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How to use the Windows key

Most of us at Palomar have PCs (sorry, Mac users), and most PCs (maybe all) at Palomar use the modern Windows keyboard that have the Windows keys on them.  Look at your keyboard.  Along the bottom row of keys, between the Alt and Ctrl keys, do you see a key with the Windows Logo on it?  It may have the word "Start" on it also.  Some keyboards will have it on both sides, to the outside of the Alt key, some will only have it on the left.  What does that key do?

  • The key's functionality varies depending upon the keyboard and keyboard software that is installed, and also depending on the version of Windows.  The functionality in Vista is somewhat different than in XP, but here are the standard functions.
     
  • Pressing the Windows key alone brings up the start menu.
     
  • Pressing (and holding down) the Windows key and then pressing the E key brings up the Windows Explorer.
     
  • Pressing the Windows key + the F key brings up the File Search box.  This is truly useful with the new, powerful search capabilities of Windows Vista.
     
  • Pressing the Windows key + the R key brings up the Run dialog box, most useful if you wish to run the DOS command window by entering "cmd" (without the quotes) and pressing Enter.  You can also start t Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Notepad, the Windows Calculator, or invoke the Windows Control Panel by entering the following commands into the Run command dialog and pressing Enter:
Program Command
Word winword
Excel excel
PowerPoint powerpnt
NotePad notepad
Windows Calculator calc
Control Panel control
  • Pressing the Windows key + the Break key (look in the upper right of your keyboard) brings up the system properties panel.  This is most useful if you want to know the speed of your computer, installed RAM, OS version, computer name, and so on.
     
  • Pressing the Windows key + L locks your computer.  To me, this is the most useful of the Windows key combinations.  When you step away from your computer, you would like it to be inaccessible to others, but you do not want to discontinue the programs you have running.  The solution is to lock your console.  Pressing any key after locking the console requires a login to unlock.  (This only works when a password is required to logon in the first place).
     
  • Pressing the Windows key + M minimizes all open Windows.  Then pressing the Windows Key + Shift + M brings up all minimized Windows again.  A variation of this is to press the Windows Key + D to minimize all Windows and Display the Desktop.  These two actions, even though they look the same, are slightly different.  The desktop is just another window in a stack of windows, and Winkey + D brings it to the top.  It is easier to appreciate this in Windows Vista than in earlier versions.  The Winkey + D keystroke is also known as the "Here comes the boss" command.
     
  • Pressing the Windows key + F1 brings up the Windows Help and Support Center.
     
  • In Windows XP, pressing the Windows key + the Tab key cycles through the applications on the taskbar.  In Windows Vista (running the Aero interface) it invokes the new 3D flip, switch between windows mode where you will see a graphic representation on screen of all the applications running and can cycle through them by repeatedly pressing the tab key.  This looks like album flow art in iTunes, if you have not seen it, and is a very intuitive way to handle multiple open windows.  The window "on top" when you release the Windows key will be maximized with the focus of the screen.

For those with other keyboards or other Microsoft keyboard software (like the Natural keyboard, or MS Intellitype software, click here for a Microsoft web site that explains other available keyboard shortcuts.

Summary Chart

Start Menu
+ E Windows Explorer
+ F File Search
+ R Run command dialog
+ Break System properties panel
+ L Lock your computer
+ M Minimize all Windows
+ Shift + M Maximize minimized windows
+ D Display the desktop
+ F1 Windows help and support center
+ Tab XP: cycle through applications on the task bar; Vista Aero switch between Windows

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