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  1. #1
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    TOP STORY

    Windows shortcuts can boost your efficiency


    By Scott Dunn

    Constantly moving your hands between the keyboard and mouse is not the most efficient way to interact with our computers, but most of us doggedly stick to it.

    But if you take a little time to learn (or relearn) a few basic keyboard and mouse shortcuts, you can blaze through your windows faster and more easily — and possibly put less stress on your overworked hands as well.

    The full text of this column is posted at WindowsSecrets.com/2010/02/25/02 (opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.


    Last edited by revia; 2011-01-20 at 15:00.

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    My favourite shortcut is the one that minimizes the current window you are working on - Alt-Space-N.

    This works in Vista, Win7, and most likely XP, as it is a pointer to the commands you get when you right click on a window frame.

    The advantage of this shortcut is that it can be done with one hand if you stretch, or easily with two hands if you rest your fingers in the typists position.

    My preference for shortcuts are for those that can be done with just one hand.

    Or if it uses two hands, then they don't have to stretch to the outer edges of the keyboard. Those that use Home, PgUp, PgDn and End are not really that useful to me.

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    Lightbulb

    Some of tips works since Windows 3! (May be earlier. Ctrl+Esc works as short cut for Start yet.) In these times were programs sold with quick reference cards and keyboard templates. Oh, these days of our childhood. Many people are now so amazed when watching you working with keyboard effectively. Other tips could be working with clipboard and marking text using keyboard only.
    My favourite helper outside of Windows is Launchy. If you have many applications this teachable program allows You to run You favourite program with no hassle.

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    I like to use shortcuts to start programs and open frequently-used documents, but I don't like to scatter shortcuts all over the desktop, where they are hard to find and usually hidden by open windows.

    My desktop displays nothing but my wallpaper photograph. The Task Bar is in the conventional place at the botom of the screen, but Autohide is turned on. To display the Task Bar at any time, I just move the mouse pointer to the bootom border of the screen. My program and document shortcuts are stored on the Quick Launch Bar, which is positioned along the right border of the screen, again with Autohide turned on. Not matter what I am working on, even when the current window is maximised, I can access my Quick Launch Bar shortcuts simply by moving the mouse pointer to the right border of the screen.

    Many people have 50 or more program and document shortcuts scattered on their desktop. You can't fit 50 shortcuts on the Quick Lauch Bar (and even if you could, it would be hard to find the one you want). To access a large number of shortcuts via the Quick Launch Bar, you need to think hierarchically, similar to the hierarchical menus described in Scott Dunn's article. Create a folder somewhere on your system and populate it with shortcuts to your utility programs. Place a shortcut to that folder on your Quick Launch Bar. Now you can start any utility program at any time (even when your active program has a dialog box open) with a mouse movement (to unhide the Quick Lauch Bar), a single click (to open the utility program shortcuts folder) and a double click (to start the selected program). Create another folder of shortcuts to frequently-used documents and put a shortcut to that folder on the Quick Launch Bar. Create other shortcut folders for other groups of programs or documents that are important in your work or play. Put shortcuts to the top few most frequently used programs and documents direcly on the Quick Launch Bar, not in shortcut folders. Now you have almost instant access to any commonly-used program or document at any time,. no matter what you are doing.

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    I just realised, based on @John's comments above, that I also use some more shortcuts - keyboard macro's.

    I use a freeware called AutoHotKey.

    AutoHotkey is a free, open-source utility for Windows. With it, you can:
    • Automate almost anything by sending keystrokes and mouse clicks. You can write a mouse or keyboard macro by hand or use the macro recorder.
    • Create hotkeys for keyboard, joystick, and mouse. Virtually any key, button, or combination can become a hotkey.
    and a whole lot more that makes it really flexible.

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    For rapid starting of programs that have desktop icons, I've used, for years, Snadboy's TopDesk (http://www.snadboy.com/). It's a free program that started a number of OSs ago and still works. (I use it with XP and Vista, haven't tried it with W7.)

