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The Wonderful Windows Key

Getting to know you..

On your computer there’s a key near the space bar I’m guessing you’re not using nearly enough. It has a nice little Windows logo on it and combined with other keys it can make your life a lot easier, and make you look like a pro! You may have hit it accidentally when you first started using Windows 8 and it frustrated you that your whole screen changed to the Start Screen (which replaced the Start Menu introduced in Windows 95… don’t worry, it’s making a comeback in Windows 10). In the same way that holding [shift] while hitting “x” makes an uppercase “X”… or holding [control] while hitting that same “x” cuts the selected text to the clipboard, holding down the [windows key] while hitting certain keys (including “x”!) does perform special functions on your PC. Introduced in Windows 95 (20 years ago… Whew, I’m old) the windows key is still going strong, and is super useful and worth your time to master.

Useful shortcuts you can use every day

Windows Key -> Type Anything

If you need to search for something—an application, a file from three weeks ago, a web search, etc.—just hit the windows key and start typing. E.g. Hit Windows Key then type “word” and hit enter to launch Microsoft Word immediately.

Windows Key + left, right or up arrow keys

This is a great feature for relegating an application to only one-half of the screen, and for running apps side by side. Windows Key + Left Arrow takes the current app and makes it fill exactly the left half of the screen. Windows + Right Arrow does the same, but the right half of the screen. Windows Key + Up Arrow causes the current app to run in full screen maximized mode. Once you get used to these shortcuts, you’ll use them all the time. In the upcoming release of Windows 10, you’ll be able to push apps to the four quadrants of your screen instead of just the two halves, which will be awesome on 4k monitors! E.g. Open Outlook and hit Windows Key + Left Arrow to dock it to the left side of the screen. Then open Word and hit Windows Key + Right Arrow to dock it to the right side of the screen. Now you can easily copy and paste text between apps without having to switch between them.

Windows Key + e

This launches Windows’ File Explorer, which you probably already use a lot to move files around. This is great combined with the previous tip for copying and moving files from one place to another (think thumb drive to Documents). Hat tip to my friend Greg for this suggestion who uses this trick every day. E.g. Windows Key + e -> Windows Key + Left Arrow -> Windows Key + e -> Windows Key + Right Arrow to pull up two File Explorer windows side-by-side for easy file management.



Windows Key + d

This is a simple one but comes in super handy. It simply minimizes all your applications simultaneously and shows the desktop. If you’re the kind of person who saves files (temporarily, right?) to the desktop, this gives you super quick access to them. Bonus hint : Windows Key + Shift + m restores all your applications back to their normal, non-minimized mode. E.g. Windows Key + d to show the desktop, then double click that word document you’d saved there earlier to open it in MS Word.

Windows Key + l (lowercase “L”)

This one may or may not be necessary—depending on your coworkers. Windows Key + l locks your computer and takes you to the login screen. Note; this doesn’t log you out, so as soon as you enter your password again, you’re right back where you left off. My coworkers have a habit of changing my desktop wallpaper to a giant “Hello Kitty” logo, complete with pink hearts, any time I leave my PC unlocked, and I step away. Windows Key + l is my best friend to prevent this kind of deviant behavior. E.g. Need to run to the restroom? Hit Windows Key + l, and walk away and take care of business safe in the knowledge that your desktop wallpaper will remain unchanged!

hello kitty


Windows Key + r

This activates the “run” dialog box, which is where you can run specific command and applications. Depending on how much of a “power user” you consider yourself to be, this may or may not be useful to you. E.g. Windows Key + r -> cmd [enter] will instantly launch a command prompt.

Windows Key + i

I use this all the time. This is absolutely the quickest way to get to the control panel. And if you’ve used Windows for any amount of time, you know you may end up spending a lot of time in the control panel; adding user accounts, uninstalling applications, installing printers, etc. So instead of clicking around for it, just punch in this shortcut. Muscle memory makes it a no-brainer. E.g. Windows Key + i -> [enter] then click Display to change your resolution or to change someone else’s desktop wallpaper.

Windows Key + x

This brings up the secret Windows Utility menu. It’s the same as right clicking on the start button, but doesn't require you to take your hand off the keyboard. From here you can go directly to the device manager or go to disk management, plus many other features and utilities. E.g. Windows Key + x -> u -> r to quickly restart the computer (which is the universal first step to curing anything that ails your computer.)

These are shortcuts I use almost every day working in Windows. The following is a short list of some not-so-handy-dandy Windows Key shortcuts:

Less Useful Windows Key Combinations

Windows Key + c

This one opens the Charms Bar. Which, in all honesty, isn’t good for much. This won’t work in Windows 7, and the Charms Bar is going away in the upcoming Windows 10. Also, it’s easier to swipe in from the right edge of the display on a touch screen anyway for the Charms Bar. It’s probably most useful for quickly seeing the time and date and your battery life? I guess?

Windows Key + P

This combination is really only useful if you are presenting on an external display, or troubleshooting why an external monitor isn’t working properly. It’s a quick way to decide if you want to mirror your screen on another display, extend your workspace to both displays, or completely turn off the device display (a nice feature on really small devices like the HP Stream).

Windows Key + O

This one makes no sense to me at all. It locks the orientation of your screen… which is good if you’re using a Tablet and don’t want the screen flipping around as you rotate the device. But for the life of me I can’t think of a scenario where this would be happening while you’re using an external keyboard. The simplest way to lock the screen orientation on a Windows tablet is to swipe in from the right edge of the screen, tap “Settings”, tap “screen” then tap the lock icon.

Windows Key + [Tab]

Finally this cycles between all your “Modern UI” apps (also known as “Metro” apps, “App-Store” apps or even “RT” apps… these apps have an identity crisis). This works in the same way that Alt + Tab works in regular windows to cycle between apps, which has been around since Windows 3.1. The reason I don’t find this shortcut particularly helpful is that most people only use Modern UI apps if they have a touch screen device, and there are some much more useful gestures for switching between these apps, even setting them up side by side, again, usually not used with a keyboard.


One last one which I use probably a dozen times a day. This one only works if you have OneNote installed, and if you don’t use OneNote you’re missing out. My fellow wizard (and Office365 guru extraordinaire) Randy wrote a great blog post on OneNote. But anyway, here’s the keyboard shortcut:

Windows Key + Shift + s

This pops up a crosshair that you can drag a selection on your screen and capture it. Then a dialogue box asks you what you want to do with that screen grab; you can either send it directly to OneNote (awesome) or just copy it to the clipboard. SO HANDY! You can then paste it into an email or Lync conversation, or drop it into Adobe Photoshop for doctoring.


Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT