Section 2.5. Keyboard Accelerators

Windows' primary interface is graphical, meaning that you point and click to interact with it. The problem is that repeated clicking can become very cumbersome, especially for repetitive tasks. Luckily, Windows has an extensive array of keyboard accelerators (sometimes called keyboard shortcuts or hot keys), which provide a simple keyboard alternative to almost every feature normally accessible with the mouse. Some of these keyboard accelerators (such as F1 for help, Ctrl-C to copy, and Ctrl-V to paste) date back more than 20 years and are nearly universal, and others are specific to Windows Vista or a given application.

Appendix B gives a complete list of keyboard accelerators. Some of the most important ones are as follows:

Menu navigation

In any window that has a menu, press the Alt key or the F10 key to activate the menu bar, and use the cursor (arrow) keys to move around. Press Enter to activate the currently selected item or Esc to cancel. (Note: use the Alt or F10 key to turn on the menu in Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer.)

You can also activate specific menus with the keyboard. When you press Alt or F10, each menu item will have a single character that is underlined (such as the V in View); when you see this character, it means you can press Alt-V (for example) to go directly to that menu. Once that menu has opened, you can activate any specific item by pressing the corresponding key (such as D for Details); you don't even need to press Alt this time. The abbreviated notation for this is Alt-V+D (which means press Alt and V together, and then press D). You'll notice that it's much faster than using the mouse.

The other way to activate specific menu items is to use the special keyboard shortcuts shown to the right of each menu item (where applicable). For example, open the Edit menu in most windows, and you'll see that Ctrl-Z is a shortcut for Undo, Ctrl-V is a shortcut for Paste, and Ctrl-A is a shortcut for Select All. These are even faster than the navigation hot keys described earlier. Two notes: not all menu items have this type of keyboard shortcut, and these shortcuts work only from within the application that "owns" the menu.

The special case is the Start menu, which you can activate by pressing the Windows logo key (if your keyboard has one) or Ctrl-Esc, regardless of the active window. You can also click the Start button. The Start menu differs from most other menus because you navigate it graphically, although you can also use arrow keys and Return for navigation as well.

Note that once a menu has been activated, you can mix pointer clicks and keystrokes. For example, you could pop up the Start menu by pressing the Windows logo key, and then click on Control Panel.

If there is a conflict and multiple items on a menu have the same accelerator key, pressing the key repeatedly will cycle through the options. You must press Enter when the correct menu item is highlighted to actually make the selection.

Window manipulation without the mouse

The Control menu, described in the preceding section, facilitates the resizing and moving of windows with the keyboard only. Press Alt-Space bar to open the active window's Control menu, and then choose the desired action. If you choose to move the window, the mouse pointer will change to a little four-pointed arrow, which is your cue to use the cursor (arrow) keys to do the actual moving. Likewise, selecting Resize will allow you to stretch any window edge using the cursor keys. In either case, press Enter when you're happy with the result, or press Esc to cancel the operation. If a window can't be resized or minimized, for example, those menu items will not be present. Note that Control menus work just like normal menus, so you could press Alt-Space bar+M to begin moving a window.


In most applications, Ctrl-X will cut a selected item to an invisible storage area called the Clipboard, Ctrl-C will copy it to the Clipboard, and Ctrl-V will paste it into a new location. Using the Delete key will simply erase the selection (or delete the file). There is a single, system-wide Clipboard that all applications share. This Clipboard lets you copy something from a document in one program and paste it into another document in another program. You can paste the same data repeatedly until new data replaces it on the Clipboard. See Chapter 3 for more information.

Although you probably think of cut-and-paste operations as something you do with selected text or graphics in an application, you can use the same keys for file operations. For example, select a file on the Desktop and press Ctrl-X. Then move to another folder and press Ctrl-V, and Windows will move the file to the new location just as though you dragged and dropped it.


In Windows Vista, when you simultaneously press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys, you activate a screen that lets you lock the computer, switch users, log off, change a password, or start the Task Manager, which, among other things, allows you to close crashed applications. You can also click Cancel to go back to what you were doing previously. In Windows XP, pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete would immediately run the Task Manager.

Alt-Tab and Alt-Esc

Both of these key combinations switch between open windows, albeit in different ways. Alt-Tab runs Windows Flip, which shows thumbnails of all open windowshold Alt and press Tab repeatedly to move the selection. Alt-Esc has no window; instead, it simply sends the active window to the bottom of the pile and activates the next one in the row. Note that Alt-Tab also includes minimized windows, but Alt-Esc does not. If there's only one open window, Alt-Esc has no effect, although Alt-Tab will show two thumbnailsthe open window and the Desktop. Also, neither method activates the Start menu (Ctrl-Esc).

Tab and arrow keys

Within a window, Tab will move the focus from one control to the next; use Shift-Tab to move backward. A control may be a text field, a drop-down list, a pushbutton, or any number of other controls. For example, in a folder window, Tab will cycle between the major components of the window: the Favorite Links, file display area, Search box, folder list, and so on. Use arrow keys in these areas to make a new selection without moving the focus. Sometimes a dialog box will have one or more regions, indicated by a rectangular box within the dialog box. The arrow keys will cycle through buttons or fields only within the current regions. Tab will cross region boundaries and cycle through all the buttons or fields in the dialog box. In addition, some dialog boxes let you cycle through controls with Tab.

If there's only one control, such as in a simple folder window, Tab has no effect. In some applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, Tab is assigned to a different function (such as indenting).

Part II: Nutshell Reference