Twenty-six ways to work faster in Windows 7

Lincoln spector By Lincoln Spector

The easiest operating system Microsoft has ever released, Windows 7 gives you all sorts of slick and simple ways to open folders, navigate windows on the desktop, and launch applications — so many, it’s hard to remember them all.

Here’s our compendium of tips for working faster in Win7, none of which requires downloading or installing anything. Some are new, some recycled from XP and Vista.

Seven fast ways to open a folder

How do you get to your favorite folder? Many users probably still click the Start orb, select Computer, and navigate the left pane. But with a few seconds of setup time, you’ll find so many easier ways to do it.
  • Put it in Windows Explorer’s Favorites: Select the folder inside Explorer and drag it to the Favorites section at the top of the left pane. Once there, it’s always in easy reach when you’re in Explorer.

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  • Include it in a Library: Below Favorites, you’ll find Libraries. There are four of them by default: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video. You can put folders into these libraries (or create a new one of your own) by right-clicking and dragging them to a library and selecting Included in library. To create a new library, right-click the Libraries label in the left panel and select New, then Library.

    (It’s important to know that Win7 libraries are not folders — they’re just an organizational tool for your real folders and files. Deleting a library does not delete any of your documents.)

  • Access it from the taskbar’s Windows Explorer icon: If you use a certain folder frequently, there’s a good chance you’ll find it in the Frequent list. Simply right-click Explorer’s taskbar icon and select the folder or file from the pop-up list. The same trick works with applications pinned to the taskbar, whether the app is open or not.

  • Pin it to the taskbar’s Windows Explorer icon: If you want to make sure it remains on that list, right-click it on the Frequent list and select Pin to this list. (See Figure 1.) You can also drag the folder from an open Explorer window to the taskbar.

    Win7's pin-to-list option
    Figure 1. Frequently used files and folders can be pinned to the Win7 Frequent list (left figure). The file will remain at the top of the list (right figure) as long as you need it.

  • Pin it to the Start menu: Drag the folder from Explorer to the Start Orb. When you release it, the folder will be pinned to the top of the Start menu. (This trick works with files, too.)

    Win7's pin-to-list option
    Figure 1. Frequently used files and folders can be pinned to the Win7 Frequent list (left figure). The file will remain at the top of the list (right figure) as long as you need it.

  • Create a shortcut on the desktop: Right-click-and-drag the folder (or file) to the desktop and select Create shortcut here. It’s so much faster than creating a desktop shortcut in XP.

  • Just type the name: Having difficulty finding a folder? Click the Start orb and start typing the folder’s name. When the folder appears in the search results, press Enter. It’s that easy!
Seven ways to alter the desktop with a keystroke

The Windows desktop can easily become a crowded and confusing profusion of open windows. Here are a few quick and mouseless ways to bring forward the program you want to work in — or get to the desktop behind all the windows.
  • Minimize everything open on the desktop: Press the Windows key + D. This is a toggle; do it again, and all the windows come back.

  • Minimize everything but the current window: Windows key + Home. (Note: This does not work with all applications.)

  • Turn open windows temporarily invisible: Windows Key + space. It’s useful when you want to quickly see icons on the desktop.

  • Move the current window to the left or right side of the screen: Windows key + left- or right-arrow key. With dual displays, repeating this sequence moves the window from screen to screen.

  • Maximize the current window: Windows key + up-arrow key.

  • Restore the current, maximized window to pre-maximized size, shape, and location: Windows key + down-arrow key.

  • Move the current window to the other monitor in a two-monitor setup: Shift + Windows key + left-arrow key or Shift + Windows key + right-arrow key.
For a complete list of Win7 keyboard shortcuts, check out the Windows Help & How-to site.

Five ways to launch an application

How do you start an application that’s not already running? You can click the Start orb, select All Programs, and search the menus; it’s a great experience if you’re feeling masochistic. But these ways are better:
  • Just type it: Click the Start orb and start typing the program’s name. When the program is selected, press Enter.

