Windows Speed Demon
April 9, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I need to be as efficient as possible when using Windows 7, using Office, browsing with Firefox / Chrome, working with files, etc. etc. What are your best tips for being a Windows speed demon? Answers to this question will include keyboard shortcuts, utilities, how you use your taskbar, command-line, whatever. I am looking for how you get the most out of Windows.
posted by jasondigitized to Computers & Internet (25 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Finding out F2 is the shortcut for rename has saved me a lot of time.

If you're dealing with many files which you need to cross-reference in excel, "dir > name.txt" outputs the directory structure into a text file in that directory. Copy and paste into excel and you've got a spreadsheet with your files in it.

Whatever browser you're using probably has a "minimalist" theme that gives you the most screen real estate for the actual content. Use it.

Also, find the appropriate gestures plugin for your browser and use that. Going back and forward in history by rolling from left click to right click/vice versa is something I don't think I can ever give up.
posted by griphus at 10:04 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I like Launchy: Textually launch any application from your keyboard and some other functionality. Your hand doesn't have to move the mouse to double-click and launch the app when your hands are already on your keyboard. I can usually launch my oft-used apps with 3 keystrokes.
posted by Seboshin at 10:08 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

It helps to be a touch typist. Knowing lots of keyboard shortcuts doesn't save you much time if you have to take your eyes off the screen for hunt and peck typing.
posted by AMSBoethius at 10:18 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Similar to Launchy, I use AutoHotKey.
I use it to open folders, documents, spreadsheets, anything that you can find a path to.
Free and I highly recommend it.
posted by THAT William Mize at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2012

Ditto on Launchy. Tripple dittos, in fact. It's probably the biggest time-saving shortcut app I've ever used in Windows.

Another is Search Everything. You will need to adjust both their options so they're not running their indexers all the time, and also turn off windows native search indexing.

Chrome, of course. Chrome is the browser I launch when I'm waiting for Firefox to load. Make sure you clear thier cache frequently. I suggest installing CCleaner, which does a very good job of that, as well as trash and windows cache control. Its registry cleaning feature is also handy.

Don't bother with its secure delete functions, however. They don't work. That's actually a limitation inherent in windows, not CCleaner or other file erasure tools.

Keeping things clean is important and can't be stressed enough. Make sure you have a nice big swap file (google for instructions on expanding it), that folders you open regularly don't contain more than a dozen or so items (not counting how much is in the subfolders beneath them), and that you defrag regularly. MyDefrag is a fantastic disk optimising utility that intelligently arranges files and fragments so that disk accesses are as efficient as they can possibly be. Again, you will have to fiddle with its scheduling options so it's not running when you're trying to get things done.

Also reboot regularly. At least once a day. Preferably twice. One hopes you shut down before you stop working with your machine for the day, and do a reboot around lunchtime. If you have a lot of apps open and a lot of projects going at once so that rebooting at lunch seems like it would set you back, you need to rethink the way you work.

One other thing that comes to mind is VirtualWin: a virtual desktop switcher that, at least for me, has made jumping between applications more breezy than fiddling with the taskbar. You just need to make it's keyboard shortcuts second nature.

But seriously install Mint Linux.
posted by clarknova at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the things that has saved me a TON of time is switching to a mouse with a left and right clicking scroll wheel. Currently I've got a logitech 705 at work with this functionality. Anyway, I remap the left and right click to "copy" and "paste" respectively, and that's been huge.

The only down side is that when it does this it's effectively pressing ctrl+c and ctrl+v, so if you accidentally tick the wheel up or down while you do it, it zooms the page in or out respectively.

You may also be interested in text replacement. (Or any of myriad autoit or autohotkey scripts or apps)
posted by TomMelee at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

My favorite: Ctrl + Shift + Esc = Task Manager!
posted by Acton at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

DialogDevil is an essential part of my use experience. I use it to get rid of nag-popups.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:25 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Built in explorer file search is unreliable, I use Agent Ransack
posted by canoehead at 10:36 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and if you have some money to spare and a little bit of confidence, get a small SSD and reinstall your Windows to it. Use your mechanical hard disk for file storage, and the device where you install large apps or apps you don't use often.

