Windows XP Keyboard Shortcuts

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In all the systems and computer related classes I have ever taught, or all the classes I have ever taken, learning how to manipulate the keyboard and the mouse at the same time (of just use the keyboard without a mouse in case one is not present) has been one of the most underrated (and least used) features of the system. Keyboard shortcuts are skills we can all use and they only serve a helpful purpose if they can be recalled quickly. This article’s mission is to quickly teach you these shortcuts, remind you of them or just provide a handy chart for you to follow if you need a reference.

Let’s learn how to use the 15 top most commonly used Windows XP shortcuts.

15 Helpful Keyboard Shortcuts

To take advantage of this drill, you should be comfortable using a keyboard, otherwise the speed you want to increase will be taken away by you not being entirely sure where a certain key is, so it helps to be familiar with the layout.

First, take a good look at your keyboard and be familiar with the layout. Most of you will have something similar to the illustration seen here as this is a standard 101 key keyboard layout.

Figure 1

Laptop users may have the same keys on their systems, but in different places so take a second to familiarize yourself with key placement before you begin the exercise. If you have something similar, then you will be fine. Many peripheral vendors added a lot to their keyboards, such as multimedia options and so on.

Tip 1: Quickly Accessing the Start Menu

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key

Figure 2

If you are just plan old ‘sick and tired’ of using the mouse to click on the infamous button to display the Windows Start Menu, then you simply only need to hit the ‘Windows’ Key. Using either or (there are usually two of them, one on a laptop keyboard) so you can use either or. The Windows key once pressed will launch the start menu – once you release the key, the menu will appear. Get used to this key; many of the other shortcuts you will use rely on this key.

You may have a ‘very’ old keyboard that may not include the Windows Key on it. You will not be able to use this shortcut unless you get a new keyboard.

You can also use Ctrl + Esc

Tip 2: Quickly getting to your System Properties

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + Pause/Break

Figure 3

There will certainly be times where you will need to access the System Properties for your computer. When you need to get to the properties, many times you will go through a pretty long exercise. There are a couple of ways to get to the properties, most commonly by right clicking the mouse over the ‘My Computer’ icon on your desktop and then selecting properties from the drop down menu. If you do this very often, you may consider using this keyboard shortcut.

Tip 3: Quickly getting to your Run Dialog Box

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + R

Figure 4

The Run dialog box is used to allow you to either browse to a command to run, or simply enter the path to one if not already entered in the system’s path statement. (path=)

To quickly run an executable (such as calc.exe), just type calc in the Run dialog box and if in the path statement, it will simply run. The Run dialog box is used often so this shortcut will really come in handy.

You can also quickly access websites by entering URLs in the Run dialog box ….

-or- You can also open files with the following: file:///C:/filename.txt

Tip 4: Quickly Locking your System

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + L

Figure 5

There will surely be times where you want to quickly step away from your system and not leave it accessible to prying eyes in the office or home. How do you quickly lock up your PC and allow it to be secure from immediate access at the console? By locking it up, that’s how.

Commonly, the quickest way to do this was to use the Ctrl+Alt+Del key sequence (will be covered shortly) which would allow you to select an option to ‘Lock Workstation’. Using this keystroke will allow you from moving to using three keys and the mouse to navigate to a simple keystroke that will lock your system immediately.

Tip 5: Quickly Search for Anything

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + F
Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + Ctrl + F

Figure 6

If you want to find files (and or computers, and other random things on your system) you will want to use the Search feature built into Windows XP. To use this, remember the old name for it, which was simply Find. Now – the Windows Key + F will invoke the Search function and within a few seconds, you should see your Search Results dialog box come up. Use this feature to find items on your system or on remote systems that you may have access and connections to. You can also use this feature to find other computers on your network if you wanted to add the ctrl key in that keystroke sequence. If not, you can use the original keyboard shortcut and then just select Computers or people as the criteria you want to search.

Tip 6: Quickly Minimizing and Restoring Windows

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + D

Figure 7

One of my favorite keyboard shortcuts is the Windows Key + D shortcut. Try to remember the word ‘desktop’ when you try to remember the D, think of using this shortcut to reveal the ‘desktop’ and it may help you remember it.

Many times I am very tied up (like right now) with many Windows open on my system. This is because most times, I am working within multiple applications. There are times where I may want to view the desktop for one reason or another, and that can ‘very’ quickly be done with a keystroke. There were many ways to minimize all Windows that may be blocking view of the desktop, but this is one of the quickest. Another very quick way is if you have the ‘quick launch’ toolbar setup in your Taskbar. If you do in fact have this set up, this is also a quick way to reveal the desktop, as well as to put it back again.

Tip 7: Quickly getting to the Utility Manager

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + U

Figure 8

Users can start accessibility programs before logging on to the computer by using this keystroke. If you are fond of using the Utility Manager, then this keyboard shortcut will definitely help you to get to it. Tools such as ‘Magnifier’ and ‘Narrator’ can be set to start automatically and so on with this system utility.

Utility Manager enables users to check an accessibility program’s status and start or stop an accessibility program. Users with administrator-level access can designate to have the program start when Utility Manager starts. The built-in accessibility programs available from the Utility Manager are Magnifier, Narrator, and On-Screen Keyboard. Narrator, a text-to-speech program, starts when Utility Manager opens. This gives users who are blind or have impaired vision immediate access to Utility Manager. Using Utility Manager, you can tell Windows to automatically start accessibility programs each time you log on to your computer, when you lock your computer desktop, or when Utility Manager starts.

