Windows Tips: Quick and Easy Keyboard Shortcuts

If you frequently open certain applications, documents, folders, Control Panel applets or Web addresses, you can avoid digging through several levels of menus to find them by assigning a unique keyboard sequence to each. Here's how to get the most from this useful (and woefully underused) feature.

Get started. You can assign a key sequence only to a Windows shortcut, not to any other type of file. If you don't have a shortcut to the item you want to open, create one by using the right mouse button to drag and drop its icon at a convenient location (more on that later), and choose Create Shortcut(s) Here.

The shortcut must be located either on the desktop or in a folder within the Start Menu folder (found in your Windows folder). Right-click the shortcut and choose Properties (or select the shortcut and press -). Make sure the Shortcut tab is in front. Click the Shortcut key box and press your desired shortcut key combination. If you want to use a key on the main portion of keyboard, your shortcut must begin with -, -, -, or --. Unfortunately, you can't use the Windows key (assuming your keyboard has one); Windows substitutes - if you try to use that key. Once you see your shortcut displayed in the box, click OK and away you go!

Make shortcuts even shorter. If pressing a bunch of keys at once isn't your idea of speed, here are two alternatives. First, if your shortcut key sequence uses a function key (one of the numbered keys along the top or side of your keyboard), the modifier keys , , and are optional. Second, if you never use your numeric keypad, you can assign a single key from the numeric keypad for one-key launching. Just open a shortcut's Properties sheet to the Shortcut tab, click the Shortcut key box to make the cursor active there, and press the numeric key or function key of your choice. Numeric keys appear in the box as "Num 1," "Num 2," and so on. Just remember that numeric shortcut keys won't work unless you activate Num Lock on your keyboard. Also bear in mind that the key sequence you assign to a shortcut overrides the same sequence in any application that uses it.

Keep it together. Your shortcut key may seem easy to remember and intuitive to you right now, but you might get confused later on as you add more shortcut keys or install applications that use those key sequences. Remembering the key sequence for the shortcut you want can be difficult if you have a lot of shortcuts, if you maintain duplicate shortcuts in multiple folders, or if you use shortcut keys to launch obscure batch files.

To avoid such confusion, you must be organized: Keep all shortcuts that have a shortcut key assigned to them in a single folder. For example, right-click the Start button and choose Explore. Select the Programs icon in the tree pane on the left to open that folder. Right-click in an empty area in the right pane and choose New*Folder. Name it something like Keyboard Shortcuts and press . From now on, make sure that the shortcuts with shortcut keys are stored only in that folder. If you need shortcuts to these items in other places, make duplicates -- but remove the shortcut key from the Properties sheet.

Make it obvious. For easier remembering of shortcut keys you assign and the shortcuts you allocate them to, make the key sequence part of the shortcut name. For example, if you assign --C to a Calculator shortcut, select the shortcut icon and press to rename it. Type something like Calculator Ctrl+Alt+C and press .

Undo it. If you decide to remove a shortcut key sequence from a shortcut, open its Properties sheet to the Shortcut tab as before, click the Shortcut key box, and press or . Then click OK.

Unique Folder Icons

When I wrote that Windows doesn't let you assign a different icon for each folder (see "Tell Me What Icon Do,", a number of you responded, pointing out utilities that do just that. It turns out, if you have Win 98, or Win 95 with Internet Explorer 4's Desktop Update installed, you can do the job yourself using little more than Notepad.

To confirm you have Win 98, or Win 95 with IE 4's Desktop Update, open the folder whose icon you want to customize. Choose View*Folder Options, click the View tab, make sure Show all files is selected under 'Hidden files', and click OK. Look for a file named Desktop.ini (the extension won't be visible if that option is turned off). This file is created any time you customize a folder, such as with a background picture. Double-click Desktop.ini to open it in Notepad. If you don't see Desktop.ini, just start Notepad.

If you opened a previously existing Desktop.ini file, look for the line '[.ShellClassInfo]' and add a carriage return at the end of that line. If you don't see it, or if you started with an empty Notepad window, type [.ShellClassInfo] at the top of the file and press . On the next line, type IconFile= followed by the full path and name of the file containing the icon you want to use -- for example IconFile=c:\windows\system\shell32.dll.

Press again. Since some files (such as the shell32.dll file that comes with Windows) may contain multiple icons, you must indicate which icon you want by specifying its order number in the file. To find out an icon's number, right-click any shortcut and choose Properties. Click the Change Icon button.

Type the path to the file that contains the icon you want, or use the Browse button to select it from its folder location. When you see the icons displayed in the Change Icon dialog box, count -- starting from zero (the number of the first icon in any file) -- from top to bottom, left to right. When you get the right number, click Cancel twice and return to Notepad. Then add this line:

IconIndex=0 (replace 0 with the number of your icon). If your file contains a single icon (as is the case with .ico files), leave this setting at 0 or omit the line entirely.

