keyboard shortcuts

Keeping your hands on the keyboard can be faster than moving your hands to the mouse and back when you’re doing certain tasks on the computer. Of course there are times when the mouse is the best tool for the job, and other times when it should be used exclusively. However, I’ve witnessed numerous people who could have saved themselves a great deal of time if they had known a few well-placed keyboard shortcuts.

That’s where I come in. I love using shortcuts, and as I learn new ones I can do even more in less time. For instance, while browsing, things like opening a new window (or tab), cutting and pasting or selecting an item from a list can be much faster when done with keystrokes rather than mouse clicks. The shortcuts mentioned below will not work in every application, but they’re common enough to remain useful.

Text navigation and manipulation
Control-left-arrow (or right-arrow) to move word by word through text.
Home to move to the beginning of a line
End to move to the end of a line.
Control-Home to get to the top of a document or text field.
Control-End to get to the bottom of a document or text field.
Page Up to move up a page (Shocking, isn’t it?)
Page Down to move down a page (Crazy, I know)
Control-Delete or Control-Backspace to delete a word.
(In many word processors), Control-B to bold, Control-I to italicize and Control-U to underline.

Cutting and pasting text
Control-C to copy selected text.
Control-X to cut selected text.
Control-V to paste text.
Shift combined with other movement characters (like Home, End, Control-Home, Control-End and Control-arrows) to select text.

HTML forms
Tab to get to the next element in a form.
Type letters to jump to certain entries in select boxes. (For example, to get to California in a list of states, hit c when the select box is highlighted. Type the letter again to get to the subsequent entries starting with the same letter)
Enter to submit a form.

Window navigation
Alt-tab to switch between different windows.
(Linux) Control-left (or right) arrow in Opera to switch tabs.
(Windows) 1 and 2 in Opera to switch tabs.

Useful application level shortcuts (These tend to differ between applications, but will work in many of them)
Control-N for a new window.
Control-O to open (a file, page etc).
Control-S to save.
Control-Z to undo.
Control-A to select all text.
Control-F to find.
Alt-F4 (in Windows), Control-Q or Control-W (in Linux) to close a window.

Combining shortcuts can be especially powerful. For instance, let’s say you have an old document that you want to use as a starting point for a new document. Here’s how you could do it using only the keyboard in most graphical text editors (including Microsoft Word).

1. Control-A to highlight all the text in the document. (or if Control-A doesn’t work, Control-Home to get to the beginning of the document and Control-Shift-End to highlight.)
2. Control-C to copy the text.
3. Control-N to open a new window.
4. Control-V to paste the text into the new window.

Once you become comfortable with these shortcuts, you can see how much faster they are than using the mouse. I was able to complete the four keyboard steps in about 5 seconds. Doing the same thing with the mouse took me about 10 seconds. That’s twice the time! Okay, so it’s not much of a difference, but think of the children in Ethiopia who won’t be so hungry because…you…saved…uhm…moving right along.

It can be very handy to know how to get around (at least a little bit) in case you don’t have a functional mouse. Picture this scenario: You’ve been working on a document for the past two hours and all of a sudden the mouse stops working. You haven’t saved the file recently and just finished playing a game of solitaire (you needed a break) so the window containing your document isn’t in focus. Some people might lose their document, but not you. You would know to use Alt-Tab to cycle through the windows to get back to the one with the document. Then you would hit Control-S to save and then close the window with Alt-F4 (or Control-Q).

This isn’t a completely hypothetical scenario. I was using a laptop with an external mouse and for some reason bumping the mouse pad on the laptop (accidentally I might add) caused both of them to stop working. I was writing a blog entry at the time, and although it was a lot slower, I was able to finish writing it and even spell check and publish it, all without the use of a mouse.

Now that I’ve extolled the many benefits of keyboard shortcuts, I must warn you that they are not without peril. On my Linux machine (using Gnome) I decided to add another workspace, making a total of four. The default key to switch to a different desktop is Alt plus the corresponding numbered function key. So Alt-F1 switches to workspace one, Alt-F2 for workspace two and so on. Simple, right? Right. Without even thinking about it, I hit Alt-F4 to switch to my brand new fourth workspace.

I refer you to the above methods for closing a window.

Instead of switching to workspace number four, the window that was in focus (which, by the way, had a fair amount of unsaved work) went *blip* into the wild blue yonder. Confused, I hit Alt-F4 again thinking I might not have hit the right key, and in the process blipped another window into the land of no return. Only then did it dawn on my thick head that Alt-F4 was closing the windows. Having been thinking in the context of workspace switching it was just another number in the sequence, but after further evaluation, I find it odd and rather evil of them to set up three workspaces, all using Alt-F# to switch, and then have the fourth shortcut close windows. It was a booby trap waiting for anyone adventurous enough to create a fourth workspace.

In order to resolve the shortcut collision I made Control-X the shortcut for closing a window since that appeared to be unused and X made me think of exit.

I refer you, once again, to the above methods, this time for cutting and pasting text.

As I was writing this very entry (the cutting and pasting section), I highlighted some text using shift, then hit Control-X to cut and because of my wretched new shortcut the browser went *blip* and I was forced to write this whole entry over again. Therein lies the perilous path for those brave few who choose to use keyboard shortcuts.

I changed the shortcut to Control-Shift-X to avoid any more window blipping and so far, so good.


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  1. I use the Meta (Windows) key sometimes to do my workspace switching key combos. Another favorite of mine is Alt-F2, which pops up a ‘Run’ box with which I can launch a gui application by typing its name. Some ‘run’ boxes have history and tab completion, too.

    Comment by Levi on May 26, 2004 @ 9:46 am
  2. do you know of anyplace that has an Arabic font layout for how to use a standard keyboard to type arabic? I enabled the right to left to right typing in my regional settings in windows XP but have been unable to find a good source for what keys work for what.

    Comment by fareed on May 26, 2004 @ 6:16 pm
  3. I’ve successfully navigated parts of a Windows box w/o a display. Try that with a mouse.

    Comment by Cameron on May 26, 2004 @ 8:50 pm
  4. Fareed: They have an image of a keyboard and the layout on this Microsoft site. Is that what you’re looking for?

    Comment by dan on May 26, 2004 @ 10:20 pm
  5. I have possibly saved days (well at least hours) of my life using shortcuts for just cutting and pasting. Now I’m trying to sell my co-workers on using them for our primary software (Forest & Trees). They are cumudgeoning and not prone to change their ways. Bah!

    Comment by Renee on May 27, 2004 @ 9:22 am
  6. Who would stop in the middle of a project to play solitaire? Tetris would be much more worthwhile.

    Comment by Katie on June 2, 2004 @ 7:01 pm
  7. How to switch between tabs – if more than one tab is opened in mozilla 1.7.3 browser

    Comment by Lincy on October 6, 2004 @ 2:38 am
  8. In Linux it’s Ctrl-PageUp and Ctrl-PageDown.

    Comment by dan on October 6, 2004 @ 5:38 am
  9. thanks alot

    Comment by Souk Hyun Yoo on August 29, 2005 @ 7:00 pm
  10. I don’t like ctrl-pagedown/ctrl-pageup to switch between tabs on Mac. I normally use just one side of my hand to do the switching. Now I have to use 2.

    Comment by Hall on December 9, 2006 @ 7:01 pm

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