A dozen tips to save time and space

Since I've been using a variety of computers, operating systems and applications for 20 years or so, I've stumbled onto various shortcuts to get what I'm doing done more directly, and more comfortably. Some are specific to a system or application, but many are general ideas that can be uncovered in lots of different places and put to work for you.

Here are a dozen of my favorites, with the specific instructions mostly applying to Windows95. With just about any system that uses a graphical user interface, you should be able to use some or all of these.

Take back your screen

The guys and gals developing your operating system and application software all have really big monitors, so they don't mind having a zillion buttons parked around the screen. And that oh-so-useful taskbar, eh?

Auto-hide the taskbar

Right click on the taskbar (most likely at the bottom of the screen), and on the "options" page, check "Auto hide." When you want the taskbar, run your mouse off the bottom edge of the screen and it'll pop up. The rest of the time, you can use its thousands of pixels can be used for your application. While you're at it, why not dump those 6 or 10 icons that got shoved in your systray by installation programs, but that you never use and can't identify?
More Word, less toolbar

Hide unused toolbars and rulers

Toolbars are great, if they have tools you use all the time, and there aren't better keyboard shortcuts. Turn on "tables" when you're editing a table, but turn it off and see more of your document when you're not.

Cover apps you're not using

Lots of times, I have 5 or 6 apps running, as I edit an HTML document, images, fetch email, etc. With Alt-TAB, I can bring up what I need when I need it, and the rest of the time, I can leave it out of sight, out of mind.

It can be iconified (keyboard shortcut: Alt-space N), or just left behind what you're using. Hold down the [Alt] key, and press tab once to show a window with icons of everything running. Tab again to move through the field. Shift-Tab to go back one, rather than looping, when you have a lot of windows up. Power browsing (next) will give you a good reason to have a lot of windows up!

Smarter browsing

More page, less browser

Get some of that screen back!

Netscape (NS) and Internet Explorer (IE) come with all the bells and whistles turned on. But when's the last time you used the "personal toolbar," and why do you need pictures and text labels for the navigation buttons? For that matter, do you really need those at all? Alt-left and Alt-right are easier than Back and Forward, Ctrl-R is easier for "reload," etc. Turn off the "Navigation" (NS) or "Standard buttons" (IE) toolbar, but save the "Location" (IE = "Address") toolbar - you need to work with URLs.

Alt-D takes you up to the address bar in IE. Type the unique part of http://www.whatever.com/ in there, and ctrl-[ENTER] completes this most common form of URL.

The Tab key usually works for navigation between form elements. Finish typing in one field and tab to the next. After input fields, you'll go on to buttons, or hyperlinks. You can tab from the location window to the display window, and down through it from one active element to the next.

Stop animation!

Thank goodness the latest browsers allow you to turn off all the silly spinning, flashing, whirling garbage people put in to jerk your attention around. Alt-V A (or just Esc) on NS, Esc (or Alt-V stoP) on IE. Flash animations don't seem to stop so politely. Sometimes a right click and unchecking "play" will work, but often not. As a last resort, I've resized the browser window to scroll the annoyance out of view, or just killed the page and gone somewhere else. out of view, or just killed the page and gone somewhere else.

Open in new window

Rather than having one window into the web, and having a single trail of breadcrumbs, why not open a bunch? One can be loading (underneath) while you're reading another that's done loading. Three can be loading! I call up the New York Times and pull up 3 or 6 pages off their front page, go to a subindex and repeat as long as I find interesting stuff. Right-click on the hyperlink, then "Open in New Window," then Alt-Tab (just once, press and release) to return to the source page for whatever's next. With IE, shift-click opens a link in a new window. (Thanks, Joel.) Some versions of NS on unix do it with a middle click on a 3 button mouse.

That way I only have to wait for an occasional page - most of the time I'm browsing or loading pages in the background while reading something that's done loading. The last thing of interest - say the OpEd index - I'll just left click, and finally let the new page clobber the front page in the original window.

"Close" (shortcut is often Ctrl-W) dismisses pages I'm done with when there are no more links of interest on them.

URL smarts

Understanding Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) can allow you to find what you're after faster, overcome typos and stale links, and generally impress your friends. Learn to recognize the various elements, and tweak them as needed. A simple example is the URL for this page (from my old hosting location), broken apart to show the components separately -- URLs usually don't have white space in them:

http: //fortboise.org /useful/dozentips.html
Hostname Path and filename

If the page you asked for is "not found," try cutting off the filename from the right end. Is the directory there? How about the parent directory? Etc., on up to the default page on the host (http://fortboise.org/ for this example).

