Make Vista keyboard-friendly (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Dec 6, 2008, 1:09 GMT
Washington - Microsoft must hate keyboards.
With each new version of its Windows operating system, the software behemoth has created an interface that relies more heavily on the mouse and less on the keyboard.
Almost everything - from the clickable orb called the Start menu to the gadget-laden sidebar - cries out to be clicked rather than accessed by some key combination.
While there's certainly nothing wrong with the mouse as an input device, overusing it poses two problems: it reduces your productivity, and it increases your likelihood of getting some sort of repetitive stress injury.
So whether you're a keyboard maven or mostly a mouse lover, it pays to know how to get the keyboard back - or how to use it to your best advantage.
--- Restore Explorer's menu
Windows Explorer may arguably be the most-used application delivered with Vista, since it's what you often use to access, copy, and delete files. Explorer underwent quite a facelift in Vista, and for keyboard users, the result was not exactly pretty. For starters, Microsoft removed the menu bar - or at least hid it from view. So the familiar File, Edit, View, Tools, and Help options, while still accessible, are out of sight. Other visual changes are decidedly unfriendly to keyboard users as well.
But you can set things straight, first by getting the menus back. Open Vista's Explorer - Windows Key+E still works as a shortcut - and click the Organize button. From the Organize drop-down, select the Layout option, and from the resulting fly-out menu, click Menu Bar. You'll see the familiar File, Edit, View, and other options.
You won't, however, see the underlined letters in the menus that tell you which key to hold down while pressing the Alt key in order to access those options by keyboard. But you can get those underlines back, as well. Open Vista's Control Panel, and click Ease of Access. In the resulting Ease of Access Center screen, click the 'Change how your keyboard works' link.
Vista takes you to a screen called 'Make the keyboard easier to use.' Select the box labeled 'Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys' toward the bottom of the screen, and then click Apply. You'll need to restart Explorer to see the Menu bar with its familiar underlined letters. The good news about this change is that it will give you back the underlines in most of your applications, not just Explorer.
--- Unleash Quick Launch
The Quick Launch area of the task bar was introduced back in 1997 with a version of Internet Explorer, but it wasn't widely used until it became an official part of the Windows operating system with XP. Quick Launch is that area right next to the Start button - it holds those small icons that represent shortcuts to your frequently-used applications. You can add application shortcuts to the Quick Launch area simply by dragging desktop shortcuts and dropping them onto the Quick Launch bar.
The trouble with Quick Launch in the past is that you had to use your mouse to access the individual icons. Using a keyboard shortcut is much quicker, and with Vista, you can. Each application in Vista's Quick Launch area can now be started simply by holding down the Windows key - the key with the Windows logo imprinted on it - and tapping the number key on your keyboard that corresponds to the order in which the shortcut appears in the Quick Launch area. For example, let's say a shortcut to Internet Explorer appears as the third icon in your Quick Launch bar. To access it, hold down the Windows key and tap the number '3' on your keyboard. Internet Explorer should open immediately.
--- Supercharged shortcuts
WinKey was a tremendous productivity booster for keyboard fans who used Windows XP. This free utility transformed the otherwise little- used Windows Key found on most keyboards today into a hotkey that, when used in conjunction with other keys on the keyboard, could open applications in a flash. For instance, you could configure WinKey so that pressing the Windows Key and tapping 'W' opened Microsoft Word, or you could assign the Windows key plus the letter 'O' to open Outlook. The possibilities were almost limitless.
Development of WinKey stopped, unfortunately, before Vista was widely available, and so the utility is not officially supported under Vista. But you can still use it. Do a Google search for WinKey, and download it from a convenient location. Once you've downloaded it, navigate to the folder in which you stored the installation file, right-click it, and select Run as Administrator from the pop-up menu. Vista will then allow you to install the program.
Once installed, WinKey will present you with a list of pre- configured shortcuts that use the Windows Key in conjunction with some of the keys on your keyboard. You'll need to delete any of the shortcuts that employ the number keys, since those are now used by the Quick Launch bar, as described earlier, and some of the other shortcuts - such as to the Control Panel - won't work under Vista, either. But you can still use WinKey to configure your own shortcuts to frequently-used applications using most of the keys on your keyboard.
An excellent alternative - or adjunct - to WinKey is HotKeyz. Also free, HotKeyz (http://www.skynergy.com/hotkeyz.html) is in many ways even more powerful - if also a bit more complicated - than WinKey. Once installed, HotKeyz allows you to configure all kinds of keyboard shortcuts that do everything from open applications in various states - minimised or maximised, for instance - to launch folders or programs only under certain conditions.
For instance, you could assign key combinations to be valid only when Microsoft Word is in the foreground or only when Microsoft Outlook is not open. You can create a keyboard shortcut that automatically enters a user name and password for a certain Web site, as well, and you can instruct HotKeyz to execute multiple commands with one keystroke - such as locking your computer and turning off the monitor. HotKeyz can even disable Vista's default keyboard shortcuts so that HotKeyz can have full reign over your system. The possibilities are impressive.
--- More keyboard tricks
Many people aren't taking advantage of the keyboard perks that Microsoft has provided in Vista. Open Vista's Start menu, for instance, and start typing - anything. You'll see a real-time display of what's on your computer based upon what you've started typing. If you have Word installed and type 'Word,' for instance, the shortcut to Microsoft Word pops up at the top. This method sure beats having to click through multiple layers of the Start menu to find some program that you just know is there.
Every shortcut icons on your Vista desktop can be activated by keyboard, as well. Right-click a shortcut, and select Properties from the resulting pop-up menu. A Properties dialog box opens, with the Shortcut tab already selected. Click once in the Shortcut Key box, and then type the keyboard shortcut that you would like to use to activate the shortcut. Click Apply, and you're done.
With these keyboard tools and tricks, it's actually possible to use Vista and rarely touch the mouse. You might not want to do that, but having that capability will make you a more productive user of Vista - and consequently a happier one, too.