Keyboard Shortcuts

A brief history lesson

Have you ever wondered why there are so many strangely labeled keys on computer keyboards? Things like CTRL or ALT don't seem to make much sense at first glance, and many people are unaware of what they can do or how they work. This can also be said of the function keys, the row of keys at the top of your keyboard with cryptic names like F2 or F10.

The answer is that many of the everyday actions you do on your computer using the mouse can also be done using the keyboard. You see, the earliest computers didn't come with a mouse, and took their input solely from their attached keyboards. In order to do basic things like cut and paste, work with a document, or close a program, these computers relied on special combinations of keys strokes.

Of course, since keyboards have a limited amount of space to work with, it isn't possible to provide detailed labels for every key. This has led to some standard abbreviations, such as CTRL for "Control", ALT for "Alternate Control", and F1 for "Function 1". Today, only CTRL is read as its full name, as ALT and the function keys are typically called "alt" and "eff-number".

Nowadays, computers expect a mouse or a similar device, so there is less and less of a need to continue using these shortcuts. But, just because they aren't needed doesn't mean that they aren't still around. The majority of computer programs still recognize and respond to keyboard shortcuts.

Common Keyboard Shortcuts

Below is a table listing a number of commonly used Keyboard Shortcuts. Most of these will work in any program on your computer, so feel free to experiment with them.

F1 This usually opens a document that provide help with using the current program.
F2 Opens a new, empty document.
F5 This prompts a web browser to reload the current page. Some other programs are now using this to reload the information they display, just like a web browser would.
ALT-F4 Closes the current program. If nothing is running, this prompts the computer to shutdown. You'll typically be asked to confirm that's what you want to happen though, so don't worry about accidentally shutting down your computer.

In online multiplayer games, it's a very common prank to tell people that pressing ALT-F4 will "hack" the game or do something "cool". Obviously, what actually happens is that the player who follows this advice exits the game, and since most online games place a message in the chat when someone leaves, everyone knows who fell for the prank.
CTRL-F4 Closes the current subwindow. This may also close the program if the current subwindow is the last one left.
CTRL-A Selects everything in the current document or widget.
CTRL-C Performs a copy operation.
CTRL-F Opens the prompt for searching for something within the current document.
CTRL-O Prompts to open a document; same as the Open option in a program's File menu.
CTRL-P Opens the Print dialog or attempts to print the current document directly.
CTRL-S Saves the current document; same as the Save option in a program's File menu.
CTRL-V Performs a paste operation.
CTRL-X Performs a cut operation.
CTRL-Z Undoes the last action performed; same as the "undo" option in a program's Edit menu.
CTRL-ALT-DELETE Also known as the "three finger salute", this tells the computer to stop whatever it's doing.

Modern Windows systems will prompt the user for what to do next, but hitting this repeatedly will force the computer to reboot without closing any programs.

Only use this to reboot your machine as a last resort when the computer will not respond to any input. You will lose any unsaved information, and repeated use of this feature can potentially damage your system.