Tired of chasing your mouse? Use keyboard shortcuts

The mouse, one of the greatest advances in computing history, provides you with an intuitive point-and-click method for using your computer. Depending on the type of work you're doing, however, sometimes using a mouse actually slows you down. If you are a good typist, taking your hands away from the keyboard to move the mouse can use up a few seconds. Over the course of a full day, you could save several minutes by using keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse.

You can use your keyboard instead of your mouse to do these three tasks:

Start a program

Navigate menus

Minimize, maximize, and close windows

Start a program using a keyboard shortcut

The Start menu is great for finding programs, but its multiple levels of folders can be time consuming to navigate. If there is a program you start frequently, you should set a keyboard shortcut for it so that you can start the program without taking your hands off the keyboard.

To set a keyboard shortcut to start a program


Click the Start menu, and then click All Programs. Right-click the program that you want to start with a keyboard shortcut, and then click Properties.

Shortcut menu for a program with Properties selected


Click in the Shortcut key box. Now press the letter on your keyboard that you want to use to start the program. Make it easy to remember—for example, press I for Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Note: You can use either uppercase or lowercase letters when creating your keyboard shortcuts—and when accessing them later. In the Shortcut key box, Microsoft Windows XP automatically adds Ctrl + Alt + before the key you pressed. When you want to start the program, hold down both the CTRL and ALT keys simultaneously, while also pressing the letter you chose. This way, your program won't start every time you type that letter.

Properties window for specified program with Shortcut tab displayed and Shortcut key box indicated


Click OK.

Properties window for specified program with Shortcut tab displayed and OK button selected


Now test your shortcut. Hold down the CTRL and ALT keys, and then press the letter you chose. If you find it difficult to hold down two keys at once, read Turn on the Sticky Keys feature. Your program should start.

Pressing shortcut keys

When your friends see you start up programs without touching your mouse, they just might think you have a psychic connection with your computer!

Navigate menus using the keyboard

You can speed up tasks in almost any program by choosing menu items using your keyboard instead of your mouse. This operation is particularly handy when you're performing repetitive tasks.

To control menus using your keyboard


With your program open, press the ALT key. Notice that one letter on each menu name is now underlined. To open the menu, press the underlined key. For example, in Internet Explorer, the View menu name shows the V underlined after you press the ALT key. To open the View menu, press the ALT key, and then press V.

Menu bar with the V highlighted and underlined on View menu name


Now, each menu item will show one letter underlined. To access or activate the menu item you want, simply press the underlined key. For example, in Internet Explorer, after you open the View menu, the Privacy Report menu item shows the V underlined. Instead of clicking Privacy Report with your mouse, you can just press the V key.

View menu with the v in Privacy Report menu item highlighted and underlined


You can also choose menu commands by pressing key sequences quickly, without waiting for the menus to open. For example, to quickly view a Web page's privacy report in Internet Explorer, press ALT, V, V. Similarly, to save a Web page in Internet Explorer, you would normally click the File menu, and then click Save As. To choose the same commands using your keyboard, press ALT, F, A.

Control windows using your keyboard

If you like to keep four or five windows open while you work (or play) on your computer, you'll appreciate knowing these keyboard shortcuts. You can quickly switch between your Web browser, e-mail, instant message windows, and other programs without taking your hands off the keyboard.


Minimize a window to your taskbar


Maximize a window so it takes up your whole desktop


Restore a window so it's visible but doesn't take up your whole desktop


Close a window


Switch to the last window you had open


Switch to any window

Hold down the ALT key, and press TAB until the window you want is active

Programs often start up in a "restored" state, where the window takes up only part of the screen. To maximize the window so that it takes up the entire screen, press the ALT key, press the SPACEBAR, and then press X. This will feel natural after you do it a few times, and you will feel much more efficient while using your computer.

