THE MOUSE AND the trackpad are pretty fundamental to how we use our computers, but what if you’re unable to use a mouse or a trackpad in the usual way? Or if your mouse or trackpad malfunctions?
You can actually do just about everything you use a mouse and trackpad for using your keyboard, if you know the right shortcuts.
In Windows, the keyboard shortcuts you can use instead of a mouse or trackpad start off simple and can get quite advanced—to begin with, of course, there’s the Win button to open the Start menu, the Alt+Tab shortcut to switch between your open applications, and Alt+F4 to close down programs.
If you’re inside a menu, program, or website, you can use Tab to jump between sections or fields, and the arrow keys to go Up, Down, Left, or Right. You can search your computer with Win+S, or open the File Explorer interface with Win+E. Use Enter to confirm choices and make selections and Esc to exit out of menus and dialogs.
To control the behavior and position of open application windows, Win+Up maximizes them and Win+Down minimizes them. You can also tap Win+Left or Win+Right to snap the current window to the left or the right of the screen. Alt+Space gives you more options, including the ability to move windows (using the arrow keys).
A couple of other keyboard shortcuts that you might not have come across: If you’re not actually typing anything, you can use Space to scroll down long web pages or open documents. Also, if you need to access a right-click context menu without a mouse or a trackpad, Shift+F10 is the keyboard combination you’re looking for.
As you move through menus and dialogs, you’ll often see certain characters underlined, tipping you off to the fact that the key can be used to select the item directly—this can save you a lot of time tapping around with the arrow keys. If you’re selecting text, meanwhile, use Shift and an arrow key; to move one word at a time, use Shift+Ctrl and an arrow key.
In addition, some keyboard shortcuts work in a similar way across all Windows programs: Think Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+V to paste, Ctrl+S to save, or Ctrl+A to select everything in a section or on screen, for example. The Ctrl+W combination usually closes down whatever it is you currently have open, be it a browser tab or a document. Dig deeper into your individual programs, and you’ll find they all have bespoke keyboard shortcuts—and for even more shortcuts, check out Microsoft’s list.
One final tip: If your keyboard has a numeric keypad at the side, go to Settings and choose Accessibility and Mouse, and then enable Mouse Keys. This lets you control the on-screen cursor using the keypad on your keyboard (so 8 moves the cursor up, 2 moves the cursor down, and so on).
A lot of keyboard shortcuts work the same across Windows and macOS, so some from the previous section apply to a Mac as well. Shortcuts that work the same include Cmd+C to copy, Cmd+V to paste, Cmd+S to save, and Cmd+A to select everything in the current field or document. You can also use Cmd+W to close down the current browser tab, document, or Finder window.
Other keys that work the same on macOS and Windows are the arrow keys to maneuver around menus and dialog boxes, the Tab key to jump between text fields and program sections, and Space to scroll down webpages and documents, as long as you’re not inputting text. Use Esc to go back and Enter to confirm or select something.
As for switching between open apps, that changes to Cmd+Tab if you’re on Apple’s operating system, and you can also press Cmd+Space to search your Mac. Ctrl+F2 will switch the focus to the menu bar, and Ctrl+F3 brings up the dock (if you’re using a keyboard with the Touch Bar, you need Ctrl+Fn+F2 and Ctrl+Fn+F3). Once the focus has been moved, you can make use of the arrow keys, Esc, and Enter as needed. You can also use Cmd+ to open the preferences pane for the current app.
The text selection shortcuts are similar to those on Windows because you can hold down Shift and then use the arrow keys to select text. If you want to select one word at a time, use Shift+Option and the arrow keys. When it comes to managing open program windows, meanwhile, Cmd+M will minimize the currently selected window, but there’s no built-in keyboard shortcut for maximizing windows.
Some menu items inside programs will have their own keyboard shortcuts, which will be displayed on the menus themselves where they’re available—it pays to remember what these are, as it can really speed up your day-to-day computing in the applications you use the most. For a host of other useful shortcuts, you can consult Apple’s list.
There are also some accessibility tweaks in macOS that make it easier to use your keyboard as a replacement for a mouse or a trackpad. Open System Preferences, then choose Keyboard and Shortcuts. Check the box marked Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls to make Tab more universal as a way of moving focus (and Shift+Tab for going in the opposite direction).
You can also take full control over the pointer with the keyboard. From System Preferences, choose Accessibility, Pointer Control, and Alternative Control Methods, then check the Enable Mouse Keys box. If you have a numeric keypad on your keyboard, you can then use it to move the pointer (4 to go left, 6 to go right, and so on.)