Shortcuts that everyone must absolutely know

Whether you are beginners who just want to survive in the post-2012 computing ecosystem that Microsoft created or a computer guru, there are shortcuts that you must absolutely know.

A backspace key on a rock, having been removed from a keyboard.

As soon as you see these shortcuts, you’ll be laughing and saying: “Ha! I knew them!” But I am not sure that would be the case when you are done reading.


The Escape key, or simply Esc, has gained a huge significance in the post-2012 desktop computing. Previously, it was the equivalent of pressing Cancel or Close button in Windows modal dialog boxes. So, if you did not know about it, you were okay. Starting with Windows Server 2012 (which predates Windows 8), Microsoft has deployed a new Windows shell in which dialog boxes do not have a Cancel or Close button, or even a tiny X button that closes them; but if you wish to choose not to cancel or close them, they are as persistent as a traditional menu: Not persistent at all.

So, next time a dialog box popped up and asked you “How do you want to die?” (perhaps offering you a list of gruesome ways of dying) think out of the box: You can click outside the box or press Escape to escape death. (Also know that it was a joke; no program on a conventional desktop computer or tablet can cause hardware damage or bodily harm… unless you attach a high-powered robotic arm to your computer and manage to anger an app that knows about said robotic arm.)

Esc is still very useful in pre-2012 desktops. My favorite use: Canceling a drag & drop operation. Suppose you drag an object and amid dragging, you change your mind. Pressing Esc always cancels the drag in Microsoft software and usually does so in other software. (Theoretically, a developer can ignore the tested-and-proven standard drag & drop API and write his own.)

In web browsers and File Explorer, when the address bar is focused, Esc cancels changes. Since Esc is also used to cancel navigation in web browsers, pressing Esc in the middle of loading a page does both canceling changes and halting navigation.

Esc closes program menus too, but cannot always close context menus.


The combination of holding down Alt key and pressing F4 had always closed programs. Starting with Windows 95, applications had always had an X button in their title bars that closed them. Thus, Alt+F4 was only a magic shortcut in fullscreen video games that did not disable it. (In Diablo 2, knowing this shortcut was a must). Starting with Windows 8, users have the option of installing new Metro-style apps from Windows Store. These apps are fullscreen and do not have an X button in one corner. Alt+F4 combination closes these apps too, although it does not terminate their process. (Windows does so whenever it sees fit.)

Alt+F4 can restart or hibernate a computer too. Just select Desktop and press Alt+F4. This works in Windows 8 too. (Prior to Windows 8, pressing Win+D would have brought the desktop into focus. In Windows 8, you sometimes need to press this combination twice; once to invoke the desktop-oriented part of Windows and once to give desktop focus.)

Windows shell address bar

Do you know what is a Windows shell address bar? It is the address bar seen in File Explorer (nee Windows Explorer) as well the one seen in Open or Save dialog boxes in Windows 7 or later. Oh, and let’s not forget the Address panel of Task Bar that is ordinarily disabled but can be activated with a right-click. Other address bars such those that you see in your favorite web browsers are not Windows shell address bars.

Windows shell address bar is a powerful tool as it can run programs too. Let’s learn some tricks:

Imagine you are in the Open dialog box of Notepad (or Paint, WordPad, Microsoft Word, Photoshop, etc.) and you want to quickly open an Explorer window for that folder. You can go to the address bar and type “explorer .” (without quotation marks) and press Enter. There! You have an Explorer window.

Imagine you have searched something a list of folders have come up. Imagine you enter some of them, then some other folders; eventually you find what you want but don’t know exactly where in the computer it is located. (Address bar does not show its actual location at this time.) Again you can go to the address bar and type “explorer .” (without quotation marks) and press Enter for another Explorer window to comes to rescue.

You can quickly call Command Prompt or PowerShell to start in the current folder from a Windows shell address bar by entering the address bar, typing cmd or powershell and pressing Enter key.

As cool as this feature is, there are three restrictions:

  • You cannot run elevated Command Prompt or PowerShell in current folder, i.e. you can run them from the address bar either in current folder or with elevated privileges, but not both.
  • For the program to honor your choice of current folder, you must be in a real folder, i.e. one that can be reached from within Command Prompt or PowerShell. Virtual folders like Control Panel, Desktop, Libraries, My Computer, Saved Search or Recycle Bin do not count. Exceptionally, folders in search results and libraries are okay.
  • For Command Prompt, you must be in a local folder too. Network folders are not supported. This is not an issue with PowerShell.

On public computers, shell address bar can be a liability. Therefore, it is possible to disable it. However, doing that is for another article.


Posted on 26 November 2013, in Computers and Internet and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Oh, the irony; the one place that Esc doesn’t work to close a dialog is from the address bar (at least on Windows 7 where I tried it).

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