Saturday, October 07, 2006

Shortcut of the week - 4

Windows Vista Tip: Why I love the TAB key

Been away for some time, but I am back with a great tip I found on the web. Note: it also works in XP !

courtesy: Josh's Windows Weblog (it has some screenshots too)

The tab key is the greatest thing since sliced bread when it comes to navigating around Windows via a command prompt. You can use it auto-complete paths, file names, and even in the middle of command lines. If you have never used it here is a little more about it.

If you type the beginning of a path hitting TAB will auto complete the first match that it finds to that string. For example if I have a “utility” folder at the root of my drive and I do CD U then hit tab it will not auto complete with the utility folder but instead would fill in the first U named folder it finds which would probably be Users. However if I put in UT then hit tab it will auto complete the rest for me, assuming I don’t have any other folders that begin with UT. The same trick can be used in typing file names that you want to run. This can be really useful for long folder paths especially those with spaces as it also automatically puts quotes around it for you.

Enjoy, and try the tab key you will be suprised how many places it will do work for you.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Shortcut of the week - 3

Alt+Space brings up the window command menu (or system menu), which allows you to move or resize windows with the arrow keys. Very few people seem to know about or use these features, which can cut way down on mouse usage. (Jon Galloway).

But how, you might ask, do you open the MDI system menu located directly beneath the normal system menu? Use Alt+Hyphen.

A nice background read from Jensen Harris. It seems they've choosen the Space because back in the Windows 3.1 days the icon on the top left of the window resembled the space bar on the keyboard. The MDI icon looks a lot like a hyphen. Although nowadays neither of these icons looks anything like a space bar or a hyphen, yet the keyboard shortcuts remain the same even in Windows Vista (nice comment from Kam Vedbrat).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Take a shortcut!

In the previous posts focus was on keyboard shortcuts. But what makes something a shortcut actually? Obviously to perform an action with one or more keystrokes as long as it is quicker than with help of a mouse. Nowadays I hardly use the mouse. I still use the mouse occasionally to navigate within my Internet browser. Personally I think there's still no good keyboard alternative, I mean, there are shortcuts, but it's not perfect. Maybe I will spend another post on this subject sometime.
Keyboard shortcuts can be implemented in various ways. I would like to group them into three categories.

  1. Launchers
  2. Hotkey's
  3. Active Strings

What they all have in common is that by merely using the keyboard actions can be performed like launching a program, a macro or a script, opening a document or going to a web site. The identified groups can also work together. For the record, this blog does not write about application shortcuts. The only reason is that I wouldn't know where to start with; there are so many! But that shouldn't keep you from using them! Maybe when I run out of ideas I will write some interesting stuff about application shortcuts, but for the time being there's enough material to write about the system wide or global shortcuts.

1. Launchers

It may come to a surprise and not look obvious, but launchers can be excellent shortcuts as long as you can start them with the keyboard. I know that many launchers are designed to be operated by a mouse, the "point and shoot" kind of. But even those launchers can be activated by a keystroke in most cases. As an example the most commonly used (and controversial) launcher is the Start Menu. It is tempting to click that shiny button with the mouse and wade through all the menu's until you reach the program you want to launch. But what's wrong hitting the Win-key (or Ctrl+Esc if your keyboard doesn't have one), subsequently hit a letter with an underscore (e.g. "P" for Programs), and than hitting the first letter in the menu that contains what you want to open or launch. And if you need to open a submenu first just hit Enter or the Right Arrow key. Of course you can scroll through the menu's by using the arrow keys, but that is mostly not efficient. E.g. it only takes me six keystrokes to launch a start menu program called "SyncToy": Win-key, P (opens up the Program Menu), S, S, S, and finally S. This takes about 3 seconds. By the way, I needed to hit S a couple of times, because there were other entries (submenu's and programs) also starting with a S, so the number of keystrokes may vary per user - if you're lucky one S will do. Alternativally you can hold down the S and the system will automatically wade through all the entries starting with a S. If you make use of "pinned-to-the-start menu" programs, starting a program will be even faster. And if you use a program often it appears in main menu, so you don't have to open up the program menu at all. So, for me the Start Menu isn't so bad after all. Launchers do not have to be menu driven as in the previous example. The Run command dialog box (shortcut Win+R), for instance, is a launcher where you just type what you want to launch. I will come back to launchers in more detail at some other time.