Simplify using your mouse: change double-click to single-click

When you browse the Web with Microsoft Internet Explorer, links open with a single click. Yet, when you browse My Computer or My Documents, a single click lets you select a file or folder, but you have to double-click to open it.

If you'd rather single-click to open files and folders, you can change the setting on your mouse (don't worry, this process doesn't require any double clicks).

To change the settings on your mouse


Click Start, and then click My Computer.

Start menu with My Computer selected


Click Tools, and then click Folder Options.

Folder Options selected on Tools menu


Click Single-click to open an item. Then, click OK.

General tab in Folder Options dialog box with Single-click to open an item selected

Now you can navigate folders and open files with a single rather than a double click. If you need to select a file, simply hold your mouse over the file for a few seconds without clicking

Set your windows so they all have the same view

Microsoft Windows XP lets you show the contents of folders in a variety of ways, such as a simple or detailed list of the files, or as thumbnail images. Each folder in My Computer or My Documents can have its own view. That’s useful for folders like My Music or My Pictures, because you can look at your digital photos in Thumbnails or Filmstrip view, and see your song titles in Tiles view. But changing the view for every folder can be time-consuming.

If you prefer to have all your folder contents displayed in a particular way, you can save yourself some time by changing the view for all the folders on your computer at once.

To set your windows so they all have the same view


Click Start, and then click My Documents.

Start menu with My Documents selected


Click the Views button, and then click the view you want to apply to all folders.

Note: For more information about views, read Specify how folders open.

My Documents window with Views menu displayed


Click Tools, and then click Folder Options.

Tools menu with Folder Options selected


Click the View tab, and then click Apply to All Folders.

View tab in Folder Options window


Click Yes.

Folder views dialog box


Click OK.

View tab in Folder Options window with OK button selected

The next time you open a folder, it will be displayed using the view you chose. To restore your original folder settings, repeat steps 1-3. Then, in step 4, click Reset All Folders.

Use a Web graphic for your desktop background

The Web has many beautiful pictures. If you find a picture you particularly like, such as the following image of the puppy, you can make it your desktop background, so that you can see it whenever you use your computer.

To use a Web graphic for your desktop background


Use Microsoft Internet Explorer to open the Web page with the picture you like.


Right-click the picture, and then click Set as Background.

Web image shortcut menu with Set as Background selected

Microsoft Windows XP displays the picture as your desktop background. For best results, use large pictures that are wider than they are tall.

Speed up menu display

Microsoft Windows XP uses many visual effects to provide a rich, friendly interface. One of these settings allows menus to fade into view when you open them. This visual effect is so smooth that you may never have noticed it; however, the effect does cause menus to take a little longer to appear.

On a fast computer, this shouldn't be an issue. But on a computer that isn’t responding as quickly as you'd like, you can make menus display faster.

To speed up menu display


Click Start. Right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.

My Computer shortcut menu with Properties selected


Click the Advanced tab. In the Performance area, click Settings.

System Properties dialog box Advanced tab with Settings button selected


On the Visual Effects tab in the Performance Options dialog box, clear the Fade or slide menus into view check box.

Visual Effects tab in Performance Options dialog box with Fade or slide menus into view selected


Click OK.


In the System Properties dialog box, click OK.

Advanced tab in System Properties dialog box with OK selected

Now when you click a menu, it will appear almost instantly

Instantly activate a screen saver

Screen savers were originally intended to prevent monitor burn-in, which could occur if a single image was displayed most of the time. Over time, that image would essentially become etched into the display, making the monitor harder to use. Monitor technology has improved over the years, and screen savers have become more a form of entertainment than a way to avoid burn-in.

Screen savers can be used to display your favorite photos or other images you'd like to see. Sometimes you might want to immediately start your screen saver like you would any other program, without waiting several minutes for it to start automatically.

To add a shortcut to your desktop that you can double-click to instantly start your screen saver


Click the Start button, and then click Search.

Start menu with Search selected


In the Search Results window, click All files and folders.

