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Essential Keyboard Shortcuts

Tips for saving time while you work

This month, I list 10 Windows NT keyboard shortcuts that let you navigate your desktop more efficiently. Even in this era of the GUI, the keyboard remains an essential tool. Often, the keyboard is simply faster than the GUI. Although some of these keyboard shortcuts offer quicker ways to perform actions you typically perform with your mouse, others have no graphical equivalent. Windows Explorer supports all these shortcuts, so you can also use them in Windows 9x.

10. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to access the Windows NT Security dialog box. Everybody knows this three-finger salute, but no summary of essential keyboard commands is complete without it. From this dialog box, you can lock the workstation, change your password, run Task Manager, log off NT, or shut down your system.

9. Press F1 to access online Help. The F1 key is another deeply ingrained shortcut and has become the universal key for displaying online Help not only for Windows but for virtually all applications.

8. Press Shift while inserting a CD-ROM to disable AutoPlay. Occasionally, I like to bypass the CD-ROM drive's AutoPlay feature, which automatically launches autorun.inf files. Often, an autorun.inf file starts the CD-ROM's setup program. However, after you've installed the program, you don't need to view the setup program's pop-up screen. Because my system has a SCSI CD-ROM drive, I have to press Shift before inserting a CD-ROM, then hold down the key until the CD-ROM drive's LED glows.

7. Press Shift during NT's startup to disable programs in the Startup folder. Programs in the Startup folder (e.g., programs that users or installation programs put in the folder) are meant to be convenient. All the programs in the Startup folder run automatically when NT starts. However, sometimes you might not want them to run.

6. Press Print Screen to copy the desktop to your clipboard. Here's a key that doesn't do what it claims to do. As anyone who's pressed Print Screen can attest, the screen doesn't print. However, you can copy the screen to your clipboard, through which you can easily paste the image into Microsoft Paint, Microsoft Word, or other programs. This shortcut is handy when you need to create graphics for user documentation (or magazine articles).

5. Press Alt+Print Screen to copy the active window to your clipboard. This shortcut is the fine-tuned version of Print Screen. Instead of copying the entire screen to your clipboard, Alt+Print Screen copies only the active window. After using this shortcut, you can paste the image into other applications.

4. Press Alt+F4 to close the active window. You can also use this key combination to close applications and shut down NT. (You must close all applications before using this shortcut to shut down NT.

3. Press F3 from Explorer or from the desktop to access the Find: All Files dialog box. This dialog box is a crucial Windows tool for navigating and managing files on your local hard disk and on network shares.

2. Press Shift+Del to permanently delete files. When you delete a file using Explorer's Delete option, NT places the file in the Recycle Bin. However, that file remains on your hard disk. By pressing Shift+Del, you bypass the Recycle Bin.

1. Press Alt+Tab to access a pop-up window that lets you toggle between active applications. This shortcut is especially handy during presentations when you're running a full-screen application such as Microsoft PowerPoint and need to switch to another application to run a demo.

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