There's probably a word for the syndrome I have. And not a nice one, either. Whenever I see somebody computing the hard and slow way, I have an urge to correct them. For example, when I'm in a meeting that involves a PowerPoint presentation, and the presenter switches into slide-show mode by awkwardly groping for the touch pad, then selecting View > Slide Show, I have the urge to shout--and sometimes do--"You dope! Just press F5!"
I believe that we should be masters of our tools, using them in the ways that save us the most possible time and effort. After all, that's why we have them, isn't it?
I admit, I've missed some optimizations in products I use, so I'm hardly one to preach. But come on, professional presenters should own PowerPoint, not vice versa. Likewise, writers who achingly use single arrow presses to skip between words (Ctrl+arrow is so much faster), are wasting their time and probably even dulling their creativity.
Plus, the fewer buttons you press and the less time you spend moving between keyboard and mouse, the less strain you're putting on your hands and wrists and the less likely you are to get repetitive stress injury. (If you have any tingling or pain that you think might be related to computer use, please see a doctor or an ergonomic specialist--your limbs are too important to leave to the advice of a hack like me.)
The sad thing is, though, that it's hard to find many of the most useful shortcuts on many popular products. Too many applications ship without full manuals, much less usable tutorials that can help you climb up the learning curve at a measured pace. So it's easy to stop learning how to use a product once you reach a bare minimum level of competence. And that's how you become a slave to ineptness.
Now, before you start pelting me with angry TalkBacks (available at the bottom of this page), allow me to say that the ineptness is not your fault. Product marketers need to make software easy to learn, easy to sell, and easy to review, so they don't invest much publicity on intricacies such as shortcuts, despite the fact that product designers sprinkle them liberally into their apps.
Let me give you some examples to get you started. This list of keyboard shortcuts is a combination of the ones I use every day and some favorites from other editors here at CNET:
As most nonbeginners know, you can use Alt+Tab to switch between applications. I also like using Shift+Alt+Tab, which steps you through your running applications in the opposite order. This is useful if you have a whole bunch of programs running at once.
Also, Windows+D minimizes all windows, and Windows+R brings up the Run dialog (where you can also paste file paths and URLs, by the way).
There are dozens more Windows shortcuts; search for Windows keyboard shortcuts on the Web for a whole bunch of useful lists.
Internet Explorer shortcuts
Who needs a mouse to surf? Press Ctrl+Tab to move your cursor to the address bar. Then type your domain name without the www. and .com around it (for example, cnet, not www.cnet.com, and press Ctrl+Enter (instead of just Enter) to fill out the whole URL.
Use Backspace instead of the Back button. And use the Tab key, not the mouse, to move between form fields.
These also apply to composing e-mail in Outlook. Use Ctrl+left/right arrow, to move between words or Ctrl+up/down arrow to move between paragraphs. Use Shift+arrow or Shift+Ctrl+arrow to drag the selection. Ctrl+A selects all text. Home and End move to the beginning and the end of a line, and Ctrl+Home and Ctrl+End move to the beginning and the end of a document, respectively.
Ctrl+1 through Ctrl+5 bring up Inbox, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes, respectively. When done composing a message, press Alt+S to send it, instead of fishing for the Send button with the mouse.
IBM ThinkPads' unknown feature
This one applies only to IBM ThinkPads, but I am surprised by how many people who own these machines don't know it: Press Fn+PgUp to turn on the little keyboard light. It's great for dark airplanes. Some clever designer put that little light in there, and it's a shame to see it go unused.
Using keyboard shortcuts isn't the end of the road. Real keyboard junkies might want to go to the next step and get a systemwide keyboard utility such as ActiveWords. This utility lets you type in commands that run in all of your applications. For example, you can type close (followed by a user-defined command string, such as two spacebar taps) to exit the current application. Or type g (space space) to open up a Google search box. You can do this from any application or even from the Windows desktop. There are tons of commands and substitutions you can download for ActiveWords, plus it's not hard to make your own. I just created a shortcut to the HTML code for creating a hyperlink (<a href=" ">) and mapped it to hr (space). It took about 20 seconds and will save me a lot of time since I frequently have to insert that text in things I write. ActiveWords is an excellent utility if you really want to turbocharge your keyboard use. It takes some getting used to, but serious computer users will probably find the payback worth the effort.
It's easy to find useful keyboard shortcuts, either by surfing the Web or just paying attention to the products you use; many apps list shortcuts in their menus. The effort to learn them can make you more productive and make using your computer more enjoyable, too.
Monster PC update
About six weeks ago, I wrote about the custom PC I wanted to build. Based partly on the supportive feedback I got from readers, I went ahead and started the project. The components have just started to arrive at my house. I'll report back here as the job progresses.
Are there secret keyboard shortcuts you use that make you faster than the average user? Share them with the rest of the world in TalkBack!