Now choose File*Save. If you started with an empty Notepad window, a dialog box will prompt you for a name and location. Navigate to the folder whose icon you want to change. In the 'File name' box, type "desktop.ini", including the quotation marks so Notepad won't add its default .txt extension. Click Save.

There is still one more step. This trick only works with folders that have the attribute that marks a folder as a "system file." To add it, first locate the icon for your folder in Explorer (or on the desktop). Choose Start*Run and type attrib +s. Leave the Run box open, and drag and drop your folder from Explorer (or the desktop) into the Open box of the Run box. The text should look something like: attrib +s "c:\My Documents" (the path to your folder will, of course, differ). Click OK. A DOS box will flash momentarily on screen as it applies the system attribute to your folder. Finally, select your folder and press to refresh the display. You should see your new icon. If you view it in a two-pane Explorer tree, the icon in the left (file tree) pane may not look as it should, but this should be corrected the next time you start Windows. As a final touch, if you created a desktop.ini file, you might want to hide it when hidden files aren't displayed: Right-click the file and choose Properties.

Check the Hidden box and click OK.

If this sounds like too much trouble, try a utility. I like the easy-to-use Change Icon by Pierre-Marie Devigne, available on FileWorld or The author calls this "e-mailware" -- if you like it, just drop him a line.

Toolbar Hide and Seek

"I use Windows 98 and like to display the Task Bar-accessible Address bar at the top of the screen. I use the 'Always on top' and 'Auto hide' features (by right-clicking the Task Bar) so the Address bar appears when needed and disappears when not in use. But a problem arises when I use IE. I want to turn off IE's Address bar and just use the Windows 98 version at the top of my screen, but I can't get this to work. Any suggestions?"

-- Christopher Salnoske

Hampton, Virginia

You're asking two apps to be on top of everything else -- and in this case, IE wins. But you can still have your Address bar and hide it too, if you don't mind futzing with some work-arounds.

Go with the flow. Naturally, your first option is to use IE's Address bar.

Unfortunately, in full-screen view the Address bar, the Menu bar, and the other bars that come with IE all appear crammed together in a single row. So to use this strategy, right-click the toolbar and uncheck any items you don't need. If you have IE 5 or Windows 98 SE, you can save more space by right-clicking the toolbar and selecting Customize. In the list on the right, select any buttons you don't use and click Remove. Then click Close. Finally, drag the dividers between the various bars to see the items you want and to give the Address bar maximum room.

Hitch your wagon to the Task Bar. Unlike the Address bar, the Windows Task Bar will pop in front of IE, even if the latter is running in full screen. To impart this ability to the Address bar, combine it with the Task Bar. Drag the long edge of the Task Bar toward the center of the screen to make it thicker, which will allow the Address bar to have a line of its own. (Note: This may take some experimentation, so don't give up if the first attempt fails). If necessary, right-click the Task Bar and choose Properties. Make sure Always on top is checked. (You don't need to check Auto hide unless you want the Task Bar hidden on other occasions as well.) Now when you run IE full screen, the Task Bar and its Address bar will pop into view when you move the pointer into its location.

Use the keyboard, part I. If you prefer to keep your IE toolbar hidden until it's needed, follow the same steps as in the preceding method, then right-click the IE toolbar and choose Auto Hide. If you keep the Windows Task Bar at the top of the screen, it won't pop into view automatically (and potentially obscure the IE toolbar), but you can force it to appear by pressing -, (the combo keystroke makes the Start menu appear).

Use the keyboard, part II. And now to the easiest solution: Since you're autohiding the Address bar anyway, you probably don't long for it to be visible at all times to show the current Web address. So don't worry about displaying the Task Bar in IE. Just use your current configuration and press -O each time you need to enter a Web address manually. This command summons your browser's Open dialog box, which works the same way as the Address bar and even has the same auto-complete feature. Type your URL, press , and you're off (see FIGURE 3).

(You'll find files mentioned in this article at Send questions and tips to scott We pay US$50 for published items. PC World Contributing Editor Scott Dunn is a principal author of The PC Bible, 2nd Edition (Peachpit Press, 1995).)Windows ToolboxA Free and Easy Way to Preserve Your WorkThe convenient My Own Backup freeware supports most computer media, including CD-Recordable discs, Zip and Jaz disks, even floppy disks. (Yes, a backup can span multiple disks.) You can store files uncompressed for easy access or compressed in a .zip file rather than in proprietary format that needs the same backup program for access. Command-line options allow you to restore backups or files with a single shortcut or batch file. You can password-protect backups, too. For archiving material, My Own Backup can move files; it's available from Fredrik Johansson at or from FileWorld.

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