Most computer geeks are big fans of keyboard shortcuts, and for good reason – they enable you to get around Windows without the clumsy time-wasting of using a mouse. The operating system is chock-full of them; we’ve recently compiled a long list of helpful Windows shortcuts, and Christian has shown how to get around your computer without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor using a handful of shortcuts – great for emergency situations.
Today we’re going to combine these two approaches. Whether you’d like to get around Windows with just your keyboard to increase efficiency or so you can show off to your friends, this is a nice geeky trick to have in your back pocket.
The Main Keyboard Trick
Depending on how observant you are, you may have noticed certain letters underlined in Windows menus. These aren’t just for show; they represent which keys you can push to jump to certain options. Once a menu is showing, press ALT, then the proper underlined letter to execute the command you want.
Most applications have a standard set of commands on this bar, but it depends on which one you’re using. Others won’t have this menu visible at all; Firefox is one such case that keeps the options hidden for aesthetic purposes. If you’re not seeing it, a quick tap of the ALT key will show the menu, then you can head into any option you want. Let’s take an example:
I’ve just opened an image in Paint.NET (an excellent free photo editor) and I want to resize it right away. Rather than go through the trouble of grabbing the mouse, locating the cursor, moving it up to the top, and clicking through menus, I press ALT > I[mage] > R[esize] to open the Resize menu, then from there I can tab ALT + B[y percentage] > 50 > ENTER to halve the image size. It’s not important that you’re familiar with this program to use these shortcuts; we just want to illustrate that you can go a few menus deep and still be using shortcuts.
Note that you can press ALT and the respective key at the same time to enter the first layer of menus (in this case the Image tab), or you can do them one at a time. After the first list is open, however, tap only the letter for the option you want. If you press ALT again, you’ll restart the process.
If you’d like to make using these shortcuts a bit simpler, especially when first starting out, you can enable a Windows accessibility option to help you along. Search for the Ease of Access Center and find the Make the keyboard easier to use category. Finally, checking the box for Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys will underline available shortcuts all the time, instead of just when you press ALT. It’s great if you want a heads-up of what’s available at all times, or if you haven’t committed your most-used combinations to memory yet.
In Microsoft Office
When you’re using Microsoft Office (and hopefully taking advantage of Word’s handiest features), you might notice that the menus don’t have underlined words. Not to worry; a simple tap of the ALT key will bring up floating letters to give you the proper keys for each command. From there, you can descend through the menus just as you would in other Windows software.
You’re likely to run into some bubbles with two letters. All you have to do for these is tap the letters one at a time – once you’ve pressed the first, any command that doesn’t begin with that letter will disappear and give you a clear view of what’s left.
ALT Not Working?
Unfortunately, sometimes software developers poorly code their work and as such certain programs might not have ALT codes like the above. In this case, try pressing F10 (which actually does the same thing as ALT in Office) to focus the cursor on the first item in the menu bar, usually File. From there, you can use the arrow keys and ENTER to get around without your mouse. If F10 doesn’t work, there’s not much else you can try; hopefully this doesn’t happen often.
General Mouse-Replacing Shortcuts
We’ve written before about all sorts of tricks for getting around Windows with just your keyboard, but there are some specific ones worth reviewing here. To avoid being redundant, be sure to check out our more comprehensive guides for additional shortcuts.
- Using the Windows key will immediately open the Start Menu (on Windows 7 and 10) or the Start Screen (for Windows 8 and 8.1 users). What happens next is a bit different depending on your version, but you can use the arrow keys to move around and start typing to search your computer on Windows 7 and 10.
- Using the TAB key lets you switch between icons on your desktop, icons on the Taskbar, and the system tray (or try WIN + B to jump right to the notification area; be sure to clean the system tray if it’s getting out of hand). TAB also jumps between text boxes and links in Web pages.
- ALT + TAB will switch between open programs; CTRL + TAB to switch between tabs in your browser.
- Use SPACE to scroll down in a webpage, or hold SHIFT with it to go back up. Using PAGE UP or PAGE DOWN also work, and they’re both faster than just the arrow keys.
- ALT + F4 will close the current window, while Windows + UP will maximize it.
Faking the Mouse
Since we’re looking to completely avoid using the mouse, it makes sense that we’d need a way to emulate its functions on the keyboard. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect way to perform a left-click. Sometimes, SPACE or ENTER will work for clicking a button or confirming a dialog box, but there’s no guarantee.
For right-clicking, you have two options. The combination of SHIFT + F10 should send the right-click command. However, as SuperUser contributor Tergiver explains, many programs don’t respond to keyboard requests for a right-click context menu, so you may be out of luck with this method. The other way is to use the MENU key, usually located between the right side ALT and CTRL keys. This key’s sole function is to perform a right-click, but you won’t find it on every laptop or keyboard.
If you want full power, you’ll need to use AutoHotKey to re-assign keys. Perhaps you could put that useless Caps Lock key to use by reassigning it to a mouse click, or make your own shortcut similar to SHIFT + F10 that won’t fail to work in half the programs you try. Anything you want to automate on your computer is possible with AutoHotKey, so don’t let your primping stop there if you think creating some other custom combinations could prove useful.
You might consider this cheating a little bit, but you can actually control the mouse cursor (not just perform the same functions) using a built-in accessibility option. Head back to the Ease of Access Center under Make the Keyboard Easier to Use once again; this time, check the box for Turn on Mouse Keys. This lets you use the number keypad to move the pointer around; be sure to check the options so you can change the acceleration and toggle a few other features. For a reverse trick, you can also activate keyboard shortcuts using your mouse.
Make Your Own
We’ve covered the main ways to move around Windows with just the keys, but perhaps you aren’t satisfied yet and want to make even more easy-to-use shortcuts for yourself. By remapping keys, you can re-assign ones you use less often to other keys that save you time. Maybe you’d use this to make certain shortcuts easier to reach, or give yourself a duplicate key (maybe an extra Backspace if you make a lot of typing mistakes, for example).
To go even further, take some time to set custom shortcuts to your most-used Windows programs, or let Launchy give you one-touch access to nearly everything on your system. Once you get into the habit, you’ll be flying over your keyboard so fast you won’t even think about touching the mouse!
Now You Can Be Mouse Free
You might not always want to do without your handy mouse, but it’s a good idea to know your way around when you don’t have it. Force yourself to get around using just your keyboard for an hour once in a while; it’s a fun little challenge!
Do you often have to get around your computer without a mouse? What are your go-to shortcuts and programs for saving time? Drop a comment below to contribute!
Image Credits: white keyboard Via Shutterstock