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Using keyboard hotkeys to open Web pages, Part 1
technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
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Using keyboard hotkeys to open Web pages, Part 1


Bit Player for April 11, 1999

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1999, The Syracuse Newspapers

Because I run a Web site, I need to get at the pages on my site quickly. I do this the fastest way possible -- without touching my mouse.

No, I'm not a keyboard fanatic. I use a fancy mouse all day long and like it. But when I need to do something quickly, nothing is as fast as pressing a couple of keys.

You can do this too. There's no trick to it, although practically nobody else knows that this can be done. You don't need to add any special software to your PC. If you have Windows 95 or 98, you're all set.

All you do is assign Windows hotkeys to the shortcuts for Web pages. If you use Internet Explorer, you already have shortcuts for Web pages -- they're called Favorites. If you use the Netscape or Opera browsers, you'll find tips on making Favorites with them in Part 2 of this mini series next week. (AOL users will have real Favorites -- not the fake ones AOL uses -- if they switch to the regular Internet Explorer browser.)

If you're puzzling over this whole thing -- Web page shortcuts? Keyboard hotkeys? -- you're not alone. Microsoft has done a terrible job explaining how Windows actually works. Most of us never get past the confusing ways we can use Windows with a mouse, and, as a result, we never realize how many things we can do just by pressing a key.

Keyboard hotkeys follow two important rules, so make sure you read the next part carefully.

    1. They only work on shortcuts that are located in the Start Menu or on the Desktop. If a shortcut is anywhere else -- in a folder on the Desktop, for example -- Windows won't let the hotkey assignment work.
    2. They work ALL THE TIME, no matter what else you are doing. That means you can be in the middle of a spell-check in your word processor and still get keyboard hotkey to open up a Web page (or run a program or do anything else).

First you have to make sure your Favorites are in the Start Menu. Click the Start button and see if they are there. If they're not, move them there, this way: Click Start, click Run, type "explorer" (without the quotes), press Enter, double click on the C: drive, double click on the Windows folder, then drag the Favorites folder over to the Start Menu folder and let go. (Windows might ask you if what you're doing is OK. It is.) Then reboot if you have just moved the Favorites folder.

Next, find out if you have a "live" Start Menu. Click on the Favorites icon in the Start Menu. The Favorites menu will open on your screen. If you get a popup menu when you click the right mouse button on one of the individual entries (not on the Favorites icon itself), you have a "live" Start Menu.

(If you don't have a "live" Start Menu, wait until next week, when I'll tell you how to get around this. Or just install Internet Explorer 4, which turns your old-fashioned Start Menu into a "live" one.)

Ready to create your first hotkey? Find a Favorite that you want to assign a hotkey to. (I suggest making one that goes right to your choice of a search site.) Right click the entry for that Favorite in the Start Menu. Left click Properties. Click once in the "Shortcut key:" field and press a letter or number key.

Windows automatically converts the single key you pressed into a combination of keys. You'll see them. Write them down. Those are the keys you press to activate the shortcut. Then click OK.

Suppose you want to assign a hotkey to the Favorite for AltaVista (www.altavista.com). You press "S" (for "Search") in the "Shortcut key:" field and Windows assigns Ctrl-Alt-S. That means the AltaVista Web site page will open up any time you are connected to the Internet and you hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys and press the S key. (If you're not connected, Windows probably will try to connect up first.)

Easy to do? Sure is. But there are some other things you need to know to make the most out of your shortcut hotkeys. I'll tell you about them next week.


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