The Expert’s Guide to Need-to-Know Computer Shortcuts

By | Posted February 13th, 2013

Every operating system (OS), program, and app has its own keyboard shortcuts and settings to help users accomplish tasks more quickly, but learning all of them can be daunting. This is not an exhaustive list, but comprises the most useful and time saving computer shortcuts you need to know.


The Expert's Guide to Need-to-Know Computer Shortcuts

Windowshas some very useful keyboard shortcuts built in. CTRL+ ESC opens the Start menu. ALT+TAB lets you tab through open windows quickly. A useful shortcut when using your laptop in a public place is the Windows key + L, which will lock your screen instantly. If you use a few particular programs frequently, you can easily create your own keyboard shortcuts for them in Windows. CTRL+ALT+P is the shortcut I use to open a photo editing program.


OS X® has its own set of built-in keyboard shortcuts. On most Apple­® keyboards you’ll use the Command key. The most useful keyboard shortcuts tend to be similar across programs and OSs, so these may look familiar. Command+Tab lets you tab through active applications. Command+Q will quit an application, while Command+W closes just the open window of an application. Command+Shift+U opens the utilities folder.

OS Xallows a bit more customization than Windows does; you can set your own keyboard shortcuts, change existing ones, and disable them. Instead of assigning a single key, you can use any combination of the Command, Control, Option, Shift keys, and F keys. For faster navigation, there are plenty of tips worth implementing in OS X.

Function Windows Mac OS X
Start Menu/Utilities CTRL+ESC Command+Shift+U
Tab Through Windows ALT+TAB Command+Tab
Lock Screen Windows key + L CTRL+Shift+Eject
Quit Application ALT+F4 Command+Q
Close Active Window ALT+F4 Command+W


Popular Browsers

Most browsers have very similar, basic keyboard shortcuts to help make navigation even faster. According to the popular browser statistics tracking, the most popular browsers currently are Google Chrome™ and Mozilla Firefox®. They each have shortcut settings you can tweak to your liking. In the following list, when a keyboard shortcut is shown as “CTRL+” it refers to Windows machines, but on a Macyou will use the Command instead (unless otherwise noted).


The keyboard shortcuts you’ll need most in Chrome will be for navigation. CTRL+T opens a new tab. CTRL+Shift+T opens the most recently-closed tab (this is especially helpful when you accidentally close a tab). Chrome remembers the last 10 tabs you had open. If you need to recover tabs from your last session, press CTRL+Shift+T as soon as you open Chrome, and all the tabs from your last session will open.

CTRL+F opens the find bar, so you can search the page for a word or phrase. CTRL+G and CTRL+Shift+G will find the next and previous instances of your search word. To switch between tabs, use CTRL+1,2,3,4 or Command+Option+forward or back arrows.

If you want to open more than one site on startup, go to Menu >Settings, under “On Startup” select “Open a specific page or set of pages.” Click “Set Pages” to add the URLs you choose. You can also create desktop “apps” for sites you access often by going to Menu > Tools > Create Application Shortcuts. It pastes a shortcut to Desktop, Start Menu, or Pin to Taskbar in Windows. You can even use the URL bar to do simple calculations.

You can save frequently-used information—names, numbers, addresses, and more—by filling out the built-in Autofill. Go to Menu > Settings > Advanced Settings > Privacy > Check “Enable Autofill” > Click “Manage Autofill Settings” and input your information. This is stored only in your Chrome™ account, so it’s not accessible to other users when you sign out.


Firefox has keyboard shortcuts similar to those in Chrome. CTRL+T opens a new tab. Type CTRL+F to find a word or phrase in the page. Use CTRL+arrow keys to switch between tabs. If you want custom keyboard shortcuts, though, it’s going to take a bit more work. The simplest way by far involves installing an extension called Customizable Shortcuts.

To open multiple tabs on startup, first open the sites you want in each tab. Click Tools > Options > General, check “Use current pages,” then select OK. You can create desktop shortcuts very easily from Firefox by dragging the favicon (the little picture next to a website’s URL) and dropping it on your desktop.

Shortcut Chrome Firefox
Recently Closed Tab CTRL+Shift+T CTRL+Shift+T
Next/Previous CTRL+G and CTRL+Shift+G CTRL+G and CTRL+Shift+G
Navigate Between Tabs CTRL+1,2,3,4 or Command+Option+arrows CTRL+arrow keys
Open Multiple Pages at Start  Menu > Settings > “Open a specific page or set of pages.” Click “Set Pages.” Add URLs. Click Tools > Options > General, check “Use current pages,” then OK
Desktop Shortcuts to Websites Menu > Tools > Create Application Shortcuts Drag and drop favicon to desktop


Using keyboard shortcuts will save you time and hand strain from clicking. It can also save your work if your mouse dies. Taking a few minutes to set up your browsers to take on simple tasks will ensure that you don’t have to waste time with them again. Take a little time to learn and implement these shortcuts, and you’ll be on your way to happier, more efficient computing.