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What are the best keyboard shortcuts for Windows?


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Sue knows some Windows keyboard shortcuts but is sure there must be more. Here are the ones I’ve found most useful


Could you provide some information on Windows keyboard shortcuts? I find them so useful, and am sure there are many that I don’t know about. I’m always shocked by the number of people who don’t even seem to know they exist. Sue


I recommend the use of keyboard shortcuts because they save a lot of time, and sometimes a lot of unsaved work. They are also important to people who cannot use a mouse for physical reasons, which can include repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Thanks to the “sticky keys” feature in Microsoft Windows, Apple’s MacOS and other operating systems, you can use keyboard shortcuts even if you’re typing with, for example, a head-mounted pointing stick.


I started computing before mice were widely available, making keyboard shortcuts essential. Many are now part of my “motor memory” so I don’t even have to think about them.


The most useful example is Ctrl-S, which is the Save command. It should be a reflex action to hit Ctrl-S whenever you pause when creating a document. Do that and you should never lose more than a paragraph or two even if there’s a power glitch. The idea of losing an hour or even a day’s work is ridiculous.


It takes time to move a mouse pointer to the File menu, click it, then select Save. Hitting Ctrl-S takes a fraction of a second.


On Macs, the Command (Cmd) key generally does the same job as the Control key in Windows, so the equivalent shortcut is Cmd-S. The Mac does have a Control key but it was used to provide a right mouse-click in the days of one-button Apple mice.


For the record, the Windows shortcut for a right mouse-click is Shift-F10, but you’ll probably never use it.


Everybody makes mistakes, so everybody should know the Ctrl-Z or “undo” command. It doesn’t always work, but it works often enough to be worth a try. If you accidentally deleted a paragraph in a document, Ctrl-Z will undo that command and restore it. If you accidentally deleted a bunch of files, Ctrl-Z will restore them from the bin. (Of course, it won’t work if you used Shift-Delete to delete files, but Windows already warned you about that.)


Less useful is Ctrl-Y, which is generally known as redo. Microsoft uses Ctrl-Y to undo an undo. In Microsoft Office, it will redo the previous command, if it wasn’t undo. Apple, more logically, uses the Shift key. In other words, Cmd-Z is undo while Shift-Cmd-Z is used to undo an undo.

Select, copy, cut, paste etc

The best known keyboard shortcuts select, copy, cut and paste data. You can copy anything from a punctuation mark to a whole drive with Ctrl-C for copy, and then Ctrl-V for paste. (Think of the V as an upside-down insert mark.)

Ctrl-A (for All) selects everything while Ctrl-X cuts or deletes whatever you selected.


One of the most useful variants in Microsoft Office is Ctrl-Alt-V, which is a “smart paste” command. This pops up a box that lets you choose how you want to paste in the contents of the clipboard. The options can include unformatted text, or text in RTF, HTML or Unicode formats.


In Microsoft Office and many other programs, Ctrl-I makes things italic, Ctrl-B makes them bold, and Ctrl-U underlines them.

Ribbon shortcuts

The moment you realise that Ctrl-S could have saved you hours of work when a power cut strikes.
The moment you realise that Ctrl-S could have saved you hours of work when a power cut strikes. Photograph: Caiaimage/Paul Bradbury/Getty Images/Caiaimage

Jensen Harris’s Ribbon user interface, launched with Microsoft Office 2007, was a huge boon for mouse users. It has since been added to many other programs such as File Explorer and Microsoft Paint. Some people worried that it would be a problem for people who couldn’t use a mouse, but it ain’t necessarily so.


To reveal the keyboard shortcuts for a ribbon, just press the Alt key. To expand the Home section in Office, for example, press Alt then H. The drop-down section has a key to press for each graphical option. It looks horrible, but it works.


Unfortunately, the shortcut letters are not always consistent from program to program, and sometimes they are just numbers. Still, programs with ribbons can be as accessible as programs with traditional nested menus, even though some shortcuts don’t transfer well.

Windows key tricks

The Windows Key is your friend for window management.
The Windows Key is your friend for window management. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Microsoft added a Windows logo key to the keyboard layout, and this is used in a lot of keyboard shortcuts in Windows 10. One of the most useful is WinKey-X, which provides instant access to some of the geekier utilities such as power options, disk management, Task Manager and shut down. (The alternative is to right-click on the Windows logo in the bottom left.)


Most will know about using Alt-Tab to cycle through running applications. The next step up is WinKey-Tab, which loads the Task View timeline. This lets you scroll down through several days (or more) of application thumbnails. Want to continue something you were doing earlier? Scroll down and click on its thumbnail. Of course, there’s an icon for Task View on the left end of the Task Bar, but you probably didn’t know what it was for.


If you use virtual desktops, you can open a new one with WinKey-Ctrl+D, and move between virtual desktops with WinKey-Ctrl and the left or right arrow keys. And just as Alt+F4 closes the current window, WinKey-Ctrl+F4 will close the virtual desktop.


If you like to snap programs to view them side-by-side, hold down the Windows key and press the left or right arrow key. If you want it in a quarter of a screen, WinKey-Left arrow then up arrow will snap a program to the top left.


Also, WinKey+Up arrow maximises a window while the down arrow minimises it. This is more memorable than my old favourite shortcuts, Alt-Spacebar X and Alt-Spacebar N. My new favourite for pointless obscurity is WinKey+, (comma), which lets you peek at the desktop.


You can also use the Windows Key to open programs that you have pinned to the Task Bar, in left-to-right order. WinKey+1 will open the first icon, usually the Windows Store, WinKey+2 will open the second, and so on.

Web keys

Historically, the most valuable shortcuts for websites have been Ctrl+ to make things larger, Ctrl- (minus) to make then smaller, and Ctrl-0 (zero) to return things to normal size. This is still a quick way to make too-small text legible, though nowadays, it’s better to hit the Reader icon in most web browsers.


Reader has also replaced one of my old shortcuts, Alt-V, Y, N. In menu terms, this selects View, then Page Style, and then No Style.


It’s also useful to know that pressing the spacebar moves you down a web page, while pressing Shift+Spacebar moves you up it. These duplicate the Page Up and Page Down keys. However, the shift keys and spacebar are consistent across keyboards while PgUp and PgDn are not.


I always use Alt-Left arrow instead of the clicking the Back button to go back from a web page to the one that was previously loaded. Alt-Right arrow obviously takes you in the other direction.


Other useful commands include Ctrl-T to open a new tab, Ctrl-W to close the current tab, and Shift-Ctrl-T to reopen a browser tab. (Sometimes Ctrl-Z will do this.) F11 makes a tab full screen. Ctrl-R refreshes a page, which is handy if your laptop manufacturer has appropriated the F5 key for some other purpose. The Tab key moves the cursor between fields in a form.


Ctrl-1 should switch you to the first tab loaded in your browser, Ctrl-2 to the second tab, and so on. This is brilliant if you always have your main tabs in the same order, such as email, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Amazon or whatever.


Most modern browsers provide dozens of keyboard shortcuts, and Vivaldi is the browser of choice for shortcut addicts. Ctrl-F1 brings up a cheat-sheet of the shortcuts available, and all of them can be customised.



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