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