Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I have been using Windows operating systems since version 3.1 hit the market.

Windows' many incranations, like 95 with it's earth-shattering start button, to ME with it's earth-shattering stability, have gone through design changes subtle and drastic in the name of maximizing productivity. These changes can range from practical to pathetic. I can go on about how I think that productivity has more to do with the user rather than the software, and that a wobbly 3D desktop wont make a bit of difference in your productivity level, etc. etc.

No, I'm not about to bitch about the state of 'computing'. That's for later. This case is much dumber.

I welcome the availabilty of options. Which explains my love affair with the two button mouse.
It's a sacred cow to me. If the feature I'm looking for isn't available through Keystroke, then my next instinct is to use the contextually-flexible right button. It's a computing feature that steals my heart in a way rivaled only by the BIOS or maybe even the power button.

But, I realize that I still use the mouse more than I should. The keyboard is probably the most fundamental external peice of hardware the computer has, and even though I know most of the shortcuts for the software I use, and including the how copy, paste, undo, redo, open, close, print, select all, and a bunch of other things, I still don't think I utilize it enough. I learned these things over the years of just looking through the GUI, but I've never taken a look a list of commands, nor have learned the actual application of some certain keys on the keyboard. No more.

So, in an effort to become this man, I've decided to learn the mysteries of the keyboard. It's actually kind of thrilling in a primal way... in a... digital, primal way. Makes no sense.

Let's begin!

MYSTERY #1 - Filing a missing key report for SysRq and the Break Key.

The first thing that comes to mind is The BREAK Key. I hear it from time to time. Where the hell is it? I've never used such a button and yet I've heard it enough to itch a corner of my brain that has remained unscratched. Consider it scratched, when I found this entry on wikipedia and realized from it's shocking photo that it was actually hidden underneath the Pause button. Stupid me. Subsequently, I found the SysRq key, another key that seemed to have vanished from existence, hiding under the Print Screen Key. While Break actually had relevance at some point to justify it's existence, SysRQ didn't have a standard use and was made with the assumption that people would find a use for it later on. Nope.

There you are.

Not so MYSTERY #1.5 - To scroll or to not scroll.

While we're in the area, let's look at Scroll Lock. Though this mystery has been probably asked a million times, for good reason, since it is in the pantheon of the restricting keys, like it's alphabetical acquaintence CAPS and it's numerical nemesis NUM. It even has it's own LED. So, if these two are essential keyboard knowledge, why not Scroll Lock? Well, I remembered when this was put in use, when computers were low-resolution and had a limited number of characters per screen... obviously this is not an issue today, and remains only relevant for folks who use spreadsheets, but for me it's just another wildcard button for any keystroke creating software I use. Like the latter Function (Fx) keys. As an added note, I once used a laptop that inexplicably used this key to toggle a mode that would change my typing to something resembling 1337speak. It was the source of many confusing sessions on IRC.

Also, as expected, INSERT's only relevance is to make it a pain in the ass to make corrections on word processors, by toggling the overtype mode, which replaces the following letter instead of pushing it forward. It was once the bane of my existence by not realizing what button caused it, until that fateful day I hunted it down by going through the process of pressing every single key. Unexpectedly, I stopped pressing it by accident since then. (ergonomic keyboards help, too.)

MYSTERY #2 - Short Cuts.

Okay, time for the big mystery, learning the keywords to ascend into certified hardcore status. Using Microsoft's official list, I compiled a list of whatever I found useful.

Windows Logo+L: Lock the computer (without using CTRL+ALT+DELETE)

This locks your computer, leaving your computer with a password prompt and your desktop in the background. Perfect for those who surf for pornography in public spaces.

F3 - Search Files

This one I've never really registered in my head, despite being a relatively accessable button. CTRL+F is much easier, but knowing what F3 does is good to know.

Windows Logo+R: Run dialog box

Hey, this one's not that bad. I use this feature all the time. You know, turns out most of the shortcuts I didn't even know use the Windows Logo, a key that, like the insert key, was usually one I pressed by accident. Though that doesn't happen much these days, I could probably make a more better effort avoiding it if I actually utilize it.

MYSTERY 2.5 - The Missing Clipboard

Now that we're here, I'm going to scratch another long ignored mental itch, the Clipboard viewer. This program just displays what's in your cut/copy/print screen cache at the moment. It used to be a major application back in the early days of Windows, but ever since then I've only stumbled into it by looking into WINDOWS/SYSTEM or wherever the hell it's at, and even that's been a while. So is CLIPBRD.exe even in here?

Yeeeeeees, it is.... and it hardly has even changed... other than it being renamed to ClipBook. Hmm. I guess it wasn't useful enough to warrant being in Accessories anymore, which where it used to be. Microsoft's Support Site even acknowledges it's absence. I noticed it can save whatever is on the clipboard in it's native format and one designed for Windows 3.1, just in case you're.... no, there's no real use for this. Mysteriously, there are three greyed out options for security, which I guess means it has implemented some sort of potential for DRM.

Back to Mystery 2.0.

Moving back into the realm of shortcuts, I also found out that PRINT SCREEN seems to have an shortcut variable.

This will actually take a snapshot of the active window instead of the whole screen. I use PRINT SCREEN regularly, and I usually have to crop the pictures to whatever I want to save rather than keeping the features' output verbatim. Nifty.

Here's the rest of the Windows Key shortcuts I found of use.

Windows Logo+M: Minimize all
SHIFT+Windows Logo+M: Undo minimize all
Windows Logo+E: Windows Explorer

Windows Logo+D: Minimizes all open windows and displays the desktop

Isn't this the same as "Windows Logo+M"? If you're minimizing everything, the desktop is what you'll always see? No?

CTRL+Windows Logo+F: Find computer

Windows Logo+Break: System Properties dialog box

Microsoft's attempt to remedy the non-use of the PAUSE/BREAK key.

Well, that's enough for now. I'm sure there's more to know before I recieve a black belt in keyboarding (For instance, The Microsoft page gave no indication of the ALT+PRINT SCREEN command), but I'm content for the moment. FOR THE MOMENT.


  1. So an update on your failing attempts at changing your life would be nice, maybe something about how you wanted to try to use hot key commands and use less of the mouse but never got around to it type blog post.
    No I keed I keed, but seriously there are ways of using the keyboard that would blow your mind, turns out that using these hot keys can actually increase productivity.

  2. Oh, totally. I didn't believe in this myself until I studied using Photoshop. Having the ability to do what you're trying to accomplish in almost real-time creates an almost unconcious steady productive workflow. Or maybe it's just me.

  3. oh no you are right, at work we use a program by Autodesk called inventor to create out 3D models and using the hot keys actually much improves the speed at which you work. Where you might go up to the tool bar to access a tool you can now hit like CTRL what have you, to achieve the same goal but in a much faster manner.