Software

Beyond the basic Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts: Clever things you can do with keyboard settings

Here are some of the smart ways you can augment Windows 10's built-in keyboard shortcuts to maximise your productivity.

Windows 10 comes with a wide range of keyboard shortcuts: you can open the Settings app (Win-I), the Action centre (Win-A), the Ink Workspace (Win-W), the new clipboard history (Win-V), connect to wireless devices (Win-K), project your screen (Win-P) or lock the orientation of your device before you take off or fold back the keyboard to use it as a tablet (Win-O). Win-. (that's a full stop) opens the emoji picker (as does Win-; — is a nice touch of humour because a semi-colon is how you start a winking smiley face). If you have multiple keyboard layouts installed, pressing the Windows key and the spacebar at the same time switches between them. Win-F is a handy shortcut for reporting feedback; it takes a screenshot and then opens the Feedback Hub so you can send it as feedback.

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To create a keyboard shortcut to an application, right-click on its icon and choose Properties, select the Shortcut field and press the key combination you want to use.

Image: Mary Branscombe/TechRepublic

There are dozens more shortcuts, including some special ones for working with remote desktops like Ctrl-Alt-Home to open the connection bar in full-screen mode and Ctrl-Alt-+ to take a screenshot of the remote client. You can also create your own keyboard shortcuts.

Windows 10 lets you make shortcuts that launch applications or open folders. For applications, you can do that straight from the Start menu by right-clicking on the program and choose Open file location. You can also right-click on a program file or folder in Explorer and choose Create shortcut, then right-click on the new icon and choose Properties, select the Shortcut field and press the key combination you want to use (starting with Ctrl-Alt and adding a letter, number or function key), and click OK. Press Win-R and then type 'shell:AppsFolder' to jump straight to the folder with all your applications in Explorer. You can also use the free WinHotKey utility to see what keyboard shortcuts there are and add your own.

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Customising keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Word.

Image: Mary Branscombe/TechRepublic

Many applications let you create keyboard shortcuts that only work inside them. In Word and Excel, for example, you can right-click on the ribbon and choose Customize the Ribbon, and then click the Customize button next to Keyboard shortcuts; that opens a list of every command on every tab, menu and dialog box. You can pick a shortcut key for any of them — helpfully, the dialog shows if the combination you pick is already in use, and it lets you change an existing shortcut if you don't find it convenient. The shortcuts are saved in the normal document template, so you get them in all new documents created from that template. You can do the same in Photoshop and most other Adobe applications via Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts.

SEE: Windows 10 power tips: Secret shortcuts to your favorite settings (Tech Pro Research)

You can also use Word to extend Office's built-in autocorrections, which work in Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and desktop OneNote as well. This is useful for saving time on words you tend to mistype, but even more useful for adding abbreviations that auto-expand to words and phrases.

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You can save time by customising Word's AutoCorrect options. These are then added to other Office apps.

Image: Mary Branscombe/TechRepublic

In Word, choose File > Options > Proofing and click AutoCorrect Options (or right-click on a spelling mistake and choose AutoCorrect Options from the flyout that suggests the right spelling). Type the abbreviation (like addr) in the Replace box, and what you want to change it to (like your full address) in the With box — you can even include the formatting. Even though the With box is small, you can type or paste in long entries on multiple lines and paragraphs, or even tables. If there are things you type over and over again, you can save a lot of time with custom autocorrects.

You only need to create autocorrections in one of the Office apps and they will be added to the other apps the next time you open them. You can create them in Word, Excel, PowerPoint or OneNote, but Word's dialog box is slightly larger and easier to work with. Word also lets you right-click on spelling mistakes and choose to always have them autocorrected in future.

If you create a lot of these autocorrects and want to back them up to copy to a new PC, there's a macro written by a Word MVP that makes this easy. Although it dates back several years, it still works perfectly with Word 2019. The macro creates a Word document that you can save anywhere. When you want to add the autocorrections to a new PC, open the macro again (not the document you created) and choose Restore. This will overwrite any autocorrections you already have set up, so if you need to keep those, back them up and then copy them into the other macro backup document, making sure the list is alphabetical.

There's a separate tab in the AutoCorrect dialog box, Math AutoCorrect, that lists dozens of shortcuts that start with a \ for inserting mathematical and other symbols like \alpha for the α symbol or \int for the integral sign. By default, these only work in areas of a document that you've formatted as being maths, but you can turn them on for the entire document.

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Windows 10's Touch keyboard can provide convenient access to special characters and symbols — even on a non-touchscreen PC.

Image: Mary Branscombe/TechRepublic

If you need a fast way of getting extended characters, like accents and different currency symbols like €, you can use the touch keyboard — even if you don't have a touchscreen. You can drive it completely with a mouse: right-click on the notification area of the taskbar and choose the 'Show touch keyboard' button if you don't see it. To get accents, press and hold on the letter you want to have accented; to get currency symbols, press and hold the pound or dollar key — there are also mathematical symbols available from the various operator keys.

If you want to make shortcuts for other tasks (or use the thousands of shortcuts that other people have made), you can install the free AutoHotKey utility and do things like setting your Caps key to be a Ctrl key (less irritating if you hit it by accident) and using Shift-Caps to turn Caps lock on and off, or running macros and displaying messages on-screen when they finish. You can even limit an AutoHotKey key combination to only work in a specific program, if you want to add a keyboard shortcut to an app that doesn't have its own shortcut controls.

SEE: Windows spotlight: 30 tips and tricks for power users (Tech Pro Research)

On some PCs the problem is that you just don't have the physical key you want to press — the new Surface Go keyboard doesn't have the context key (which simulates pressing the right mouse button), for example. That's useful even when you have the right mouse button or a touchscreen, because it works at the current cursor position — where you're typing rather than where the mouse pointer happens to be. The Surface Go does have a second Alt key and you can swap that to be a context key. Or you might want to turn the Caps lock key into something else, or swap the tilde key on a US keyboard to be the backslash — because the backslash gets mapped to the # key when you use a UK keyboard layout on a physical US keyboard.

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SharpKeys is a utility that manages a Registry key which allows Windows to remap one key to any other key

Image: Mary Branscombe/TechRepublic

You can do that in the registry, as long as you know the scan codes for the keys you want to remap, by editing the Scancode map key under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout. It's much easier to use SharpKeys, which can remap special keys like media keys, or change the default mapping of the function keys to be function keys rather than the usual special keys, even if you forget to press the Function lock. Choose Add and either pick the source and target keys from the lists, or choose Type Key and press the keys to change. SharpKeys writes the new mapping to the registry, and it doesn't mean loading background software every time you run Windows, or even installing a new driver. And if you're not planning to make a lot of changes you can even run it straight from the author's website without installing it. Note that these keyboard remappings apply to all user accounts (from Windows 7 onwards).

If you want to make much more comprehensive changes to the keyboard layout, like a whole new language or a completely different symbol layout, use the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator utility. That creates .KLC files that you can distribute to multiple users as a package.

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About Mary Branscombe

Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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