always arrange them for productivity.
Clear Your Clipboard
If you've ever copied a large amount of data to the clipboard, you might wonder how to clear that memory after you've already finished pasting. Sure, you could try and copy a smaller amount of data to the clipboard, but a simpler method is to just use this shortcut to clear the clipboard. This also comes in handy if you copied sensitive data to the clipboard and don't want it sitting there if somebody else is about to use your computer.
Turn the Windows Firewall On or Off
When you are troubleshooting connection or network application issues, one of the first things to try is disabling the firewall. If you are using the built-in Windows firewall, there are way too many steps required to turn it off, but with a little command line magic, we can create shortcuts to turn the firewall on or off.
Create a System Restore Point
One of the best features in Windows Vista is the revamped System Restore, which unlike the XP version actually snapshots all the important system files on a regular basis, making it simple to roll back to before a system change. Creating a restore point on demand, however, takes far too many steps, so this shortcut to create a system restore point can be a real timesaver. If you are still using Windows XP, you can always follow Gina's guide to System Restore.
Eject Removable Devices
In the age of flash drives and digital cameras, we're always plugging and unplugging drives to transfer files and photos, but the Safely Remove dialog is only accessible from a tiny tray icon. If you like to keep excess icons hidden or just don't feel like finding the icon in the list, you can create a shortcut or hotkey to the Safely Remove Hardware dialog or even a shortcut to eject the CD/DVD drive. The best option, though, is to create a shortcut that immediately ejects a specific USB drive that you use all the time.
Start or Disable the Screensaver
Have you ever noticed that many end users refer to the desktop wallpaper as the screensaver? Odd. For those of you that actually know what a screensaver is, you can create a shortcut icon to quickly start a particular screensaver, or even an icon to disable or enable the current screensaver. This comes in handy when you want to start a screensaver, but don't feel like locking your computer with the usual Win+L keyboard shortcut.
Shutdown, Reboot, Sleep, Hibernate or Lock Your PC
If you dislike the shutdown menu on the Windows Vista start menu, you aren't alone. Rather than using that tedious popup menu, you can simply place shortcuts for each function on your desktop or quick launch bar.
If you are using a dual boot scenario between Vista and XP, you can even create a shortcut that reboots the computer into the alternate version of Windows, instead of having to wait to choose the other OS from the boot menu.
Access Your Shortcuts Quickly with the Keyboard
Rather than using the mouse to launch these shortcuts or trying to assign hotkeys to all of them, you can put all of the shortcuts into a folder and then index them in Lifehacker favourite Launchy for quick access from the keyboard.
Instead of using Launchy, you could use previously mentioned Executor, Adam's (and my) new favourite application launcher to index these shortcuts, or you could take it one step further and assign a custom command to run your shortcut. Simply open up the settings dialog, and drop the shortcut onto the drop box below, and it will fill in all the details. You'll have to manually choose your keyword and the icon, however.
I decided to use
?cleanup as my custom command to run CCleaner silently to match the other system commands already offered in Executor.
What shortcuts are most useful for you? Let us know in the comments.
The How-To Geek is a tech writer and geek enthusiast who loves to control every aspect of his computer from the keyboard. More of his tips and tweaks can be found daily at Howtogeek.com.