Category Archives: Windows

Ctrl+Alt+Arrow Keys: Rotate Screen

If you press Ctrl+Alt+Left Arrow, the screen will rotate sideways.

Why would you ever do this? Maybe you have a desktop and you’ve turned your monitor into the portrait direction. Or maybe you’ve got a laptop and you’ve placed it on its side.

Regardless, to get back to the normal direction, press Ctrl+Alt+Up Arrow.

This one is in the category of “good prank to play on someone on April 1st.”

Windows+Home: Minimize all windows EXCEPT the active window

Sometimes you want to minimize every window except the one that you’re using, so that you can see the desktop but keep working.

Press Windows and the Home key. All other windows minimize down to the task bar.

Press Windows+Home again, and the other windows are restored to where they were.

Note that if your active window is maximized, you won’t really see anything happening. This tip is only useful if the active window takes up less than the full screen.

Restoring your screen using CMD and Full-screen mode

Every now and then, your screen may go blank — especially on your laptop. Whether it’s a misbehaving app or a video card glitch, sometimes you just know that your computer is still running but you can’t see anything. Using Fn+F8 to toggle output modes may help, but if not, try this sequence:

  1. Hit Windows key + R to get the Run dialog box. Even though your screen is blank, Windows will ask you what command you want to execute.
  2. Type cmd plus Enter to run the Command prompt. (You may know this as the DOS command screen.)
  3. Press Alt+Enter to toggle full screen mode. This will force your video mode to text mode, which should fix the display problems.
  4. Type EXIT and enter to close the Command screen. That will return you to Windows mode, and your video should now be restored.

Ideally you’d never need it… but sometimes you just need it!

Revealing the underlined shortcut: Configuring Windows XP to be more keyboard-friendly

Just recently I received a new laptop, and found that by default, the keyboard shortcuts in menus weren’t displayed.

This is the enemy of all keyboard users: An option hidden away in the Display settings that hides the underlined letters telling you what keys you can press. Boo on Microsoft for making this a default.

To enable keyboard shortcut underlining, follow these steps:

  1. Hit Windows+D to show the desktop.
  2. Press Shift+F10 to show the shortcut menu.
  3. Press up arrow to get to the bottom menu item, Properties, then press Enter to select it.
  4. Press Ctrl+Tab to change tabs three times, until the Appearance tab appears.
  5. Press Alt+E to hit the Effects button.
  6. Deselect the last item by pressing H.
  7. Press Enter twice to close the dialog boxes.

[Screen shot of the Advanced Effects dialog box, with the 'Hide underline' option]

Ctrl+Shift+Esc: Task Manager

Sometimes you just want to see the Task Manager, which gives you a list of which applications and processes are running, lets you run new programs, and lets you kill programs.

Credit for today’s tip goes to Jake, who left a comment earlier: Ctrl+Shift+Esc will instantly produce the Task Manager.

Shift+Drag: Move File

Bonus tip today! This follows from the earlier tip about Ctrl+Shift+Drag to create a shortcut, as well as yesterday’s tip about Ctrl+Drag to copy a file.

Let’s be complete: Suppose you’re still using the mouse to drag a file icon somewhere. And let’s suppose you’re about to drag it to a folder for a different drive (such as your A: drive or a second hard drive like D:, or a network drive like U:). Normally Windows will make a copy when you drag a file between two different drives. But if you hold down the Shift key, it’ll move the file instead.

Note that when you have the Ctrl key held down (or are dragging the file to the same drive), the ghosted-out image of the file’s icon has a little “+” in it to show it’s about to be copied.

If you have either the Alt or Ctrl+Shift keys held down, the file’s icon has a little arrow to show it’s about to be created as a shortcut.

If you have the Shift key held down, the icon is normal to show it’s being moved.

(By the way, instead of remembering all this confusing stuff about Shift or Ctrl or Alt), another choice is to use the right mouse button when dragging instead of the left mouse button. Then when you let go of the button, you will get a shortcut menu asking you what to do with the file you’re dragging. You can use the arrow keys and Enter to select your menu choice instead of clicking on the choice you want.)

Next week we’ll talk about how to use keys with the Windows Explorer so that you never have to bother with dragging a file ever again.

Ctrl+Mouse Drag: Copy file

When you have to use a mouse and you drag a file into a folder, normally it gets moved (assuming you’re moving it on the same drive). If you hold down the Ctrl key while you drag the file, the file is copied instead. You’ll end up with one copy in the original location, and one copy in the new folder you dragged it to.

Shift+Delete: Delete file without sending it to Trashcan

I mentioned this one back in this Explorer shortcut post, but it deserves being spelled out on its own: When you see a file in a directory folder (such as when opening or saving a file, or when using the Windows Explorer), you can delete a file normally by using the Delete key. It then goes to the Trashcan, where you can undelete it.

If you have a sensitive file or a big file that you don’t want taking up disk space, press Shift+Delete to delete it instead. It won’t appear in the Trashcan, it’s just gone with only one confirmation dialog box to confirm.

