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98. Keyboard shortcuts

By Andrew D. Wright

Knowing your way around a computer keyboard is part of what separates the computer pros from the newbies. The secret is to remember a few keyboard shortcuts that can be applied to a number of different situations.

Most people know the Control key, marked as Ctrl, gives edit functions. These edit function keys will come up in many places; editing text, pictures, music or video and moving files and folders around.

Ctrl and the letter A key pressed together selects everything in an open document. Ctrl and C copies selected material to memory. Ctrl and X cuts the selected material from the original while copying it to memory and Ctrl and V pastes the selected material from memory to a new place. Ctrl and S will usually save an edited file.

Handy to know, and less used is Ctrl and Z which undoes the previous action. Think of this as an eraser for mistakes. Oops, the file was copied to the wrong directory and you don't know which one? Ctrl Z and it's back to where it was.

To select a bunch of things that are all grouped together - words in a sentence, files in a folder - click on the first item, hold down the Shift key, then click on the last item and let the Shift key go. You can also use the arrow keys on the keyboard while holding down the Shift key to select things.

To select different items in a list which are not grouped together, hold the Ctrl key down, click on the different items you want to select and let the Ctrl key go. Only the items you clicked on will be highlighted.

The Tab key does more than just indent paragraphs. If you should ever lose mouse function on a computer, Tab is your best friend.

You can use it to jump from one field to the next in a form. Shift and Tab jumps back to the previous field. Tab also will change the active button in a dialog window and in a web browser will jump down from link to link on a web page. Hold down the Alt key and hit Tab to switch from one active running program to a different one.

The Windows key has a number of different uses. Windows key and the letter L pressed together will lock a password-protected computer while pressing Windows key and the letter M will minimize all open windows.

You can search for files and folders with Windows key and F and open the Run dialog box with Windows key and R. Open Windows Explorer with Windows key and E.

Windows and the Pause/Break key will bring up the computer's system properties, providing a quick overview of what's what when looking at a computer.

Some keyboard commands, like the F1 key meaning Help, are pretty standard and widely used from program to program while other commands will only work in a single program. Remembering the common commands will go a long way to speeding up the way you do things on a computer.

Keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft products:

Keyboard shortcuts for Apple Macintosh OS X:

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email or click here. If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 17 December 2006


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