You can pretty much ignore every other machine-optimisation tip in this thread if you do this one thing, and still see a performance boost of one or two orders of magnitude.
posted by clarknova at 10:37 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Use the standard Windows hotkeys - they become second nature right away.

Ctrl+Shift+Esc = Task manager (already mentioned but is worth repeating)
Win + D = View desktop
Win + E = My Computer
Win + arrow key = snap active window left/right/etc
Alt+tab, Shift+Alt+tab to toggle active window

You can also pin your commonly used programs to the taskbar, and then use
Win + 1/2/3/... to launch programs.

I used to use Launchy, but in Windows 7 I've gotten accustomed to launching programs using the Search function (I don't use that many programs - YMMV). Once you try it a couple times you can figure out how many letters you need to type to get the program you want, and you don't actually need to wait for the search results to show up.
For example, I know that if I hit the Windows key, immediately type "exc" and hit Enter, Excel will launch.

ALSO - most important one ever - Ctrl + Backspace deletes an entire word.
Figuring this out in high school changed my life.

If you happen to have a Thinkpad or some sort of laptop with a "nipple" pointer, start using it even if it feels ridiculous. Give it a week of continuous usage before you write it off.
posted by hot soup at 10:44 AM on April 9, 2012

[Alt]+[space] opens the window manipulation pane - minimize, maximize and close are there, which, combined with [alt]+[tab] to flip between windows and tabbing between fields, means you don't really need to use the mouse to wrangle windows around.
posted by Orb2069 at 10:57 AM on April 9, 2012

When typing data into fields, Shift-Tab will move you backwards the same way Tab moves you forwards.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 10:58 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Windows key + L also locks your computer. Helpful for when you need to step away from your desk to go to lunch or the printer or whatever.
posted by mattbucher at 11:15 AM on April 9, 2012

I don't understand Launchy - Windows 7 does this exact feature natively when you click the 'start' icon and start typing.
posted by scolbath at 11:30 AM on April 9, 2012

I don't understand Launchy - Windows 7 does this exact feature natively when you click the 'start' icon and start typing.

Ah, sorry, I'm still on an older Windows OS so I'm unfamiliar with Win 7. Then OP doesn't need Launchy for that likely...
posted by Seboshin at 11:43 AM on April 9, 2012

I used to use Launchy, but in Windows 7 I've gotten accustomed to launching programs using the Search function (I don't use that many programs - YMMV). Once you try it a couple times you can figure out how many letters you need to type to get the program you want, and you don't actually need to wait for the search results to show up. For example, I know that if I hit the Windows key, immediately type "exc" and hit Enter, Excel will launch.

This is the best change they made in Win7, in my opinion. It absolutely rocks when you get used to using it.

Also, a silly little trick that most people don't know from my experience: When editing any text, a double-click on a word will select the whole word and its trailing space. Much easier and faster than arrow keys and/or lots of single delete key pushes.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2012

I'm not a windows user so I can only give general advice but a few things:

Virtual desktops: Not an efficiency tip exactly but it really helps minimize clutter which, indirectly helps you be more efficient. Also helps you focus because you can keep stuff that logically belongs together, together. For me: web browser on one desktop, email client on another, and a couple other desktops which I use opportunistically moving stuff out of my way as necessary. This probably works best if you can set up hotkeys to move quickly between the desktops.

And on that note, keyboard shortcuts: The less you use the mouse, the faster you'll be. Learn all the standard ones and if you're able bind your most commonly used programs to hotkeys as well. (I don't know if you can do this natively in windows but if not there's probably a program you can install to manage hotkeys for you)

Program launchers: apparently win7 has this already built in so definitely learn to use it. Typing is faster than navigating a menu or even using the mouse to click a quick launch icon on your taskbar. As long as you know the name of the program you want to launch, you can launch it super fast.

Script it: It doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to become a shell scripting guru. But if you have projects that involve multiple files write a simple script that will launch all of them at once. Then instead of opening lots of individual files, just run the script. And, again, if you can bind this to a hotkey (or put it on your taskbar or whatever you want to do) so much the better.