Things that end with '/' might be directories, or they might be a default page in a directory. For Earthlink (and many others), that's "index.html". If there's no index.html in the directory, you'll see a listing of all the files in it, instead. Maybe "README" will help? Or you'll see some other filename you like. Sometimes you'll get an error page, "Directory listing not allowed." The publisher hasn't put up a default page, but they won't let you browser the directory, either. So... take a guess at what page(s) might be there. "home.htm(l)", "default.htm(l)" "default.asp" and "index.shtml" are possibilities. On most servers, URLs are case-sensitive, unlike Windows file systems where "Index.html" "index.html" and "INDEX.HTML" all point to the same thing.

More specialized URL components include:

Something like ?subject=xyz&query=abc at the end
The question-mark URLs are passing input (following the '?') to some kind of program (identified by what precedes the '?'). Sometimes you can hack the input and give yourself a feature not offered from the form that generated the URL -- like num_hits=50 rather than only num_hits=10 for a search, say.
#sometext at the end
This is a named anchor within the page identified but the preceding. Usually discardable, and shouldn't break anything one way or the other; if the name doesn't exist, you'll get the top of the page.
A port number, like :8080 after the hostname, before the path.
Not too common, but if there is one, you have to have the right one.
Hideously long, cryptic paths and filenames
Characteristic of Lotus Notes and other database servers. About all you can do is hope nothing goes wrong with that stuff!

http stands for "hypertext transfer protocol."
https adds "secure" (but a http URL can be secure, too.)
ftp is "file transfer protocol," from before the days of the WWW. It works better for big files, because it doesn't break things into as small chunks as http does, for the transmission process.
mailto will bring up whatever mail program is configured with your browser.

The words (separated by '.') in the hostname are typically machine.subdomain.domain. The last word, the domain, tells you whether this is a commercial enterprise, a government entity, a non-profit organization, or some kind of net server. Sort of. Outside the USA, the last word may be a country domain. Consider the source.

Does Acme Widget have a website? Try http://www.acmewidget.com/ (or, in most recent browsers, just www.acmewidget.com).

Keyboard shortcuts

Copy, cut, paste

Using the mouse or other pointing devices is often a nuisance to me, and slows me down. Even when I do use the mouse for part of what I'm doing, shortcuts are more useful than ever, because the most essential ones are getting standardized between apps and operating systems.

Everybody should know at least these three:
COPY = Ctrl-C
CUT = Ctrl-X
PASTE = Ctrl-V

Highlight a URL from an application that doesn't know what URLs are, Ctrl-C to copy it, Ctrl-V in a browser window (older versions will need it in the "Location" box) and you're on you're way. No reason to risk a typo.

If you want to move information from one application to another, and you're not sure how, try cut and paste first. Sometimes you need "Paste Special" or something like that to avoid (or control) a conversion process.

Save (Ctrl-S), Open (Ctrl-O), Print (Ctrl-P) are pretty common, too. Most apps show you their shortcuts on the right side of pulldown menus. If you do the same thing over and over, do it the easy way!

Select, clobber

If you want to replace the default text in a dialog window entry widget, and that text is highlighted (i.e selected), as soon as you type something, you'll delete (clobber) what was there. Double-clicking often selects everything in a widget, so double-click, type is better than backspace N times than type, isn't it? Ctrl-A often "selects all" also; that might be all of a filename, a path/filename, a document, etc. If "Ctrl-X" is next, use with caution!

If you only want to change one or two letters when the whole name (or line of text, etc.) is highlighted, move the cursor first (right once will usually pin the cursor at the right end), then hold down the shift key while you move it to highlight what you want to change. "Home" should take you to the beginning of the name (or line) if that's what needs adjustment.

Triple-click with Windows (horrid ergonomics - visit CUergo for more ideas to improve that) selects a paragraph. (Thanks to Olivier Travers for these and others.)

Move by words rather than characters

Ctrl-right and Ctrl-left usually mean "move by one word" (delineated by whitespace, and/or punctuation), rather than by one character. Might be exactly what you want, or it might just be 5 times faster than going one character at a time.

Explorer columns re-size

Lots of programs that show information in columns allow you to resize the columns by dragging the edge of a column header. Windows Explorer (the directory browser, not Internet Explorer, the web browser) is like this, with the "Details" display that shows filename, filetype, size and modify date in columns. It's also common for the information to be sortable by a given column by (left) clicking on the header.

You can resize the columns to fit the information currently displayed in Explorer with ctrl +, using the '+' on the numeric keypad. This will both shrink and expand columns as needed.

Right click

I don't know if this applies beyond Microsoft Windows, but it's one of the nice innovations available there. Depending on the object and context, clicking on it with the right mouse button gives a bunch of useful things to do with it.

Never one to leave a good idea unmitigated, though, Microsoft added a layer of indirection in some cases. Shift right-click adds "Open With..." to the list of choices for a file, for example. (Alt-F pulls down the file menu, Shift-Alt-F pulls down the file menu with this additional choice.)

If you're not sure what to try next, try right-clicking on the object of your attention.

What else?

Hope you found something you can use! If this doesn't seem like a good dozen to you, send me one of yours.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org


Friday, 28-Dec-2001 09:24:10 MST