Search results window


In the All or part of the file name box, type *.scr. Then, click Search.

Search Results window with Search button selected


You will see a list of screen savers in the search results. Pick the screen saver you want. You can preview it by double-clicking it. To add a shortcut to your desktop, right-click the file, click Send To, and then click Desktop.

File selected with Send To and Desktop selected on shortcut menu and submenu

Now you can instantly start your screen saver by double-clicking the icon on your desktop.

Manually put your computer into hibernation

When you use a laptop computer, you probably try to keep your battery power usage to a minimum. You may also want to cut down on the energy consumption of your desktop computer. One way to save power is to turn the computer off when you're not using it. If you’d like to save power but do not want to wait for Windows to shut down and restart, you can use the Microsoft Windows XP hibernation capability. Hibernation saves your open windows to your computer's hard disk and shuts the computer down within a few seconds. The next time you start your computer, all of your windows open exactly where you left them.

Hibernation is an alternative to the standby capability and saves your programs and shuts your computer down completely. Hibernation uses no power, and it takes your computer just several seconds to recover from hibernation when you want to use it again. Standby reduces power usage when your computer is not in use by turning off the parts of your computer that use the most energy. Standby uses more power than hibernation, but it takes less time to start a computer from standby than from hibernation.

Note: You can learn more about the standby option in your computer's power management settings in Configure Windows XP power management.

To put your computer into hibernation


Click Start, and then click Turn Off Computer.

Start menu with Turn Off Computer selected


Click Hibernate. If Hibernate is not an option, read Configure Windows XP power management for instructions on how to enable hibernation.

Turn off computer screen with Hibernate selected

Your computer goes into hibernation—a state in which it consumes no power. To wake your computer from hibernation, press the power button. If you like using hibernation, you can configure your computer's power button to automatically put your computer into hibernation.

Unlock toolbars to work with them

A toolbar is a collection of buttons or icons—usually displayed across the top of the screen—that represents the different tasks you can do within a program. For example, in Microsoft Internet Explorer, there is a toolbar for the standard Internet Explorer command buttons, one for entering an Internet address, and one for quick links you can set up.

When you open a toolbar, it will appear in a particular spot on the screen. If you want to change the location of the toolbar you can move it by dragging it to the new location. You can also resize the toolbar by dragging its edge. If you find a toolbar that cannot be moved or resized, the toolbar may be locked.

To unlock a toolbar


Make sure you have only one window open for the program. (You can look at the taskbar at the bottom of your screen to verify this.) Then, right-click the toolbar.


If Lock the Toolbars appears on the shortcut menu and is selected (a check mark appears to the left of it), click Lock the Toolbars to unlock the toolbar. If you see Lock the Toolbars, but no check mark appears to the left of it, the toolbar is already unlocked.

Note: If Lock the Toolbars does not appear on the shortcut menu, you may not be able to move or resize the toolbar.

If you are able move the toolbar, once you’ve moved the toolbar to the location where you want it, select Lock the Toolbars so that it isn’t inadvertently moved. To make sure the change is permanent, lock the toolbar, exit the program, and then reopen it. The toolbar should be locked.

Toolbar shortcut menu with Lock the Toolbars selected

Add familiar icons back to your desktop

When you first got your computer, it probably had shortcuts for My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, and the Recycle Bin on the desktop. If you or someone else removed any of those shortcuts and you’d like to get them back, you can easily restore them.

To restore you icons


Right-click the desktop, and then click Properties.

Desktop shortcut menu with Properties selected


In the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab, and then click Customize Desktop.

Desktop tab in Display Properties dialog box with Customize Desktop selected


In the Desktop icons area in the Desktop Items dialog box, select the desktop icons that you want to appear on your desktop.

Desktop Items dialog box


Click OK.

General tab in Desktop Items dialog box with OK selected


Click OK again.