Tip 8: Quickly getting to Help and Support

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + F1

Figure 9

If you are in need of help or support, look no further. By using Windows Key + F1 (the F1 key), then you can use the help and support system that comes with Windows XP.

Help and Support may take a second to load on most systems, so be patient.

Tip 9: Quickly getting to Windows Explorer

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key + E

Figure 10

Here is another great shortcut you may not know about. If you want to access Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer – the Web browser), you can use the Windows Key + E shortcut. This will open up Windows Explorer for you so you can manage files and other forms of data on your system.

Be aware that this may take a moment to open if you are working on a network and have mapped drives, so be patient if it takes a moment.

Tip 10: Quickly delete something without being ASKED to

Keyboard Shortcut: Shift + Del

Figure 11

This is absolutely my all time favorite shortcut, now you can delete something from your system and not be asked 82 times if I really am sure I want to do that…. this keyboard shortcut allows you to bypass the asking – your data is deleted without question.

This is only dangerous if you are not sure if you want to delete something or not, but honestly, with the fact being that you have to ‘empty’ your recycle bin anyway… as long as you don’t have a task set up to do it – then this is definitely something you want to consider.

Tip 11: Quickly getting to your shortcut menu

Keyboard Shortcut: Windows key

Figure 12

Newer keyboards have a key that allows you to now get properties menus from anything you select that can provide you with a menu. For instance, if you have Office document on your desktop (let’s say, a spreadsheet named tax.xls) then you can select it and press the Window key and then the shortcut menu key and you can now quickly view properties for a selected object. Although this is not the ‘fastest’ keystroke sequence in the world, it happens to be a very helpful one especially if you do not have a mouse attached to your system.

Tip 12: Quickly getting to your Task Manager

Keyboard Shortcut: Ctrl + Alt + Del

Figure 13

By far the most commonly used keystroke sequence used on just about any and every Windows system ever created. By pressing (and holding down) the Control key (ctrl), then the Alt key (Alt), and then the Delete key (Del), it will allow you to lock your workstation, change a password as well as use Task Manager.

Tip 13: Quickly switch between running programs

Keyboard Shortcut: Alt + Tab

Figure 14

If you work with many programs (most people who work on computers these days fit this description) then you will definitely want to learn about and master the Alt + Tab keystroke sequence. By selecting the Alt key and then holding it down (try this with your left thumb) and then use the tab key to switch between running programs, highlighting and selecting a specific program will bring that one to the foreground, maximized in your screen so that you can work within it. Releasing the Alt key brings up the program you want to use.

This keystroke needs to come with a small warning. If you hit the Caps Lock key by accident, then you will get no results other than your Caps Lock being on and maybe causing you some confusion and headaches a little later on. As well, if you hit the Alt key only by accident, it will select the ‘menu’ in just about any open dialog box you have in the foreground. Just be aware that missing keys and hitting others in this situation will not only cause you to not get the result you wanted, but then some unwanted results as well.

Tip 14: Quickly Getting to Full Screen Command Prompt

Keyboard Shortcut: Alt + Enter

Figure 15

If you want to see the Command Prompt in full screen (not in a small Window), you can quickly expand it to full screen with the Alt + Enter keystroke sequence. The only problem with this is, you need to have the Command Prompt open to expand it to full screen, so, to open it you can use the Run dialog box.

Here is a way to use two keyboard shortcuts at once… as you may recall, we already learned the shortcut to get to the Run dialog box, which was using the Windows Key + R. Now, once open, type cmd and hit enter. This will then open your Command Prompt.  

CMD gives you full screen mode only if you select it from the properties of the Command prompt Windows – you can select full screen mode by default, but I don’t like it this way, it is too intrusive and cumbersome – using the Keyboard shortcut will give you want you want very quickly and give you access to both types (Windows or Full Screen) as quickly as you can hit the keystroke sequence.

Alt + Enter can be very confusing because its one keystroke that does ‘many’ different things depending on where you are at the time of usage. Alt + Enter with no programs open it may do nothing. Just be aware of how you are using the command keystroke and what you have open at the time.

Tip 15: Quickly make your own Shortcut

Make your own shortcuts… wow, does it get any better? Ok, so the Keyboard shortcuts you already learned are lame in your mind or you just want to be different, whatever you’re reasoning… you can make custom shortcuts in a flash. I assign a keyboard shortcut for the files and applications that I launch many times a day, such as Microsoft Word 2003.

To make a shortcut, follow these steps:

  1. Simply right-click an application shortcut in the Start menu or on the desktop and choose Properties.

Figure 16

  1. If not already selected, select the Shortcut tab.

Figure 17

  1. Click in the ‘Shortcut key’ box and press your desired shortcut keys.  I use a lot of Ctrl + Shift + Alt key sequences. You can use your own desired sequences as well. One prerequisite of Windows is that your shortcut must use at least two modifier keys (Ctrl, Shift, or Alt and/or a function key or a key on keypad.
  2. Click OK to close the properties windows and use your new keyboard shortcut.

If you want to remove your shortcut, follow the same path into your properties dialog again and just select the ‘Shortcut Key:’ field and then backspace one time to remove the shortcut. Click Ok to close the properties windows and the shortcut keyboard sequence will be removed.


In this article we covered the basics of working with the keyboard to increase your speed and efficiency when working with Windows XP. Stay tuned for future shortcuts!

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