2. Hotkey

This category is very common and doesn't really need an introduction. In my view every combination of keystrokes that start up something is a hotkey. The number of keys doesn't count as long as you can manage to hit them all at once, e.g. Win and Ctrl+Win and Ctrl+Alt+Win and Ctrl+Alt+Win+P are all hotkey's. Most things can be achieved using 1 to 3 keys; hotkey's with more than 3 keys are often hard to remember and are difficult to handle. Avoid hotkey's that cramp your fingers! There are special tools to define hotkey's. I'll come back to that.

3. Active Strings

Active Strings (or hot strings or active words) are not widely known shortcuts. And you need a special tool for it. In other words, this feature is not built into the operating system. But because active strings are so convenient I assigned a separate category to them. I will tell you a lot more about this later, but to give you an idea just think about the AutoCorrect, AutoText, AutoFormat and Smart Tags you'll find in Word. Only Active Strings can do a lot more than that.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Shortcut of the week - 2

This week's shortcut is not a single keystroke but a small series of keystrokes. Nevertheless, still a shortcut, and more important without ever touching the mouse. Last week I showed you how to focus on the notification tray. Now I am going to the other side of the taskbar, the quick launch bar (QLB), assuming you have it activated.
Most pc users click on the QLB icons with the mouse, but it is very simple to accomplish the same thing just with the keyboard. Hit the Win-key, let go, and hit the tab-key subsequently. Now you're on the first QLB icon. If this is not the icon you want, just use the arrow keys to position the cursor onto the correct icon and hit enter.
By the way, if you hit the tab-key for a second time (or more depending how much stuff is between the QLB and Notification Area) you will end up in the Notification area. Actually, this method can be more convenient than last week's shortcut, although not as quick. The advantage is that tabbing to the Notification Tray (or area) will give you a visible focus on its icons. Just try both methods and you'll see what I mean.
Finally, in stead of hitting the Win-key by itself, you can also use Win+D. The desktop will disappear temporarily, but just like hitting Win-key by itself, the Start button gets the focus. So, tab and arrow away and you'll find yourself on the taskbar doing nice things you'd do "normally" with the mouse. Oh, your desktop returns as it was by hitting Win+D once more.
So, actually this weeks shortcut was three.

Monday, September 04, 2006


In my very first post just a few days ago I said that many people already wrote about the accessibility and usability of keyboard shortcuts. But I couldn't find a single blog that was uniquely writing about the subject. Until now. Well, not exactly a blog, but a website owned by Cantor Access Inc., a Toronto-based consultancy.
Most of the topics I wanted to cover are already discussed over there. Although it is a commercial site there's still enough material to read for free (I recommend the Windows Keyboard FAQ and the Macros FAQ articles).
For the time being I'll keep this blog alive, but I will skip the introductory posts I was about to publish. It's all on the site just mentioned. My next posts will focus more on specific items related to keyboard shortcuts including some tools you can use. I will also try to continue the Shortcut of the Week series.

Warning: before my next post you should have read Cantor's publications! So, start reading now!

Windows vs Application shortcuts

When we talk about keyboard shortcuts we need to make a distinction between system wide (or global) keys and application keys. Here you can find a nice overview of the first category as supplied by Microsoft.

A bold statement

A keyboard shortcut or hotkey is by far the quickest way to start a program, open a file or folder, go to a website or launch any other task. This sounds so evident, and it is! So, why do many people still use the mouse if there's a keyboard shortcut available? Please, invest a little time to learn how to create and use shortcuts. It makes a real difference.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Shortcut of the week - 1

I'd like to introduce a "shortcut of the week". This weeks shortcut is the not so widely known shortcut Win+B

Quite a few lists of keyboard shortcuts can be found (e.g. in C:\WINDOWS\Help\keyshort.chm), but the one missing is often this weeks shortcut. And that's a pity, because it is so useful. Ever wondered how to get to the notification tray? Just hit Win+B (only in XP) and the focus is on the first tray icon (or focus to the show/hide arrow if you are hiding tray icons). With the arrow keys you can select the icon you want.