Despite Microsoft Office’s evolution toward menu-driven shortcuts, it’s worth remembering those funky Fn keys still serve a purpose. As part of key combos inWord,Excel, and Outlook, they make it easier and faster to perform commonly used commands.
Here are 15 of the most essential function-key strokes. Once you get the hang of two-fisted input using the mouse and keyboard shortcuts, you’ll find yourself shaving hours off your projects.
F1 is the Help key in almost every software program available, including all the Microsoft products. Ctrl+F1 displays or hides the ribbon menu bar in Word and Excel.
F5 is the GoTo key in both Word and Excel. Excel displays a dialog box prompting for a cell reference such as B55 or G12. Word’s dialog box prompts for 13 different locations, including the page, section, line, table and graphic.
3. Toggle between documents
Ctrl+F6 toggles between multiple Word documents when you have more than one open, or between worksheets when you have more than one Excel file open.
4. Spell Check
F7 opens the Spell Check dialog box in Excel, Word, and Outlook.
Shift-F12 saves the current document, spreadsheet, or whatever task is currently open in Outlook (email, contact, task, etc.). F12 opens the Save As dialog box in Excel, Word, and Outlook, then prompts for a new filename.
6. Change Case
Shift-F3 toggles the case of the selected text (in Outlook as well), rotating from sentence case to uppercase to lowercase and so on. Just highlight the text you want to format and continue to press Shift-F3 until the case you want appears. No more deleting text when you accidentally press the Shift key in the middle of a word or forget the Caps Lock key is turned on.
7. Repeat last action
F4 repeats the last action you performed. For example, create a text box, insert a graphic, or draw a line, then press F4 and the action is duplicated.
Shift-F7 opens the Thesaurus dialog and suggests synonyms for the selected word.
9. Disable hyperlinks
Hyperlinks can be deactivated one at a time through the right-click menu. But removing dozens of hyperlinks from a document using this method takes time. Ctrl+Shift-F9 also disables one active hyperlink when it’s selected. But to disable allactive hyperlinks in a document, first press Ctrl+A to select the entire document or email, then press Ctrl+Shift-F9.
10. Edit a cell
F2 edits the active cell (text and formulas)—a quick and easy way to manage formulas.
11. Insert Function
Place your cursor in the target cell, then press Shift-F3 to open the Insert Function dialog. Choose a function from the list (SUM, AVERAGE, IF, COUNT, etc.) and click OK. Next, the Function Argument dialog opens, prompting for the range you want to calculate using the function you just selected. If the target cell is below a column of numbers, Excel automatically enters the range above the target cell. Once the range is determined, clickOK. Excel enters the function/formula plus range and calculates the answer.
12. Create cell reference
F4 toggles thru formulas to create absolute or relative cell references. In this case, the graphic below is worth a thousand words for explaining this feature.
13. Display Macro dialog box
Alt+F8 displays the Macro dialog box, which provides the options to Run, Step Through, Edit, Delete, or customize any macro.
14. Calculate the active worksheet
It takes time to recalculate a really huge worksheet, especially if it’s loaded with formulas. So, many power users turn off the “auto-calculate” feature (File>Options>Formulas, then click Manual under Calculation Options-Workbook Calculation). Once disabled, you’ll be able to work more quickly, When you’re finished entering and editing text and formulas, press Shift-F9 to recalculate everything.
15. Create a chart with data in current range
F11 creates a chart of the data in the active range of the active worksheet. However, highlighting the range first could save time when editing the chart.
Let us know your favorite function-key strokes for Office in the comments. And stay tuned for more tips.
The Motix is trying to follow the same footsteps. The system is one part motion sensor (placed near the back of your keyboard) and one part tactile strip (placed just under your spacebar) compatible with both Windows and OS X. The idea is this: put one thumb the pad and use a finger to control the mouse without having to move your hand from the keyboard. You can adjust the sensitivity of the finger by moving your thumb left or right on the strip.
THERE’S DEFINITELY A LEARNING CURVE
In theory, that’s great. In practice, it’s a bit wonky. It took about five minutes to get a handle of the broader strokes. That’s to be expected; unlike Leap Motion, the Motix is designed for smaller, more precise finger movements. There’s also an element of being able to keep your finger still and mid-air while you use the thumb on your other hand to “tap” the strip to simulate a mouse click.
It requires calibration to use properly, and the size of your hands is a factor in how comfortable or effective you’ll be. I watched creator Brent Safer pinpoint exact lines in a Microsoft Word document, while at best I could select apps from the home screen.
I’m hopeful for the Motix, but if want to give it a shot, know ahead of time you’ll have to put some time into getting the hang of it. Safer says the software will evolve over time; the hardware will be available starting next month for $119.99.