Window tiling: maybe win7 does this already, maybe it's an option you can turn on somewhere, or maybe you'll have to download something to do it, but using a tiling window manager has really made my life easier. All your windows are automatically sized and positioned so you don't waste time...well sizing and positioning them. Makes the most efficient use of your screen real estate and you never have to waste time moving one window out of the way of another window.
posted by Mister_Sleight_of_Hand at 12:12 PM on April 9, 2012

For working with files I switch between GUI and command line modes a lot, so I have this batch file "e.bat" (on my system path) which opens Windows Explorer to whatever directory I'm working in, defaulting to the current directory:

@echo %~f0
@if %1. == . goto simple
@rem explorer /e, %1
explorer /e, %1
@goto done
explorer /e,.

Just type "e" at a command prompt, and lo, a Window opens. There's a corresponding registry key which adds a right-click command to open a command prompt at any directory selected in Windows Explorer.

If you use command mode, the GNU unix-like tools for Windows are a bit nicer than the standard windows commands (e.g. grep is more powerful than find; cat is easier to type than type)

I always add a shortcut for the command prompt at the top of the start menu, so opening a new command prompt window is three keystrokes: the start button, down-arrow, enter.
posted by anadem at 1:32 PM on April 9, 2012

When windows presents you with an error window, more than likely you can press Control C and have the contents of the error message placed in the clipboard. Link

Saved me many many hours of typing in long error codes (often getting it wrong).

If your wanted efficiencies are around PC troubleshooting, using process explorer to get the full command line of an executable run constantly helps me. Using Process Monitor to get a list of all exe's run over a certain period of time. Basically getting to know all the Sysinternals tools well has saved me a lot of time and stress at work.
posted by Admira at 4:58 PM on April 9, 2012

Here's two of my favorites when avoiding the mouse:

Alt+D = puts your cursor in the address field of most browsers as well as explorer windows

Shift+F10 = a quick way of displaying context menus without having to right-click
posted by samsara at 5:33 PM on April 9, 2012

Yeah, I'd say the best first step is to learn all the cool stuff Windows 7 does. And also to allow yourself to be integrated into whatever paradigm-shift each new version does. Like Windows 7 got rid of the quick-launch taskbar thing, and I hated it. But then I figured out what they were trying to do with pinning things to the taskbar or the start menu, and found that it really did work better.

I also moved my taskbar to the left side of my screen. With the wider screens, I found that I wasn't really using that real estate all that much, and it allowed me to be able to stack up more open tasks.

And the window key + start typing the name of the program thing works AWESOME.

(I say this because I tend to work on a lot of different machines, and while little apps sometimes speed things up, if I don't have the little app, I am slowed way down.)

But I do have a couple of programs that I really prefer to have. VLC or MediaPlayerClassic to play media files. A program called "Bulk Rename Utility" that does exactly that. It has a terribly complicated user interface, but if renaming a bunch of files is part of your workflow, it does the job very quickly. Also 7zip to open darn near any kind of archive file there is. Irfanview as my main image viewer. It opens quickly, can do basic manipulations, and has a batch mode that works pretty well once you get used to its quirks. Putty for ssh and other terminal kinds of things.
posted by gjc at 7:04 PM on April 9, 2012

Here is why you need launchy, and why launchy rules over win7 search - search parameters. To search google, I hit CAPS LOCK (which I've mapped to bring up launchy using AHK), then I type "g{tab}android" and up pops a google search for "android." Search wikipedia? "w{tab}france." Amazon books? "a{tab}hunger games," etc. Here's a screenshot. (I have trained launchy to use the Google Search.ahk in the screenshot as the first result when I type "g".)

Here's an example google_search.ahk file:


(In AHK, %1% = first parameter.)

You can achieve the same thing with .BAT files - use %1 instead of %1%. Just be sure to add .AHK and .BAT files to your catalog in launchy settings. You can also use launchy's "weby" plugin to achieve the same effect. I use files because they're portable and I can sync them across machines.
posted by Terheyden at 12:34 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You want autohotkey.

