If there’s one thing that will make you faster and more productive on a computer, it’s keyboard shortcuts. There are a lot of keyboard shortcuts beginners should know, but here are three specific to Windows.
This is a very small, basic list, and it’s far from exhaustive — but it’s a list of three shortcuts I definitely take for granted in Windows. If you want to really master keyboard shortcuts, check out our Back to Basics guide here. Mac users should check out this list of productivity-boosting shortcuts instead.
The Windows Key + Typing
Are you tired of clicking the Start menu, going to “All Programs”, scrolling to a folder, hovering over it and clicking a shortcut all just to open a program? (Or, if you’re a Windows 8 user, scrolling through your start screen?) One of the best Windows shortcuts in existence is the Windows key: press it and start typing the name of the program you want to launch. It will pop up in seconds, after which you can press Enter to launch it. It’s a lot faster than all that clicking and scrolling! This works in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Advanced users: Windows+typing is indeed awesome, but I highly recommend checking out a dedicated app launcher such as Launchy. Not only can it launch apps with a shortcut (duh), but it can do a hell of a lot more, including launch portable apps, make calculations, search the web and a lot of other things with just a few keystrokes.
This one’s a bit more basic. Even if you’re a beginner, you’re probably familiar with the ever-famous Ctrl+Alt+Delete shortcut. In older versions of Windows, this is how you’d bring up the Task Manager, which is useful if a program has locked up or is otherwise misbehaving.
In Windows 7 and 8, however, you may have noticed that Ctrl+Alt+Delete brings up a separate screen with more options and requires an extra click to get to the Task Manager. Instead, just press Ctrl+Shift+Escape. It’s easier to reach with one hand, and it will take you directly to the Task Manager so you can manage your running apps. (Note that Ctrl+Alt+Delete is still a great way to quickly log out or shut down, especially in Windows 8).
Advanced users: I’ll eat my hat if you advanced users don’t already know about Ctrl+Shift+Escape, so here’s a small Task Manager-related goodie to munch on: the Windows 8 Task Manager is quite customisable, if you know what to look for. You can disable process grouping, show process names, and even bring back the Windows 7 task manager with these simple tweaks. Alternatively, if you’re a Windows 7 user, but you prefer Windows 8’s more usable Task Manager, you can get it in Windows 7 with DBC.
Alt (or F10)
This is one of those lesser-known shortcuts that I wonder how I ever lived without. You’ve probably noticed that some programs — like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer and others — have done away with the traditional “File, Edit, View” menus in favour of a more condensed layout. This is fine, until you need an option that only shows up in those more advanced menus, and you don’t know where to look.
Luckily, the answer’s very simple: just press the Alt key (or F10). It will temporarily bring back that traditional menu bar with File, Edit and other buttons so you can find what you’re looking for. (Unfortunately this doesn’t work in Windows 8’s version of Windows Explorer, but it still works in most other apps).
Advanced users: The Alt key can do more than just show the menus — it can also navigate them. You’ll notice that each menu (and each item within those menus) has one underlined letter. If you hold Alt and press that letter on the keyboard, you’ll invoke that menu or action. For example, you can press Alt+F to open Firefox’s File menu, and then press Alt+V for Print Preview. A lot of those items already have shortcuts, but the Alt trick can still come in handy sometimes.
Again, this is a short list, but they’re shortcuts I use to get around Windows every day that most beginners probably don’t know. For a full list of useful Windows shortcuts, check out Microsoft’s documentation page on the subject, as well as our Back to Basics guide on keyboard shortcuts and our roundup of the handiest shortcuts for Windows 8 for more useful tricks.