The apps you use most--your Web browser, productivity tools, media managers, and Windows and its built-in accessories--are more powerful than you realize. They are loaded with unpublicized features that make your PC easier to use, they respond to superquick keyboard shortcuts that you've never heard about, and they support add-ons and plug-ins that can shave minutes or even hours off of mundane daily chores.
But finding these shortcuts and obscure features usually means perusing dusty manuals or digging through intimidating help menus, and many of the most useful tips are ones that you would never have thought to look for in the first place. Fortunately, you don't have to do the searching yourself--we've done it for you. Read on for the mother lode of expert software secrets.
No matter how fast your system is already, a well-crafted Windows shortcut can give it a recurring productivity boost. These tricks and workarounds will make your applications quicker to launch, your files easier to find, and your PC simpler to manage.
Work Your Windows Key
Quickly view your system specs: Press Windows-Pause to bring up the System Info window. This keyboard shortcut can be especially handy if you're troubleshooting a PC and need to pull up the system's specs in a hurry.
Launch taskbar apps: Put your most commonly used applications in the taskbar, and you'll use your mouse a lot less. Pressing Windows plus any number key will launch the program in the corresponding taskbar slot (so Windows-1 will open Windows Explorer, Windows-2 will open the app positioned to the right of Explorer, and so on).
Ditch the Displays Control Panel: To switch display modes instantly when you plug in a projector or dock your laptop to an external display, press Windows-P.
Run apps from anywhere: You can launch applications and set parameters from your keyboard, without having to waste time digging through the Start menu to find the one you want to use. Press Windows-R to bring up the Run dialog box.
Fix the Small Stuff
Don't lose your work to automatic updates: Windows Update often forces your PC to restart after it finishes updating the operating system with the latest fixes--and if you're away from your desk with an unsaved document open at the time, you'll lose your work. To prevent this from happening, open Windows Update in the Control Panel, click Change settings, and in the drop-down menu select Download updates but let me choose whether to install them. That way, you'll never again get burned by a post-update reboot.
Change Windows Explorer's default folder: Tired of clicking through Windows Explorer to find the one folder you use regularly? You can save precious time and mouse clicks by making Windows Explorer open your favorite folder by default. Right-click the Explorer icon in your taskbar, and then right-click Windows Explorer and select Properties. In the Target field, add a space and a file path at the end of the ‘%windir%\explorer.exe' section, so that the new (longer) path looks like this: ‘%windir%\explorer.exe C:\Users\yourusername\yourfolder'.
Stick to one point of view: Windows will remember and abide by your View settings for each individual folder--a level of faithfulness that's annoying if you like to stick with a particular view setting. Open a folder, click the Organize tab, and choose Folder and search options. Select the View tab and click the Apply to folders button at the top. You have a new default folder!
Disable touchpad clicking when you type: If your touchpad is set to detect a tapping motion as a mouse click, it can send your cursor flying around your screen whenever your wrist accidentally brushes against the touchpad. Grab Touchfreeze, a free utility that automatically disables your touchpad while you're typing, and you won't have to wonder where your newly typed text ended up.
Use your local Library (folder): Windows 7's Libraries provide an easy way to organize and access files, but they become much more useful when teamed with Win7 Library Tool, which lets you add nonindexed folders (including network folders) to your library of choice.