Desktop tab in Display Properties dialog box with OK button selected

The icons you selected will be displayed on your desktop. You can also add shortcuts to your desktop or clean up unused icons on your desktop.

Change the default folder opened in Windows Explorer

Microsoft Windows Explorer, which is accessible through the Start menu, is the tool you use to look through the files and drives on your computer.

All Programs menu expanded to access Windows Explorer on Accessories submenu

When you start Windows Explorer from the Start menu, it opens your My Documents folder by default. However, a My Documents shortcut already exists on your Start menu. You can put the Windows Explorer shortcut to better use by changing it to display all top-level drives and folders on your system. This change will give you a broad, overall view of all your folders and files.

My Computer window showing top-level drives and folders

To change how Windows Explorer opens


Click Start, point to All Programs, point to Accessories, right-click Windows Explorer, and then click Properties.

All Programs menu and submenus expanded to access Properties on Windows Explorer shortcut menu


The Target box currently shows %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe
At the end of the line, type the characters /n, /e, /select, C:\
The line should now read %SystemRoot%\explorer.exe /n, /e, /select, C:\
Be sure you insert blank spaces in the correct locations. Then, click OK.

Shortcut tab in Windows Explorer Properties dialog box with OK button selected

Now, when you open Windows Explorer, it will display all of your folders and drives, not just your My Documents folder.

Schedule a weekly defragmentation

If it seems like your computer has gotten slower since you bought it, it probably has. One of the biggest factors that slows down your computer’s performance is fragmentation, a situation that occurs over time, in which files on your hard drive become divided into small pieces. Your computer must read a file to open, save, or close it. So when it reads each piece of a fragmented file separately, the effect is that the file can seem “slow” when you’re working with it.

Defragmenting your hard drive is the process of putting all the scattered pieces of files back together. Microsoft Windows XP includes a tool that will defragment your hard drive for you. To keep your system performing well, it’s a good idea to have Windows XP automatically defragment your hard drive every week.

To schedule a weekly defragmentation


Click Start, and then click Control Panel.

Start menu with Control Panel selected


Click Performance and Maintenance.

Control Panel window with Performance and Maintenance selected


Under or pick a Control Panel icon, click Scheduled Tasks.

Performance and Maintenance window with Scheduled Tasks selected


In the Scheduled Tasks window, double-click Add Scheduled Task.

Scheduled Tasks window with Add Scheduled Task selected


In the Scheduled Task Wizard, click Next.

Scheduled Task Wizard with Next selected


Click Browse.

Scheduled Task Wizard with Browse selected


In the File name box, type %systemroot%\system32\defrag.exe, and then click Open.

Select Program to Schedule window with Open selected


Under Perform this task, click Weekly. Then, click Next.

Scheduled Task Wizard with Weekly and Next button selected


Set the time and day of the week you would like to defragment your hard drive. For best results, choose a time when your computer will be on but you will be away from it. Click Next.

Scheduled Task Wizard with a time and Next button selected


Type your password in both the Enter the password and Confirm password boxes. Then, click Next.

Scheduled Task Wizard with password information entered and Next button selected


Select the Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish check box, and then click Finish.

Scheduled Task Wizard with Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish selected


In the Run box, add C: to the existing command. Make sure you include a space before the “C:”. Then, click OK.

defrag dialog box with C: highlighted in Run box


In the Set Account Information dialog box, type your password in both the Password and Confirm password boxes. Then, click OK.

Set Account Information dialog box with password entered and OK selected

Windows XP will defragment your hard drive at the time you have scheduled. During defragmentation, a black window will open. If you happen to be working at your computer when the window opens, you can ignore it. The window will automatically disappear when defragmentation is complete. You can use other programs during defragmentation, but you may prefer to schedule defragmentation at a time when you won’t be using your computer.

Defragmentation works best when you have plenty of free space on your hard drive. For instructions on how to clear free space, read Maintenance tasks that improve performance.