Make the Windows Key a good habit in Windows 7

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz tells you about his favorite Windows Key shortcuts and shows you how to make them habit forming.

As you may know, the Windows Key was introduced on the first Microsoft Natural Keyboard in 1994, and while it is now a mainstay on just about every PC keyboard, I am still surprised by the fact that not many people use it to their advantage. Sure, lots of folks use Windows Key to open the Start menu or in combination with the [Tab] key to launch the Windows Flip 3D feature, the rotating carousel-like interface for switching between tasks. However, there are many other really handy, timesaving features that the Windows Key can provide for Windows 7 users if, and only if, you take the time to learn the keystrokes and make using them a habit.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll tell you about my favorite Windows Key shortcuts and show you how to make them habit forming.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Windows + R

Ever since Microsoft removed the Run command from the Start menu in Windows Vista to make room for other features, people have been clamoring for its return. In Vista that means using the Local Group Policy Editor and enabling the Add the Run command to the Start Menu setting. In Windows 7, it's a bit easier -- you go to the Customize Start Menu dialog box and then select the Run command check box.

However, why bother returning the Run command to the Start menu, where it can be considered a waste of space, when you can easily launch the Run dialog box with a simple Windows + R key combination. Give it a shot, and you'll see how easy it is.

Want to make it a habit? Go ahead and remove the Run command from the Start menu. Then you'll be forced to use the Windows + R key combination. Sure, it might feel like a pain at first, but after using Windows + R for a while, you'll forget all about the Run command on the Start menu.

Stay on top of the latest Microsoft Windows tips and tricks with TechRepublic's Windows Desktop newsletter, delivered every Monday and Thursday. Automatically sign up today!

Windows + E

Probably one of the first Windows Key combinations that I learned was Windows + E, which is used to launch Windows Explorer targeted on the Computer folder. However, making this one a regular habit has always been difficult since I became so used to accessing Computer and Documents on the Start menu as well as on the Quick Start menu. And, in Windows 7, Windows Explorer is pinned to the Taskbar.

Once I decided to make a concerted effort to use the Windows + E combination, it became easier to ignore those icons. But I found myself slipping back to my old ways too often. So I decided to force the habit.

To do so, I first unpinned the Windows Explorer icon from the Taskbar. Then I went to the Customize Start Menu dialog box and selected the Don't Display This Item under the Computer and Documents sections. Both of these actions are illustrated in Figure A.

Figure A

By unpinning Windows Explorer and disabling Computer and Documents, you can force yourself to make using Windows + E a habit.

Without these handy icons to fall back on, I was forced to remember and use Windows + E to access Computer and Documents. Soon, I began using the Windows + E keystroke without even thinking about it.

Windows + G

In my recent blog, "Take Advantage of Windows 7 Gadgets to Create Room on the Taskbar," I showed you how to free up space on the Taskbar by removing icons from the Notification Area and using Gadgets as replacements. Of course, one of the downfalls of the technique is that more often than not, you will have a window open that covers up the Gadgets. Fortunately, Windows + G provides a solution. When you use this Windows Key combination, all your Gadgets instantly come to the foreground and float over top of the open window, as shown in Figure B. When you click anywhere on the window, the Gadgets drop back to the background.

Figure B

Windows + G brings Gadgets to the foreground.

When I originally removed the Clock and Calendar from the Notification Area in favor of the Gadget counterparts, I immediately missed being able to easily see the time. As such, I forced myself to begin using Windows + G to see the Clock Gadget.

Windows + Spacebar

While Windows + G brings the Gadgets to the foreground, pressing Windows + Spacebar activates Aero Peek, which makes all the open windows transparent, thus allowing you to instantly see your Gadgets, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Windows + Spacebar activates Aero Peek, allowing you to see your Gadgets.

Windows + Break

Probably one of the easiest Windows Key combinations to make a habit for me was Windows + Break, which brings up the System window, shown in Figure D. I suppose it was the mere fact that I never actually used that key for anything, so it was easy to remember.