Change your mind? You can press Ctrl+Z to Undo the delete operation, but don’t wait too long.

Windows key+Ctrl+F: Find Computers on your network

If your computer is on a network (such as when you’re at work) and you want to find a computer based on its name, press the Windows key plus Ctrl plus the letter F, then type in the computer’s name and press Enter.

Once a list of computers is returned, you can press the Up and Down Arrow keys to select the computer you want to access, and then press Enter to see the list of shared folders and printers available on that computer.

Windows key+M: Minimize all Windows

We started covering the Windows key back when the blog first started on February 23. (Recall that the Windows key by itself will show the Start menu; combined with different keystrokes, you can perform other useful tasks.)

One of the most useful shortcuts we covered is Windows key+D to show the Desktop. Related to that is a similar keystroke: Windows key+M will minimize all of the open applications that can be minimzied, showing only dialog boxes. Try it out!

(If you want to minimize only the current window, try this minimize shortcut.)

Windows key+R: Run / Suspicious calls to “fix Windows”

The “Run” dialog box from the Windows Start menu is a handy way to open an application or document. Usually you would select it from the Start menu, but a shortcut is to press the Windows key and R.

Once you’ve got the Run dialog box open, you can type in the name of a program and then Enter. Here are some popular ones:

  • cmd: Command prompt for running DOS-style commands
  • notepad: The Notepad app
  • sol: Solitaire
  • winword: Microsoft Word
  • calc: the Calculator

You can also open directories by pressing Win+R, then typing the directory name (such as C:\TEMP) and pressing Enter.

More recent versions of Windows also let you type in a URL, such as, and it will open in a browser automatically.

EDIT FOR FEB, 2012: Megan asked in the comments how you know what to type. There is not an easy way, because there’s no definitive list. What happens is that Windows will look through a list of directories (known as your “path“) for an application (that is, a program file ending in .com or .exe) that matches the name you typed. If you view the properties of the shortcuts, you can find the program name. If you look in your Microsoft Office folder (such as C:\Program Files\Microsoft Office\Office14) you will see Applications, such as POWERPNT.EXE. So then you know what to type next time.

EDIT FOR JUNE, 2013: From the comments below, a lot of you are getting suspicious calls telling you to run various commands using the Win+R key. As a rule of thumb, even if the command is safe, NO ONE FROM A COMPANY CALLED “WINDOWS” WILL EVER CALL YOU ABOUT A VIRUS. Just hang up on them and ignore the call. Most likely the caller is a scam artist who will try to convince you that your computer has a virus or is otherwise doing bad things, and then magically they happen to know this information somehow, and also magically they happen to be able to sell you a solution. You should never trust people who cold-call you with such information. Instead, get someone you trust to check out your computer.

Good practices:

  1. Never trust anything that is being told to you over the phone/email from someone contacting you about your computer.
  2. Never run commands that you don’t know 100% what they do (especially if a stranger is telling you to run them).
  3. Never give your credit card over the phone to any stranger who called you.

EDIT FOR JAN 2015: It’s amazing to me how long this scam has been running and how many comments this post gets. I stand by the advice of just hanging up, or saying “please remove me from your list and don’t call me again” and then hang up.

EDIT FOR SEP 2019: It’s still going! Wow.

Alt+Enter: Properties

In quite a few applications, you can press Alt+Enter to open a Properties dialog box (which displays information about the selected object).

For example, suppose you press the Windows key+E to open the Windows Explorer. As you navigate around, suppose you want to know more information about a folder or drive or file. Press Alt+Enter and you’ll get a Properties dialog box.

Windows key+U: Utility manager

This week we’ll cover a few more general Windows shortcuts.

Just to get this one out of the way: We’ve covered the Windows key previously. The Windows key plus the letter U runs the Windows Utility manager, which lets you control how three specific utilities work on your computer:

  • The Magnifier, which can enlarge sections of the screen (making them easier to see).
  • The Onscreen Keyboard, which lets you use a mouse or joystick to type keys instead of the regular keyboard.
  • The Narrator, which can read aloud text on screen.

Windows key+Break: Show System Properties

Chances are you’ve got this “Break” key on your keyboard in the upper center (it might be located with the “Pause” key) and you’ve never used it. It sure doesn’t do much. Well, if you press that Windows key plus the Break key, you get the System Properties control panel, which (among other things) tells you how much memory your computer has. With a couple of presses of the Ctrl+Tab key to change tabs in the dialog box, you can view your hardware devices and make sure they’re working, change your computer name, or a few other administrative tasks.

Windows key+E: Show Windows Explorer

Personally, I use this one many times a day: Pressing the Windows key plus the letter E runs the Windows Explorer, which lets you browse files on your computer.

Once you have the Explorer running, you can navigate the directory tree on the left with the arrow keys. Up and down move up and down the items; to expand one of the plus signs press the right arrow. Left arrow jumps up to the top of the current directory tree, and then pressing it again closes the current directory if you’re at the top of a directory.