  • Pin it to the taskbar: With a program open, right-click the program’s taskbar icon and select Pin this program to the taskbar. Even when the program is closed, its icon remains on the bar.

  • Select it from the Start menu: Avoid the hassle of All Programs. The Start menu’s left pane lists programs you run frequently.

  • Pin it to the Start menu: If you want to make sure it remains on that list, right-click it and select Pin to Start menu. (Or select Pin to Taskbar.)

  • Create an Icon on the Desktop: Quick shortcut — find the program in the Start menu’s All Programs section and drag it to the desktop. If you right-click and drag, you are presented with three options: Copy here, Move here, or Create shortcut here.
Three mouse-free ways to select a program

Hardcore keyboard jockeys typically have a bunch of programs up and running. You can switch between them without taking your fingers off the keyboard.
  • The old-school way: Press Alt + Tab to bring up a panel displaying thumbnails of your running windows. Continue holding down Alt as you press Tab until you’ve highlighted the one you want. Then release Alt.

  • The prettier way: Press Windows key + Tab. This works like Alt + Tab, but it looks cooler on screen (see Figure 2), and you get a better view of the currently selected window.

    3-D open applications view
    Figure 2. In Win7, pressing Windows key + Tab launches a sort of 3-D display of your open applications.

  • By the numbers: Pressing Windows key + 1 brings up the first program on the taskbar, Windows key + 2, the second, and so on. (Selecting a closed application’s icon launches the app.) This is particularly handy with programs you keep pinned to the taskbar.
Two Windows Explorer shift + right-click tricks

When you right-click a file or folder in Windows Explorer, you get a context menu of things you can do with it. But if you hold down Shift while you right-click, that menu offers new choices such as Open in new process, which is not simply a new window but an entirely new instance of Explorer. (SevenForums has a good discussion on opening a new process.)

Here are two favorite shift + right-click additions to Explorer’s context menu that you might find handy:
  • Open a Command Prompt window in the folder of your choice: If you want to work in that old-time DOS-like environment but don’t want to bother with a CD (change directory) command, shift + right-click the folder you want to work in and select Open command window here. (That option appears only if you right-click a folder or drive, not a file.)

  • Copy a folder or file’s path: If you want to tell a program exactly where to find a file or folder, shift + right-click the file or folder in Windows Explorer and select Copy as path. Then you can paste the full path — such as “C:UsersLincolnDocumentsCurrent Articles7 Ways Faster Win7Twenty-six ways to work faster in Windows 7.doc” — anywhere you like.
One way to copy/move files to an unopened place

Everyone knows how to copy or move a file in Windows: you drag it from one folder to another. But if you don’t happen to have both folders open at the same time, here’s a method that’s far more convenient:

Select the file or folder, then press and release the Alt key to bring up the Windows Explorer menu. Select Edit, then either Move to folder or Copy to folder. A dialog box will let you select where to put it, as shown in Figure 3.

Win7 copy-move keyboard shortcut
Figure 3. Windows 7 makes it easy to copy or move a file to an unopened destination.

For even greater convenience, you can put those two commands on the context menu. Find out how in a TechRepublic tip.

One way to tame the User Account Control

Just about everybody who has ever used Vista or Win7 hates the User Account Control (UAC) dialog box. There’s nothing like having your screen go black before you’re asked if you really want Windows to do what you just told it to do.

Windows 7 lets you tone down or turn off the UAC. Click the Start orb, type uac in the search box, and press Enter for the User Account Control Settings dialog box.

There you can choose your own compromise between horribly annoying and downright dangerous. Personally, I like the second-lowest setting (see Figure 4): Notify me only when programs try to make changes to my computer (do not dim my desktop).

Taming win7's uac
Figure 4. If you’re frequently annoyed by Win7′s nanny-like User Account Control, it’s easy to change its notification settings.

These are just a few of the ways Windows 7 has made working on your PC faster and — in some ways — more fun. Spend a bit of time to find your favorites.

Feedback welcome: Have a question or comment about this story? Post your thoughts, praises, or constructive criticisms in the WS Columns forum.

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.
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Lincoln Spector

About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.