Figure D

Windows + Break instantly brings up the System window.

Windows + L

I got into the habit of using this one at work in order to shield confidential information from prying eyes. Every time I get up from my desk, I press Windows + L to lock my system, thus requiring that you enter the password to regain access. It was easy to make this a habit since it is so instantaneous and very easy to use.

Windows + 1-9 & 0

This set of Windows Key combinations is pretty neat as it allows you to sequentially launch or access the applications displayed on the Taskbar. Moving from Start to the right, the first icon is accessed by pressing Windows + 1, the second icon, by pressing Windows + 2, and so on. If the icon is pinned to the Taskbar and the application is not running, pressing the Windows Key combination will launch the application. If the application is running, pressing the Windows Key combination will bring that application to the foreground.

This one is difficult to make a habit since there are multiple ways to switch tasks, but once you get used to using the Windows Key for some of the other operations I've mentioned here, you will find it easier to remember and use this Windows Key technique.

More keyboard shortcuts

If you want to learn about the Windows Key combinations in Windows 7, be sure to check out my 100 keyboard shortcuts for moving faster in Windows 7 document, which is available as a PDF file in a TechRepublic Download.

What's your take?

Do you regularly use Windows Key combinations? Will you employ any of these techniques to make using certain Windows Key combinations a habit? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.


Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.


Coming from my Fedora 17 install, these keys make my time spent on Windows a lot less miserable. These key-shortcuts really makes it fast(er) to navigate and perform various tasks. But in my opinion, this still doesn't match a lot of Linux distros.


I couldn't get the 100... document referenced in the original post so I couldn't find out if all of these are already there. Mine is in Excel but I tried to make it readable here. Win CTRL ALT Shft Key Action X -- -- -- -- Opens the Start menu X -- -- -- 1..9 Launches a program pinned on the Taskbar in the position indicated by the number; or accesses a running program on the Taskbar in the position indicated by the number X X -- -- 1..9 Accesses the last active instance of a program pinned on the Taskbar in the position indicated by the number X -- X -- 1..9 Accesses the Jump List of a program pinned on the Taskbar in the position indicated by the number X -- -- X 1..9 Launches a new instance of a program pinned on the Taskbar in the position indicated by the number X -- -- -- ARROW, UP Maximizes the current window X -- -- -- ARROW, DOWN Minimizes/restores the current window X -- -- -- ARROW, LEFT Tiles the window on the left side of the screen X -- -- -- ARROW, RIGHT Tiles the window on the right side of the screen X -- -- X ARROW, UP Extends the current window from the top to the bottom of the screen X -- -- X ARROW, LEFT / RIGHT Moves the current window from one monitor to the next X -- -- -- b Selects the first item in the Notification Area; use the arrow keys to cycle through the items and press Enter to open the selected item. X X -- -- b Accesses the program that is displaying a message in the Notification Area System Properties X -- -- -- d Show/Hide Desktop (minimizes/restores all windows) X -- -- -- e Opens Computer in Windows Explorer X -- -- -- f Opens Search X X -- -- f Opens the Find Computers dialog box X -- -- -- F1 Launches Windows Help And Support X -- -- -- g Cycles through gadgets X -- -- -- Home Minimizes all but the current window X -- -- -- l Locks the computer X -- -- -- m Minimizes all windows X -- -- X m Restores all minimized windows X -- -- -- p Chooses a Network Projector presentation display mode X -- -- -- Pause/Break Open the System page X -- -- -- r Opens the Run dialog box X -- -- -- Spacebar Preview Desktop (makes all open windows transparent) X -- -- -- t Cycles through the items on the Taskbar X -- -- -- Tab Accesses Windows Flip 3D and cycles forward through open programs X X -- -- Tab Opens Windows Flip 3D as a stationary object; use the arrow keys to cycle through open programs and press Enter to access the selected program. X -- X -- Tab Cycles backward through open windows X -- -- X Tab Accesses Windows Flip 3D and cycles backward through open programs X -- -- -- u Opens Ease Of Access Center X -- -- -- x Open Windows Mobility Center