In October, Google unveiled a surprising new way to log into Chrome and Gmail: a USB key. It only worked as part of a two-factor setup, standing in for an authentication code, but it served as a wakeup call to anyone tired of the standard username-and-password login. Smart people are thinking of better ways to log you in, it turns out, and the days of the password-free login are closer than you think.
THE PASSWORD-FREE LOGIN IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
Today, the infrastructure behind that gadget is taking a big step forward. It’s called FIDO (short for Fast Identification Online), and today the group is releasing the 1.0 version of its open standard. There had been earlier versions, like the one Google’s USB key is based on, but this one is more efficient and more stable, providing a cryptographic backing for any service or authenticator device you want to plug in. As a result, life just got a lot easier for anyone who wants to make a phone with a fingerprint reader or an app that requires a fingerprint before it opens up.
So far there are just a handful of products built on FIDO — but with the new spec, that’s about to change. Google’s security key was one example, and another was Samsung’s fingerprint reader, which could log you directly into the native PayPal app. (Samsung and PayPal were both early FIDO members.) But the company anticipates a flood of new phones and authenticator widgets now that the spec is complete. The iPhone’s TouchID sensor will also work with the new spec, thanks to some clever coding by a software company called Nok Nok, which has built a program adapting Apple’s now-open API to the FIDO protocols.
That means if you want to build a chat app that only opens with the user’s fingerprint, you don’t have to worry about writing a new program for every different phone. If a phone doesn’t have a fingerprint reader, you could use the same system through voice authentication or a token like Google’s security key — just as long as it’s not a password. Nok Nok says it has over 15 product trials in the works for various applications. The hope is that, as the number of phones with fingerprint scanners and other authenticators grows, there will be more and more apps that want to jump on board. “Now people have something they can code to,” said Phil Dunkelberger, Nok Nok’s CEO. “This is the start line, not the finish line.”
Like any standard, FIDO will succeed or fail by adoption: FIDO-friendly fingerprint readers will inspire more FIDO-friendly apps, and vice versa. But the group already has major companies signed on from nearly every group it needs: manufacturers like Samsung, Qualcomm, and Blackberry; service companies like Google, Microsoft, and Netflix; and financial companies like Bank of America, PayPal, and Visa. Coming on the heels of major hacks at Sony and Target, the group is betting the industry will be ready to move on from passwords. With the completed spec finally available, there’ll be nothing to stop them. “We now really are within range of seeing the world changing,” FIDO Alliance president Michael Barrett told The Verge, “and that’s the exciting part.”
There’s no understating it: Solid-state drives are awesome. If you’re still using a mechanical hard drive on your computer, the biggest real speed boost you’ll see comes from upgrading to a solid-state drive (SSD). A solid-state drive will speed up everything that requires disk access, from boot times and application launches to in-game load screens. Upgrading to a SSD provides a more noticeable speed boost than a $1000 Nvidia Titan graphics card when doing most things.
But SSDs aren’t the perfect replacement for a mechanical hard drive just yet, thanks to their far higher per-gigabyte costs compared to traditional drives and a few unique quirks. Read on for tips and tricks on how to put that rip-roaring SSD speed to best use.
Plan what goes where
Boiled down, an SSD is (usually) a faster-but-smaller drive, while a mechanical hard drive is a larger-but-slower drive. Your SSD should hold your Windows system files, installed programs, and any games you’re currently playing.
If you have a mechanical hard drive playing wingman in your PC, it should store your large media files, productivity files, and any files you access infrequently. Hard drives are an ideal location for your MP3 library, Documents folder, and all those video files you’ve ripped over the years, as they don’t really benefit from an SSD’s blinding speed.
Move programs and games
You’ll probably want most of your programs on the SSD so they’ll load lickety-split, although large programs you rarely use are well-suited to a slower mechanical hard drive.
When installing a program, choosing the destination drive for it is easy: Just select an install location on another drive.
Moving programs after the fact is often more difficult. Some programs can be moved easily—for example, you can just move your entire Steam folder to a new drive and run the Steam.exe file to launch it. However, most programs will display errors if you attempt to drag and drop their folder to a new location. You’ll either need to uninstall and reinstall the program to the new location, or use symbolic links.
Symbolic links (or “symlinks”) will allow you to move a directory while “tricking” Windows into thinking it’s at its original location. This sort of trick allows you to move your installed programs and games without much trouble. Say you have a game installed at C:Game. You could move the game folder to D:Game and create a symlink that points from C:Game to D:Game. Whenever a shortcut, registry entry, or anything else looks up C:Game, the system will transparently redirect it to D:Game. The symlink is just a pointer that says “hey, look over there,” so the program won’t take up any space on your SSD.