    Clicking its small icon in the tray gives an alphabetical list of all shortcuts; click the desired program to start it. Right clicking brings up options, such as refreshing the list when a new desktop shortcut is added. I have this program in my startup group so it's always ready.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Catchpole View Post
    I like to use shortcuts to start programs and open frequently-used documents, but I don't like to scatter shortcuts all over the desktop, where they are hard to find and usually hidden by open windows.
    I also like to keep shortcuts off of my desktop, but I take a slightly different approach which is based on the idea of aliases on a *nix shell.

    To set things up:
    • Add a folder to your PATH environment variable.
    • Move all of the Icons that the setup programs so helpfully spew on your desktop to this directory.
    • Rename them to a short abbreviation which is easy to remember ("xl" for Excel, for instance)


    You can modify your search path by opening up the properties dialog for "My Computer", and clicking the "Environment Variables" button on the "Advanced" tab. Addyour new folder location to the PATH variable under User Variables, separated by a semicolon. If the PATH variable doesn't exist, use the New button to add it. You won't need the semicolon in this case.

    To invoke a program, just press the Windows Logo Key + R (which will bring up the "Run.." dialog from the start menu) and enter the abbreviation.

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    Concerning better task switching, what I am really enjoying in Windows 7 is that once you get the display of icons with Alt-Tab, you can then use your mouse to pick the one that you want instead of cycling through the list (which can get very large for me).

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    Thank you Scott! I hope this stays on topic of "moving your hands between the keyboard and mouse is not the most efficient way to interact with our computer" as I'm extremely interested in learning anything I don't know about it. I have to wonder if my forum post to your last WS article inspired this <grin>.

    Keyboard shortcuts and non-mouse use of the computer are a subject I'm very interested in. As Pavel said, many people are amazed when I do something with the keyboard without touching the mouse. "Howja do THAT?!". Unfortunately, my obsession with this is related to health issues as my right hand gets tingly/numb/achy when I use the mouse, even a little.

    Like Jak, I also use AutoHotKey whenever possible. Have been for years. I'm a programmer and find myself doing redundant typing practically every day so this keystroke generator is invaluable, particularly since MS removed SendKeys from the native VBScript language. I *think* this was presented to langalist readers a number of years ago. That's usually where I got all my smarts.

    My only beef with Windows 7 is that when Alt+Tabbing through open apps, the icon for some apps changes depending on the content of the app. (I.E. Windows Explorer C: drive is different from the My Music folder). Since Window+E opens explorer to the same place, (an expected behaviour), I've been closing Explorer then Window+E when I need it. Inefficient, but works as expected. If Alt+Tab showed a "standard" icon in the menu no matter what the content was, I could swiftly switch to it without thinking about it.

    My 2¢...[hey, howja do that cents sign?!]


    P.S. To Java developers, please try to comply with MS coding standards as listed on their site http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa291596(VS.71).aspx. That language doesn't seem to support or promote keyboard commanding of computers.

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    Personally, I like to make my own toolbars (I use XP):

    Create a folder (in e.g. My Documents) that contains only shortcuts. Right-click on the Taskbar, select ToolBars->New Toolbar... and then specy the folder. Voila - a new taskbarI In my case, I pushed the new toolbar all the way over to the left of the screen, set it to have "Show Text", "Show Title" and "Auto-Hide" off and "Always on Top" on and now I have a nice simple toolbar full of single-click shortcuts. Always there, waiting for me. I can add, remove, rename and re-order shortcuts to my hearts desire

    The benefit of making your own toolbar is that it doesn't get cluttered by icons that might get added by new software you install (which will often try to add a shortcut to the Quick Lanch toolbar by default), plus it keeps your shortcuts in order (with Quick Launch, they sometimes get disordered). Finally, because it's user-defined, you have the option to have "Show Title" turned off, which means that the tooolbar can be only as wide as a small icon - something which you can't do with the Quick Lanch toolbar.