My fav combination is : - Windows + m - Windows + e


Windows L is well worth remembering. You lock your computer and protect your work.


favorite is the Windows+tab

Working IT
Working IT

Windows + L Windows + M Windows + D


Went from 3.1 => 3.11 => NT 4 => XP Still using XP. {Win + R} looks useful for me. {Win + G} doesn't work in XP. Makes sense. Don't have any gadgets. Guess I'm not a real power user. Never felt the need to memorize a bunch of shortcuts for navigation. Usually right click an object and choose from there for navigation.

Holding down [Shift] in combination with [Windows] and a number key will start a new instance of the respective pinned application, whether an instance is already running or not.


I actually have 13 items in my taskbar quick launch section, but I have them arranged in the approximate order of frequency of use. (Would be a HUGE help if this were also possible with program shortcut icons) It is easy to remember the first 3 or 4 and use the Windows key taskbar shortcut to open Word, perform a screen snip, open Windows Explorer, and one or two additional shortcuts. This is one of only a few "new" things in Windows 7 that is actually a productivity improvement.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you a Windows Key power user? What is your favorite Windows Key shortcut?


Keyboard shortcuts may seem like an inconvenience if you're not used to using them, but once you discover how much you can do without wasting the added motion of taking your hand from the keyboard to the mouse and back, you could be amazed at how helpful they really are. I got used to doing things with the keyboard back before there were mice, so I knew a lot more keyboard shortcuts than my coworkers. Now my son's classmates are envious of him because he knows so many keyboard shortcuts, and can do things so much faster without the aid of the mouse. For people like us, the mouse is the inconvenience. Here are some helpful shortcuts (including ones from Greg) if you're still using XP (these all still work in Vista and Win 7): [Win + B] - This places the focus on the System Tray icons, which you can then navigate using the arrow keys. [Win + E] - opens the Windows Explorer at the Computer level. [Win + D] - minimizes all applications to reveal the Desktop. Immediately pressing it again restores all the application windows. Useful if you want to quickly hide your work, but do not need to lock your computer. Also useful if you actually show your Desktop icons (I don't), so you can easily launch another application. [Win + L] - Locks the computer. [Win + M] - Minimizes all applications. Press [Win + Shift + M] to restore them. [Win + R] - Opens the Run command box. [Win + U] - In Vista and Win 7 this opens the Ease of Access Center. In XP, it opens its predecessor, the Utility Manager. [Win + X] - Haven't tried this on an XP notebook computer, but on both my Vista and my Win 7 notebooks, this opens the Windows Mobility Center. On my XP tower, it does nothing. [Win + Break] - Opens System Properties. [Win + F1] - Opens Windows Help and Support, as opposed to pressing just [F1], which generally opens application-specific help. Num Pad [*] - When a folder is hilighted in the left (navigation) panel, pressing [*] on the Numeric Keypad will expand ALL subfolders within that folder. Pressing [-] on the keypad will collapse the hilighted folder. Note that if you expand the folder again using the mouse, all the subfolders are still expanded. To collapse all, first collapse the hilighted folder, then press [F5]. Note: this only works with the [*] key on the numeric keypad. Pressing [Shift + 8] won't do it. Helpful hint: While this certainly has its uses, DO NOT use the expand all shortcut on a high-level folder, such as the Root folder, Windows folder, or your main User folder. Doing so will tie up the computer for a very long time because of the maze of subfolders within such folders. Also if there are inaccessible folders that it tries to expand, you'll get an error for every one of them. Many of these shortcuts I learned by experimenting. Some (like the [Num *] key) I had to do some digging to find, and at least the digging is easier to do nowadays than it was back when I was doing it :) Plus you have great people like Greg Shultz writing articles putting a lot of that information in one convenient location. Thanks Greg.


Don't know if my other response made it. LocoLobo Windows + L is well worth remembering. You lock your computer and save your work from "prying eyes".

Editor's Picks