Press Tab to cycle between the directory tree (on the left), the address bar (at the top, where you can type in a location such as “C:\music”), the file list (on the right), and the menu bar.

In the directory tree or the file list, pressing a letter jumps down to the next file or directory in the list that begins with that letter.

Remember, you can use Shift plus arrows to select files in a group. (You can also Ctrl+left click to select arbitrary files. You can press Ctrl+Spacebar to do the same, and keep the Ctrl held down while you use the arrow keys to move up and down the file list while moving to the next file.)

Press Delete to delete the selected file or directory (or more than one if you have selected more than one). Anything deleted will go to the trash. However, pressing Shift+Delete will delete the file permanently, without it going to the trash. You can also copy selected files by press Ctrl+C (and then Ctrl+V in a new directory to paste them, finishing the copy). Or, substitute Ctrl+X for Ctrl+C to move the selected files.

Alt+Spacebar, N: Minimize an application

If you click on the icon in the upper left of an application (at the beginning of the title bar), a little menu opens, which is called the System menu:

[Image: Application system menu]

The keyboard method of opening this menu is Alt+Spacebar. Then you can press N to Minimize the application, or X to Maximize, or any of the other underlined letters.

So, to minimize any application: Press Alt+Spacebar then N.

Dialog box navigation via keyboard

When a Windows application asks you a question, such as how many pages to print, it does so via a dialog box, which is a window that pops up and has an OK button and a Cancel button and one or more fields.

You can use the keyboard to handle dialog boxes and not bother with the mouse for 99% of dialog box tasks.

  • The Esc key is always the same as clicking on Cancel — it gets rid of the dialog box without taking any action.
  • The Enter key is the same as clicking on the default button. The default button has a thicker border around it than any other button. Usually the default button is the OK button, so pressing Enter is usually the same thing as clicking Ok.
  • Use the Tab key to move from field to field. (Or press Shift+Tab to move back a field.)
  • Press Alt plus the underlined letter from the field name to jump to a particular field.
  • Pressing Spacebar while on a highlighted field that’s a checkbox will check or uncheck that field.
  • If the dialog box has more than one tab (with different questions on each tab), usually pressing Ctrl+Tab will change tabs.

Windows key+D: Show Desktop

We covered the Windows key previously. If you hold that key down and then press the “d” key, you’ll see the desktop. Press Windows+D again and your application windows will reappear.

Note: Some people like the Windows+M shortcut, which minimizes all applications. Windows+D and Windows+M are very similar, but I prefer Windows+D because it’s a toggle and because not every application can be minimized. So Windows+D is just a little bit more generally useful.

Alt+Tab: Switch Applications

Press Alt+Tab. If you have more than one window open, pressing Alt+Tab switches to the most recent window you used. Pressing it again swtiches back. Try it a few times.

Now, try holding down the Alt key and don’t let go. Then press Tab (but don’t let go of the Alt key). A special window will appear.

[Image: Switching applications example from Windows XP]

While holding down the Alt key, keep pressing Tab. You’ll cycle through a list of open windows and applications. As soon as you have selected the application you want to use, let go of the Alt key, and you’ll immediately switch to that application.

(If, while holding down the Alt key, you press Shift+Tab, you’ll cycle backwards through the list.)

Note: There’s another keyboard shortcut for switching applications, Alt+Esc, which switches through Windows in the order you opened them, but it’s not nearly so useful, so forget about that one and use Alt+Tab instead.

Ctrl+Esc, U, Enter: Shutdown Windows (XP and earlier)

This is a keyboard sequence, so let’s understand it in order:

  • Ctrl+Esc opens the Start menu. (Instead, you could use the Windows key.)
  • Pressing the u key selects whichever menu item has an underlined u. In this case, we want to select the “Shut Down…” command. The “u” in “Shut Down…” is underlined, which means you can press the u key key to select it. (Note that if your menu has other options that begin with a U, such as “User Preferences,” then you’ll have to hit u more than once and then hit Enter when Shut Down is selected.)
  • A dialog box labeled “Shut Down Windows” or “Turn off computer” appears. Windows remembers the last option you selected when shutting down. If “Shut down” is the highlighted option, you can press Enter to select it. If the wrong option is selected, you can change the selected option with the arrow keys before you press Enter.

“Windows” key: Open the Start menu

Welcome to the Windows Keyboard Shortcut of the Day blog! (You can read more about this blog if you like.)

We’ll start things off with the “Windows” key. Most computer keyboards built since 1995 have this key, usually down between the Alt and Ctrl keys, to the left of the Spacebar. On most keyboards, it looks like this:

Public domain image of the white four-segment Windows key icon shown on a black key.  From SXC via Wikipedia; artist or photographer unknown; creation date unknown.

Pressing this key (by itself) opens the Start menu. Pressing it again switches off the Start menu.

Once the Start menu is open, you can use the arrow keys to select a menu item. Pressing the Enter key launches the selected menu item.

What if you don’t have a Windows key on your keyboard? Just press Ctrl+Esc instead.