    Rory

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    Hey Scott
    Windows 3.1 included a macro program, Recorder.exe, which was dropped in subsequent releases. Don't ask me why, as it
    is a perfectly serviceable utility and works with all Windows versions up thru XP. I tried it on a laptop running Windows Vista
    Ultimate, and it didn't run, but I haven't pursued it yet. It allows the user to create macros which are launched by specified
    shortcut keys. It's greatest usefulness has been in closing, minimizing, maximizing and restoring windows, the functions available via the 'control menu' which drops down when 'Alt-Spacebar' is pressed. The second major use is for automated typing of
    name, address, fone number etc. which makes filling out forms a snap. In perusing the web for the past several years, I have yet to see any reference to this program, and I can only wonder why. There are numerous free or paid utilities for doing the same things,
    but never a word about Recorder.exe (there are 2 companion files, a DLL and a help file. The interface is somewhat clunky/quirky,
    but then we who use Microsoft products are thoroughly used to this by now, aren't we?

    Eric Schell eric.schell@sbcglobal.net

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    I use numerous mouse shortcuts that I have placed in the Taskbar. In order to keep my Desktop clear I use a Window for the remainder of my shortcuts. Works well for me.

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    The most important shot-cut must be ctrl + S

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    Thanks Scott,

    I try to reduce the mouse interaction a bit, every tip helps a little.

    One shortcut I recently started using in W7, I assume it works in Vista, Ctrl-Shift click on either a task bar icon or a start menu icon opens a new instance of the app in administrator mode, it brings up the UAC dialog box.
    Expert help is less costly than inexpert help

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    I hate applications that require the use of a mouse!

    Alt-Space brings up a menu that includes Close, Maximize, Minimize, and Restore (and the generally useless Size and Move if the window header is off screen). Since I generally maximize applications in use, a quick Alt-Spacebar and ‘x’ maximizes the application, and the good old Alt-Tab switches between applications. Note: hold Alt and hit Tab multiple times to cycle through the list. Alternative is to hold down Alt, hit tab, then use the mouse to select one.

    My Start Menu uses the classic task list and includes all of the programs that I frequently use (with small icons to make it fit). I changed the shortcut name of MSWord by adding a W to the front, and Excel with an X. Applications that start with the same letter are placed in order of importance so that typing Windows-key and the first letter once gets me to the most frequently used applications. To go to the next application with the same letter, just type the letter again. The less frequently used applications are available under the Programs list (which requires 2 ‘P’s because I have PSPad first.)

    The menu key (looks like a box with several lines and a mouse pointer) opens up the “right click” menu for an item. E.g., after navigation to a start menu icon, right click brings up a menu that includes “Run as administrator” (Vista UAC is active).



    A few other hints:

    Ever find that you hit the Caps Lock instead of shift (or Tab)? Turn on “Toggle Keys” (accessibility option available through Vista’s control panel’s “Ease of Access Center” –“Make the keyboard easier to use”) to beep when Caps Lock (and Num Lock or Screen Lock) are pressed. Now if you hear a beep when going for the shift or tab key you will know you got the Caps Lock key instead. This feature is available in other Windows versions, e.g. XP: control panel “Accessibility Options”. (I used to use an anti-caps-lock program until I found this trick.)

    Sometimes I open a lot of windows, such as when reading Outlook email. (I select 20 or 30 emails that I want to read, and then open them all at once.) When I do this I drag the bottom edge of the taskbar to increase the number of lines displayed. (For ergonomics, I placed the taskbar at the top of the screen. Since most of the time the applicable information is in the top half of the screen, this helps to lift the head instead of looking down at the bottom of the screen.)

    Noticed a few comments about mouse pain - I use a trackball mouse where the trackball is under the middle fingers (Logitech marble mouse). Both a thumb operated trackball and a normal mouse aggravate my carpel tunnel symptoms. I also have a curved keyboard. With these two accommodations I can generally use the computer all day without major pain (taking short breaks every hour or so).

    Observations made with Windows Vista Home Premium - many have been around for years.

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