Before the advent of the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse, most personal computers used text-based interfaces, and were therefore reliant on keyboard commands and shortcuts. These were especially useful when navigating through documents, or when running commands like copy, paste, save and open, and the like. Today, keyboard shortcuts are still useful because of the speed and accessibility that they offer to a user.
Keyboard computer shortcuts are especially useful to touch typists and people who often work with moving large amounts of text and other textual data. This is because one doesn’t need to move his hands to and from the mouse just to point and click. People like programmers, writers, and folks who work with spreadsheets are those who best appreciate keyboard shortcuts.
Keyboard shortcuts often require a combination of modifier keys and letters or numbers to activate their intended function. These modifier keys include the CTRL, ALT, and SHIFT buttons, which are usually found both at the left and right sides of the keyboard. Keyboard shortcuts usually vary across major operating systems, like Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, but they share some commonalities. One notable difference is that OS X usually substitutes the CMD or “Apple” key for certain modifiers. Apple keyboards also have an additional key called the OPTION key. On most Windows PC based keyboards, a “Windows” or WIN key may also be present, which is sometimes called the “Super” or “Home” key on Linux.
The most useful keyboard computer shortcut would be ALT-Tab, which is used for switching between Windows. In Windows OSes, CMD-Tab would cycle across all open windows. On the Mac, this would cycle across all open applications.
CTRL-Tab, meanwhile cycles within windows and tabs open for a certain application. For instance, this can include tabs in a web browser, or documents open in Microsoft Word or Excel. In the Mac, CTRL-Tab cycles across open windows under an application.
To reverse the cycle, one can use the SHIFT key along with these combinations. So to cycle back to the previous application, one can press ALT-SHIFT-Tab instead of ALT-Tab.
Working with text
An especially useful set of keyboard shortcuts when working with text or data are the Copy, Cut and Paste commands. First, one needs to select a block or line of text by holding down the SHIFT key and using the arrow keys to select the text (which can also be done by dragging the cursor using the mouse). Once the text has been selected, following can be done. CTRL-C copies the text into the clipboard for future use. CTRL-X cuts the text, which means it is copied to the clipboard and is subsequently deleted from its current location.
Once you’ve chosen a new place to drop the lines or blocks of text, you can then press CTRL-V to paste the text onto the current cursor position. If the text was copied, then this will result in a duplicate. If the text was cut, this will essentially move the text from one place to another.
On a Mac computer, copy, cut and paste are done by using CMD-C, CMD-X and CMD-V, respectively. This might vary across applications, though, as some instances require the use of CTRL instead, such as when using a Terminal session.
Working with data
The same keyboard shortcuts work when dealing with data. One can copy or move files using the same method. Files are first selected either by holding down the CTRL key and clicking on each of the desired files, or by using the SHIFT key to highlight files in succession. CTRL-C will copy the files to clipboard. CTRL-X will cut the files. CTRL-V then pastes the files into a new location. On a Mac, one can use CMD instead of CTRL.
Other popular commands include the following. This might include the use of the Escape key, Windows Key
- CTRL-S to save a file
- CTRL-SHIFT-S to save a file using a different file name
- CTRL-P to print a document
- CTRL-W to close a window or browser tab
- CTRL-N for a new window, folder or document
- CTRL-ALT-DEL or CTRL-SHIFT-ESC to bring up the Task Manager in Windows
- WIN-D to bring up the desktop
- WIN-R to open the “Run As” window
- CMD-Q to kill an application (on the Mac)
- CMD-SHIFT-4 to select an area on the screen for screen capture (on the Mac)
Commands are often shared between Windows and Linux systems. On the Mac, meanwhile, the equivalents can be found just by changing the modifier. Keyboard shortcuts are meant, after all, to make computing quicker and easier. Using shortcuts results in less tedious hand movements, and can therefore minimize repetitive stress injuries brought about by having to move one’s hand away several times in the course of working on documents and files.