Keyboard shortcuts are practically essential for using any type of PC. They’ll speed up almost everything you do. But long lists of keyboard shortcuts can quickly become overwhelming if you’re just getting started.

This list will cover the most useful keyboard shortcuts that every Windows user should know. If you haven’t used keyboard shortcuts much, these will show you just how useful keyboard shortcuts can be.

Windows Key + Search

The Windows key is particularly important on Windows 8 — especially before Windows 8.1 — because it allows you to quickly return to the Start screen. On Windows 7, it opens the Start menu. Either way, you can start typing immediately after you press the Windows key to search for programs, settings, and files.

For example, if you want to launch Firefox, you can press the Windows key, start typing the word Firefox, and press Enter when the Firefox shortcut appears. It’s a quick way to launch programs, open files, and locate Control Panel options without even touching your mouse and without digging through a cluttered Start menu.

You can also use the arrow keys to select the shortcut you want to launch before pressing Enter.

Copy, Cut, Paste

RELATED: 42+ Text-Editing Keyboard Shortcuts That Work Almost Everywhere

Copy, Cut, and Paste are extremely important keyboard shortcuts for text-editing. If you do any typing on your computer, you probably use them. These options can be accessed using the mouse, either by right-clicking on selected text or opening the application’s Edit menu, but this is the slowest way to do it.

After selecting some text, press Ctrl+C to copy it or Ctrl+X to cut it. Position the cursor where you want the text and use Ctrl+V to paste it. These shortcuts can save you a huge amount of time over using the mouse.

Search the Current Page or File

To quickly perform a search in the current application — whether you’re in a web browser, PDF viewer, document editor, or almost any other type of application — press Ctrl+F. The application’s search (or “Find”) feature will pop up, and you can instantly start typing a phrase you want to search for.

You can generally press Enter to  go to the next appearance of the word or phrase in the document, quickly searching through it for what you’re interested in.

Switch Between Applications and Tabs

Rather than clicking buttons on your taskbar, Alt+Tab is a very quick way to switch between running applications. Windows orders the list of open windows by the order you accessed them, so if you’re only using two different applications, you can just press Alt+Tab to quickly switch between them.

If switching between more than two windows, you’ll have to hold the Alt key and press Tab repeatedly to toggle through the list of open windows. If you miss the window you want, you can always press Alt+Shift+Tab to move through the list in reverse.

To move between tabs in an application — such as the browser tabs in your web browser — press Ctrl+Tab. Ctrl+Shift+Tab will move through tabs in reverse.

Quickly Print

If you’re the kind of person who still prints things, you can quickly open the print window by pressing Ctrl+P. This can be faster than hunting down the Print option in every program you want to print something from.

Basic Browser Shortcuts

RELATED: 47 Keyboard Shortcuts That Work in All Web Browsers

Web browser shortcuts can save you tons of time, too. Ctrl+T is a very useful one, as it will open a new tab with the address bar focused, so you can quickly press Ctrl +T, type a search phrase or web address, and press Enter to go there.

To go back or forward while browsing, hold the Ctrl key and press the left or right arrow keys.

If you’d just like to focus your web browser’s address bar so you can type a new web address or search without opening a new tab, press Ctrl + L. You can then start typing something and press Enter.

Close Tabs and Windows

To quickly close the current application, press Alt+F4. This works on the desktop and even in new Windows 8-style applications.

To quickly close the current browser tab or document, press Ctrl+W. This will often close the current window if there are no other tabs open.

Lock Your Computer

When you’re done using your computer and want to step away, you may want to lock it. People won’t be able to log in and access your desktop unless they know your password. You can do this from the Start menu or Start screen, but the fastest way to lock your screen is by quickly pressing Windows Key + L before you get up.

Access the Task Manager

Ctrl+Alt+Delete will take you to a screen that allows you to quickly launch the Task Manager or perform other operations, such as signing out.

This is particularly useful because it can be used to recover from situations where your computer doesn’t appear responsive or isn’t accepting input. For example, if a full-screen game becomes unresponsive, Ctrl+Alt+Delete will often allow you to escape from it and end it via the Task Manager.

Windows 8 Shortcuts

On Windows 8 PCs, there are other very important keyboard shortcuts. Windows Key + C will open your Charms bar, while Windows Key + Tab will open the new App Switcher. These keyboard shortcuts will allow you to avoid the hot corners, which can be tedious to use with a mouse.

On the desktop side, Windows Key + D will take you back to the desktop from anywhere. Windows Key + X will open a special “power user menu” that gives you quick access to options that are hidden in the new Windows 8 interface, including Shut Down, Restart, and Control Panel.

If you’re interested in learning more keyboard shortcuts, be sure to check our longer lists of 47 keyboard shortcuts that work in all web browsers and 42+ keyboard shortcuts to speed up text-editing.

Image Credit: Jeroen Bennink on Flickr

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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