Even as much computer use becomes inceasingly WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing) oriented, there are times when it is far easier to use a keyboard than a mouse.
Easy web browsing almost certainly requires the use of a mouse, but data input is usually done using a keyboard.
Windows and other operating systems will come with many predefined keyboard shortcuts (and some people even use them regularly) but there are utilities available that will allow customisation of these shortcuts that will make your PC easier to use. This article will concern itself mostly with Windows, as most Linux distributions already come with the required software to make changes, unlike Windows.
The most common shortcuts are probably those associated with editing documents, and these are pretty well common to most opearting systems:
Move caret right Right Arrow
Move caret right to begining of next word Ctrl+Right Arrow
Move caret to end of line End
Select Shift+Right Arrow
Select word Shift+Ctrl+Right Arrow
Select to end of line Shift+End
and so on are all extremely well known and most people would probably use these in the normal course of typing, as it is far easier to use a keyboard shortcut than break your typing and use the mouse.
However, Windows also has some other signifcant shortcuts available. All keyboards available today have what are known as modifier keys (L Shift, R Shift, L Ctrl, R Ctrl, L Alt, R Alt) and these are used in the common shortcuts listed above.
Those extra keys:
More recently, though, keyboards will almost all also have two new keys, the Windows key and the Application key.
The Application key will bring up the context menu in whatever application you are using at the time it is invoked, so is quite useful; but the Windows key is an extra modifier key so is especially useful. Using it to bring up the Start Menu is fairly obvious but insignificant when compared to what it can really do.
A default Windows installation will have the following shortcuts available, for example:
Win Start Menu
Win+Break “System Properties” Dialog Box
Win+D Show Desktop
WIn+E Open Explorer at “My Computer”
Win+R Open “Run” Dialog Box
and so on; for a complete list see the links at the end of this article.
The Windows key is only used for around 15 or so shortcuts, and these are not able to be customised in a default Windows installation – to do so requires the use of a utility to address this shortcoming.
The venerable Winkey utility is still around and is still free and works well, with the proviso that it may require administration rights in Windows 2000 and XP, and keyboard shortcuts are global and may apply to all users of the PC. This easy to use utility will allow you to create your own keyboard shortcuts, and is well worth a download.
Using Winkey, you can set up shortcuts to launch applications that you use regularly, like Win+C to launch Calculator, for example. This is a lot quicker than finding the calculator in its default location in Accessories, and the Quicklaunch area gets crowded and harder to use it you put too many shortcuts there.
Winkey comes with a number of useful keyboard shortcuts already defined, and it is easy to add more. Be careful, though, that you don’t change the common keyboard shortcuts as things can become confusing if you do.
There are many other similar utilites, most of them free; just use google to find them, and watch out for spyware.
If you get serious about doing even more with the keyboard, consider using one of the many free keyboard macro utilities; some of these enable you to specify keyboard sequences that are specific to each application. I usually find that having too many keyboard shortcuts isn’t productive, as it is easy to forget seldom used shortcuts, and this especially a problem if you use more than one system regularly.
Changing Keyboard Layout:
I don’t know about you, but I find the Caps Lock key to be one of the most annoying keys on the keyboard, and not only because it doesn’t do what it says. A hangover from the typewriter keyboard, this key should shift all subsequent keys into uppercase, but it doesn’t – it inverts the case of all subsequent keys. In combination with its proximity to the Shift key, I often find that I’ve inadvertently pressed the key without noticing while typing and found it has messed things up.
There is a fix for this – remap your keyboard keys to do what you want them to do. Linux users have the ability to do this built in, but Windows users can download and install a free utility called KeyTweak. I use this to remap the Caps Lock key so that it performs the same function as the L Shift key, and that works well for me.
KeyTweak is only one of many free tools that can be used to remap keyboards; but since these utilities make changes to the Windows registry, take care and backup your registry before making changes. You almost certainly won’t have any problems, but you can never be too careful. Power users can edit the registry directly.
Some keyboards have unusual layouts (especially laptops) so this utility is useful for tweaking those to your own preferences
It is also possible to remap all the keyboard keys so that none of them behave in the way they are marked. Finding the effect of this on an unsuspecting user is left as an exercise to the reader.
http://www.microsoft.com/enable/products/keyboard.aspx has a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts for many Microsoft products.
http://www.internet4classrooms.com/winkeyboard.htm is an interactive guide to keyboard keys.
http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/file_description/0,fid,5506,00.asp provides information about Winkey and a link to download. Note that the original developer of this utility no longer supports it or offers it for download.
http://www.usnetizen.com/fix_capslock.html is an in-depth article about key mapping, with links to tools to do this.
http://webpages.charter.net/krumsick/ is the KeyTweak developer’s page.
are links to macro utiltities that might be of interest.