Anyone can sit down at a Windows PC and get along fine, but with the right tips and tricks, you can get around much faster. Here's a handful of clever tricks to boost your Windows skills (and show off to friends).
You might recognise a few of these tips (we've covered most of them here before), but chances are good there's something new in the list for just about everybody. And if you know all of them already? Pat yourself on the back for your masterful geek skills.
(Note: This list far from exhausts Windows' full slate of shortcuts and tricks; instead, I aimed for lesser-known tips. To round out your Windows 7 master class, be sure to check out our complete guide to Windows 7, the master list of Windows 7 shortcuts, and the power user's guide to Windows 7.)
Use the Secret Send To Menu Items
When you right-click on any file or folder, you can use the Send To menu to create a zipped version, or send the file to an application, but in Windows 7 there are hidden items on the Send To menu that can't be seen by default.
All you have to do is hold down the Shift key, then right-click on a file and access the Send To folder-you'll see a whole bunch of new items in the list, like special folders, and even an item for each one of your drives. It's a really useful tip for quickly sending a file to the flash drive you just plugged into the PC, without having to do anything else.
Open a Command Prompt from Any Folder
This is one of those tips that most real geeks already know, but chances are there's somebody reading this that doesn't know about it-if you hold down the Shift key while right-clicking on any folder, including the desktop background, you'll see a new item for "Open command window here", that will open a command prompt with that folder as the default path.
This tip only works in Windows 7 or Vista, for Windows XP you'll need to use a registry hack to accomplish the same thing. We can't mention this tip without telling you how to do the opposite-you can open a file browser from your current command prompt directory as well.
Hide Secret Data Inside Any File
There's any number of great ways to hide data from prying eyes-TrueCrypt, anyone? But if you want to simply hide some text data inside a secret "compartment", you can abuse the Alternate Data Streams feature in the underlying NTFS file system. All you have to do is open up a command prompt, and then use a command similar to this:
The special filename with the colon and second filename tells NTFS to actually store the data in an alternate stream, instead of the regular file. You can put whatever you want into the file, and nobody will be able to access it unless they know the command to retrieve it.
Tile or Cascade Specific Windows
Sure, Windows 7 has the awesome Aero Snap feature that lets you drag windows to the side of the screen to fill one side, but what if you want to cascade them, or tile them stacked on top of each other?
Back in the XP and Vista days this was relatively simple—you could hold down the Ctrl key while selecting multiple windows on the taskbar, and then right-click on any of them to tile or cascade them. For Windows 7, you can do the same thing, but you'll need to open up Task Manager instead, hold Ctrl, select the open windows, and then you can cascade them from there.
Undo an Accidental File Move or Deletion With the Keyboard
Have you ever tried to select a bunch of files while holding the Ctrl key, and then accidentally copied all of them because you slightly moved your mouse? Maybe you just deleted a file and don't feel like hunting it down in the Recycle bin. In either case, you can use the Ctrl+Z shortcut key to immediately reverse whatever you didn't mean to do.
Readers will probably point out that you can also do this from the context menu in Windows 7, but it's surprising how many people don't realise the keyboard shortcut works.
Navigate the Open / Save Dialogs With the Keyboard
Opening or saving files can be so very tedious when your application doesn't start with the right default folder, but instead of clicking and clicking your mouse to get where you're going, you can simply use the keyboard to change the folder.
You can use ".." without the quotes to go up a folder, use shell:desktop to change to the desktop folder, or just start typing in the full path to a file.
Use the Secret Trick to Close Windows Explorer
Have you ever wondered how to restart the Start Menu? The more tech-savvy among you probably know that you can just pop open Task Manager and kill the explorer.exe process, but there's actually another way to do it built right into Windows 7 and Vista-it's just a bit of a secret.
Hold down the Ctrl and Shift keys, then open up the start menu, and right-click anywhere on the blank space. You'll see a new menu with an Exit Explorer item on it, which will immediately terminate the desktop shell-keep in mind to reopen it you'll need to use Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager, and then File –> Run and type in explorer.exe.
That's not the only right-click menu trick you can do here, however-if you want to open up the Start Menu folder in Windows 7, you can right-click on the All Programs menu item to access the old Start Menu context menu from previous versions of Windows.
Create a Zip File with the Same Name as a Selected File
If you regularly use the built-in Send To –> Compressed (zipped) folder feature to create zip files in Windows, you might notice that it seems to randomly pick a filename for the generated file. If you want to save the step of renaming the file, you can make sure that you right-click on top of the file that you want to have the same name.
For instance, if we had right-clicked on the Readme.txt file in the screenshot and used the Send To –> Compressed feature, the resulting file would have been called Readme.zip. Since that's not very helpful, it's better to right-click on one of the selected HTGBack.x files, which will give us HTGBack.zip instead.
Show the XP Alt-Tab Prompt in Windows 7
This tip isn't so much useful as an interesting trick that you can show your geek friends-you can trigger the old XP Alt-Tab dialog even in Windows 7 with Aero enabled by using a series of shortcut keys. First, hold down one of the Alt keys, press and release the other Alt key, and then press the Tab key. Just like that, the old XP prompt will show up.
Pin a Folder to the Start Menu
It's easy to pin any application to the Start Menu by just right-clicking on the icon, but folders aren't quite as easy-or are they? There's a bunch of complicated registry hacks out there that enable the "Pin to Start Menu" item for folders, but it's so much simpler to just drag the folder to the Start button, and then drop the folder wherever you want it in the menu.
Bonus tip: You might notice in the screenshot that there's something different below the Downloads button-and you can easily add My Dropbox to your own Windows 7 Start Menu too.
Shrink the XP Volume Control
This is one of those tips that's great to show off to your friends that have been using Windows XP for years, because they probably don't know about it yet. You can shrink the Volume Control dialog down to a much smaller size by simply using the Ctrl+S shortkey key with the dialog open.
Sure, it could be useful if you wanted to keep the dialog up on the screen without wasting space, but it's mostly just a fun trick to show off your skills.
Stupid Geek Tricks: Shrink the XP Volume Control [How-To Geek]
Remove Old Drivers by Showing Hidden Devices in Device Manager
Once you've upgraded your PC's hardware, you won't see the old devices sitting around anymore in the Device Manager, but rest assured that they are still there. If you want to clean up all the old drivers, you can use a special trick to enable hidden devices by simply typing the following into a command prompt:
Once you've done that, type in devmgmt.msc to open up Device Manager, and then you can use View –> Show hidden devices to show all the devices you couldn't see before.
Remove Old Drivers After Upgrading to New Hardware [How-To Geek]
Find Secret Messages in Web Site Headers
The world of HTTP protocol headers is something that even geeks don't usually have to deal with, much less normal people. But they are out there, and many of them contain hidden messages that you would never know are there. For instance, Slashdot embeds random quotes from Futurama in every page load, and other sites embed many other things.
Watch Movies in Your Linux Terminal Window
This one isn't a Windows tip at all, but you can't have an article about geeky tricks without mentioning how you can watch movies in ASCII text in a Linux terminal window. Make sure you've got MPlayer installed, and then use something similar to the following command to open up a movie right there in the terminal:
mplayer -vo caca MovieName.avi
It's not really suitable for watching movies, but it's a fun tip that you can show off to your friends and spark a conversation about the upcoming return of Futurama.
So how did you do? Did you already know them all? Do you have an even better geek trick to show off? Share your skills with your fellow readers in the comments.