Map Win+D to open the "Downloads" folder? No problem:

Run, %userprofile%\Downloads

Map Win+Up to maximize the current window:

; Maximize, or restore then maximize.

WinGet, winState, MinMax, A

if (winState = 1) {
WinRestore, A

WinMaximize, A

Here's one of my favs - Win+Q turns off the monitor (until you move the mouse or press a key):

; Win+Q hotkey that turns off the monitor.
; Give user a chance to release keys (in case their release would wake up the monitor again).
Sleep 1000
; Turn Monitor Off:
SendMessage, 0x112, 0xF170, 2,, Program Manager
; Note for the above: Use -1 in place of 2 to turn the monitor on.
; Use 1 in place of 2 to activate the monitor's low-power mode.

Use the numpad + key to turn up the volume, and numpad - key to turn it down:

NumpadAdd::SendInput {Volume_Up}
NumpadSub::SendInput {Volume_Down}

How about some hotkeys (text expansion)?

:*:lmk;::let me know

So typing "email;" expands to "". (I like to use ';' as my expansion key.) Check out the AHK forums for more scripts and ideas.
posted by Terheyden at 12:49 AM on April 10, 2012

Big +1s for AutoHotKey. It is absolutely the most essential thing that you should have on your PC. Using a single script that I customize (add to) continuously, I have the following in place:
- autoreplacers that allow me to type a couple of characters and have entire words/sentences entered instead.. for example I type "relren" and instantly see the entry ipconfig /releaseipconfig /renew appear. If you write
- dialog boxes are continuously scanned for and acted on.. for example after updating Windows, the "windows has finished installing updates, you must restart" dialog box appears every 15 mins or so, my script automatically clicks "postpone" for me. Works with any dialog box/window. Can automatically click "OK" or "Cancel" on any dialog box. This completely replaces the functionality of programs like DialogDevil.
- whenever particular windows appear on my screen that I specify, they instantly move and resize to the location I want them at - for example the Filezilla Server window, my IM program, Connections Glue for work, Puran Defrag's window, Minecraft's window etc.
- I have a hotkey combo (ctrl-alt-b) so that I can write a word like test and have it turn into [b]test[/b] for BBcode stuff.
- continuously checks to make sure that certain programs are running, such as Stickies, and will start the process automatically if it ever dies (ie. I exit the program by mistake, or it crashes and quits, etc)

This dude has a huge amount of AHK scripts showing the sort of stuff you can do with it. Lifehacker regularly highlights the program and has, among other tips, a simple and incredibly useful tip here.

I also use a file finder tool called Everything. Because it works with the NTFS file journal, it doesn't need to scan your HD all the time and build an index periodically - it instantly recognizes when ANY file appears on ANY of your local NTFS drives - downloaded, created etc. And when any file is moved, and when it's deleted. It has instant search as you type and is freeware.

Finally, have a look at Windows PowerPro. This is another multifunction tool which I use as a launcher/dock. I use 8x8 icons as shown in this screenshot, in a strip which is hidden until I bump the top of the screen with my mousepointer. Each one of those icons can potentially launch one of three programs, depending on whether the left, middle or right mousebutton is clicked on them. I have a tooltip that appears for each of my icons which reminds me of which apps launch depending on how I click them. I bump the left of my screen for an additional dock with various remote desktop/SSH destinations, and the bottom of the screen for a dock containing the handful of games I have installed.

Myself, I've never understood what use programs like Launchy are. If there's a program I need I make a shortcut to it that I can click, rather than having to remember its name. If I wanted to run Word, I'd click the icon. If I use it commonly I wouldn't even bother about that, I'd just assign a key combo to it in PowerPro, or a dock icon, or a dropdown menu. I don't even use the Win7 searcher tool. For searching, a program like Everything IMO is far superior. It'll do what Launchy does but it's not intended to be "just" a program launcher. It's a global, general file finder. Very useful for people like me that are pretty close to running out of single-letter drive identifiers and have ten trillion files on their systems. Using AHK, PowerPro and Everything allow me to do my day to day bizzle lightning fast. And all apps mentioned above are free to use.

posted by tra at 10:01 AM on April 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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