32 Windows-key shortcuts you might not know about

September 28, 2012 9:27 am
Tip-sheet: 32 Windows-key shortcuts you might not know about

Did you know there are more than 30 Windows 8 shortcuts using the Windows-key, many of which work in Windows 7? Click for a handy table listing them.

One of the more “interesting” facts about the new Metro style UI in Windows 8 is how much of it remains hidden from the user until it’s needed.

This is one of the core design principles of Windows 8’s Metro style apps, that the application’s content shall be king, and so all its UI chrome – which means buttons, textboxes and other widgets that make the app work – aren’t visible most of the time.
 
You may tap or click on anything you can see, but this will represent only a fraction of what you can actually do with that particular app. To discover most commands, you’ll have to learn how to swipe, flick or make various other new gestures to uncover the Charms, tabs and the App Bar that hide them from view.
 
This is a fairly radical departure for most users who have been brought up on Windows, with its multitude of menus, tabs, buttons and other visual cues that are always on show. It’s even further from the principles of Microsoft’s previous Fluent UI – otherwise known as the ribbon – which was a model that strove to ensure every possible command and action had a visible cue that made it discoverable, and so ensured the user could get the most out of that application.
 
Hence Microsoft’s decision to hide most of the UI commands in Windows 8 Metro style apps, while simultaneously introducing the ribbon to other Windows 8 applications such as Windows Explorer, feels strangely contradictory and is difficult to explain.
 
In Windows 8 Explorer (which was still in beta at time of writing), you can find out how to add a folder to the Favourites list – it’s Home | New | Easy Access | Add to Favourites – and you’ll also see that there are now methods to “Pin to Start” and “Include in Library”. (Notice how “Favourites” is spelled in Australian English fashion in Windows 8, which has a version to match our own style of spelling for the first time.)
 
The Windows 8 ribbon is collapsed by default, so it doesn’t take up any more screen space than the previous toolbar, but Microsoft’s telemetry studies have revealed that power users generally leave it showing, and both power and novice users use more commands from the ribbon than they used the equivalent, hidden, commands in Windows 7. That has to be because they’re more easily discoverable.
 
Hidden commands aren’t easily discoverable. In Windows Phone 7, many people have a problem editing entered text, because it can be difficult to place the insertion point in exactly the right position. After tapping three times to try to position it between the desired two letters, most people give up and just tap to select the whole word and then type over it. There is, of course, a hidden UI trick: if you tap and hold in the text, an I-beam cursor will appear that you can then steer to the place you want to edit. You have to hold for a few seconds before this I-beam appears, so the chance of you activating it by accident is slim. Since there are practically no manuals from which to learn such tricks, they’re very effectively hidden.
 
Windows (and Windows 8, in particular) has a lot of commands that hide under the Windows key on the keyboard. There are many people out there who have no idea what that key between Ctrl and Alt on the left of the spacebar is actually for. They have no idea how useful it is because they’ve never been shown, and they’re not sufficiently confident to experiment on their own – why would they press a key when they don’t know what it does? It might break their computer or delete all their files. Why would they try pressing it in combination with another key if they do discover what it does when pressed on its own? There are actually more than 30 Windows key combinations in Windows 8, many of which work in previous versions, too. Here is a table:
 
Windows key +
Effect
Show Metro start screen
B
Move focus to notification tray
C
Show Charms menu
D
Show Windows desktop
E
Launch Windows Explorer
F
Show Metro File Search screen
G
Cycle through desktop Gadgets
H
Show Metro Share panel
I
Show Metro Settings panel
J
Switches focus between snapped Metro applications
K
Show the Devices panel
L
Lock PC
M
Minimise all Windows on the desktop
O
Lock device orientation
P
Choose between available displays (Projector)
Q
Show Metro Search screen
R
Show Run Dialogs
T
Cycle through Taskbar icons
U
Show Ease of Access Centre
V
Cycle through toast notifications
W
Show Metro Settings Search panel
X
Show Power User Commands or Mobility Centre
Z
Show the App Bar
1-9
Show/Launch Application from Taskbar
Page Up / Down
Moves tiles to the left/right
Tab
Switch between applications
, (comma)
Aero Peek (desktop)
. (full stop)
Snap Metro style app to right side of the screen
Shift . (full stop)
Snap Metro style app to the left side of the screen
Space
Switch input language and keyboard layout
Enter
Launch Narrator
Arrow keys
Aero Snap (desktop)
 
If you’ve been working with computers as long as I have, you may possibly remember when each application used to come with not only a printed manual – so you could learn what it could do, and how to do it – but also a keyboard overlay. This was a cardboard strip printed with all the key combinations available, to be placed at the top of your keyboard as a quick reference guide. You could even buy better, more comprehensive overlays from third-party suppliers, and overlay flippers that would allow you to have the overlays for five or more applications all stuck to your keyboard at once, and to flip between them like pages of a book according to which application you were running. 
 
Then along came Windows, which standardised a lot of the UI, so you didn’t have to remember so many different ways of interacting with applications – the need for keyboard overlays slowly disappeared as all the keyboard commands migrated into visual menus and toolbars. 
 
You could, at a pinch, consider the ribbon to be the ultimate soft keyboard overlay: a view encouraged by its shape, style and the fact that it shows you the keyboard shortcuts in the tooltips for all the commands. But Windows 8 now hides all these cues in its Metro style apps. Even Office 15, which is still only in limited, invitation-only, technical preview, minimises its ribbon by default. Without manuals, or any visual cues as to what’s possible and how to do it, will users be able to cope with it?
 
If you read the reviews of sample applications in the Windows 8 store, they’re littered with people complaining they can’t find how to search for an application, delete or share content. These mechanisms are there in the apps but are mostly hidden under the Charms: swipe in from the right, move the mouse to the top-right corner of the screen, press Windows-C, Windows-H or Windows-Q. Or select an item (touch and drag down slightly or right-click) and tap or click the Delete button on the App Bar, or press Delete. It’s difficult to describe these actions and the different ways of achieving them, let alone to do them.
 
Perhaps it’s inevitable that I should become an old fuddy-duddy, who just doesn’t get this brave new world of computing being designed by and for 20-somethings, kids who are so used to and unafraid of technology that they’re happy to right-click everything in sight and try dragging things here, there and everywhere just to see what might happen.
 
But I want computers and applications to work for everyone – regardless of age – and I’m afraid many of those people are going to need far more visual clues than Metro style apps will provide.

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