Use the mklink command in a Command Prompt window to create a symbolic link. (Search for cmd.exe in Windows’ Run tool to bring up the Command Prompt.) If you want to create a link outside your user folder, you’ll need to open a Command Prompt window as Administrator. To move C:Example to D:Example, you’d move the C:Example folder to D:Example using Windows Explorer. Next, you’d run the following command: mklink /d C:Example D:Example
Arrange Windows system folders
Your main user data folders can be moved easily. To move your Videos folder from your main system drive, an SSD, to a mechanical hard drive, just locate the Videos folder—you’ll find it in your user folder at C:UsersNAME. Right-click it and select Properties, then open the Location tab and select a new location for it. The Videos folder will still appear at C:UsersNAMEVideos and be part of your Videos library, but its contents will be stored on the other drive. This also works for your Music, Pictures, Documents, and Downloads folders.
You can also choose the drive in which Windows itself is installed—you’ll want it on your SSD for lightning-fast system performance. If you’re setting the PC up from scratch and installing Windows yourself, click the Custom option in the installer and choose your SSD as the destination. If you’re getting an SSD later, you can move your Windows install to a new drive with a drive-cloning program, or just reinstall Windows (after backing everything up, of course).
Keep some space free
SSDs slow down as you fill them up because the drive will have a lot of partially filled blocks, which are slower to write to than empty blocks. It’s tempting to fill up an SSD to the brim, but you should leave some free space on your SSD—plan on using a maximum of 75 percent of the drive’s capacity for the best performance.
With space at a premium, you’ll want to regularly free up space and avoid wasting those precious flash memory cells on junk. For example, NVIDIA’s graphics driver updates leave an unnecessary folder under C:NVIDIA after you install them. This folder contains the installer files, which you’ll need only for reinstalling or repairing the driver. They take nearly 500MB of space that you could put to better use.
It’s true: SSDs only have a limited amount of writes before they start to fail. Yes, it sounds scary, but in practice, don’t sweat it.
You’ll get many, many, many years of normal use out of an SSD without bumping into its write-cycle cap—especially if you’re storing basic media and productivity files on a mechanical hard drive. And even if you’re not doing that, you’re probably more likely to buy new hardware long before your SSD packs it in.
You could achieve fewer writes by not saving temporary files to your SSD—for example, you could redirect your browser cache and PhotoShop scratch disk to a mechanical hard drive—but this will lead to slower performance when your system needs to access these files. You’re probably better off sucking it up and accepting the greater amount of writes for the increased performance.
DON’T defrag your SSD!
You shouldn’t defragment an SSD. Period. Shuffling all those bits around on an SSD won’t improve performance like it will on a mechanical hard disk, but it will generate many extra writes that will reduce the lifespan of the drive.
Modern defragmentation tools and operating systems should refuse to defragment a solid-state drive. However, old defragmentation programs may not know the difference and may happily defragment an SSD. Don’t let them!
DO let TRIM run wild
TRIM, however, is essential for keeping your SSD in tip-top shape.
When writing data, the SSD can write only to empty sectors. This means if an SSD needs to modify a filled sector, it has to read it, note the contents, modify them, erase the sector, and write the modified contents. If we wanted to overwrite a sector, we’d have to erase the sector and write the new contents to the now-empty sector. The extra steps take time.
Operating systems typically just delete a file by marking its data on the disk as deleted and erasing the pointer to it. The file’s data is still there on the disk, but it will be overwritten only when the operating system needs that “empty” space to write new files to the disk.
The TRIM command tells the SSD to erase and consolidate cells that are no longer in use, so writing to those sectors in the future will be just as fast as when the drive was new. If not for TRIM, writes would take longer, and an SSD’s performance would deteriorate as you filled it up and deleted files from it.
Windows 7 and onward has had TRIM enabled by default, so there’s nothing special you need to do if your PC is using one of these newer OSes. TRIM won’t work on Windows Vista or Windows XP (you’ve upgraded from XP, right?). You’ll need to use third-party SSD management software (like Samsung’s SSD Magician or Intel’s SSD Optimizer tools) to force TRIM on those operating systems, or the trick outlined in PCWorld’s guide to restoring an SSD to peak performance.
Unless you need to force TRIM on an older OS, however, skip the “SSD optimization” software that’s out there. These programs promise to optimize your SSD by shuffling files and running TRIM, but your operating system already TRIMs by default, and your SSD’s firmware has “garbage collection” tools that performs housekeeping tasks to optimize performance. There’s no evidence a third-party utility can improve on this.
The good news is that SSDs are getting bigger, cheaper, and ever-longer-lasting. One day we’ll hopefully have large-enough SSDs that we won’t have to worry about juggling files between drives. Heck, if you don’t need much local storage or don’t mind spending top dollar for abundant speedy solid-state storage, that day may have already arrived.