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Using the lowly Shift key

Using the lowly Shift key

For years, Microsoft has used the Shift key on your keyboard to change the meaning of various commands and menu items. These alterations haven't always been well- documented.

Windows 95 has even more of these little-known Shift key combinations. There are probably dozens of them - some well-documented, others not. In any case, here are some of the ones that I've found to be useful for the greatest number of people.

Open With

You probably know that when you click your right mouse button on an object in the Explorer, you'll see a context menu. If the object is associated with a particular application, the context menu will include special actions you can perform on that object. For example, if the object is a compressed Zip file, the context menu might include actions such as Decompress or View.

It's less well known that right-clicking an object that isn't associated with any application will result in a context menu featuring an Open With menu choice. Clicking this choice displays a new dialogue box listing all the applications Windows knows about and asking you which application the object should be opened with.

You can force Windows 95 to display the Open With dialogue box even if a file is associated with a particular application. Simply hold down the Shift key while right-clicking the file.

By the way, you won't see the Open With choice if you've added the file type called Unknown to your list of file types.

Explorer View

You may be in the habit of cruising through files and folders using the My Computer icon on the Desktop. When you double-click the My Computer icon, you get a window called Folder View. This view defaults to showing a large icon for each file or folder. If you click View, Options, Folder, and choose "Browse folders by using a single window", the Folder View window will change to display the contents of any folder you double-click. (If you have the toolbar off, which is the default, there is no obvious way to go back to a parent folder after you've displayed a child folder. The trick is to press the backspace key to go back up one level.) At this point in the Folder View, if you hold down the Shift key when double-clicking a folder, you'll open a new Explorer View. Since the Explorer View shows a hierarchical tree in a separate, left-hand pane, this view is much handier than the Folder View when you wish to copy or move files, for example.

Recycle Bin

A new feature of Windows 95 is the Recycle Bin. When you right-click a file, then click Delete, the file is not actually deleted but is sent into a Recycle Bin. (Files deleted from floppy disks are really deleted.) The files remain in the Recycle Bin until you reach its storage limit, after which they really are deleted. You set the storage limit by right-clicking the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop, then clicking Properties. If you have turned on "Display delete confirmation" in this dialogue box, you'll be asked if you want to send files to the Recycle Bin every time you click Delete. The way to bypass this confirmation is to hold down the Shift key when you click Delete. (Typing Shift-Delete on your keyboard has the same effect.) Deleting a file, rather than recycling it, is a good idea if you have your Recycle Bin set to a low limit, such as 2Mb, and want to really delete a 2Mb file.

Moving files

Under the old File Manager, dragging a set of files from one directory to another was pretty predictable. The set of files moved to the new location if it was on the same drive as the old location. By contrast, the files were copied to the new location if they were on a different drive than the old location (such as a diskette or a network drive).

If you wanted to override this behaviour, it was fairly simple. To force the File Manager to move files (regardless of location), you held down the Shift key. To force it to copy, you held down the Ctrl key. (One way to remember this is that Ctrl and Copy both start with the letter C.) Just about the only exception that the File Manager allowed to these rules involved the Program Manager. Dragging a file into the Program Manager window didn't move or copy it - it created a working icon. Fine.

Windows 95 complicates this situation quite a bit. In a typical Windows 95 setup, the File Manager is gone - replaced by the Explorer. The Program Manager is also gone, replaced by the Start Menu plus the Desktop.

In Windows 95, it is now possible to drag files from the Explorer to the Start Menu or onto the Desktop. These two destinations, of course, are actually directories (folders) under the main C:\Windows folder.

To keep users from inadvertently moving executable files from their original location to these two folders, Microsoft made a rule that such files, when dragged, would only create shortcuts.

So far, so good. But this behaviour extends not just to the Start Menu and the Desktop, but to almost all locations. For example, try dragging an executable file (.EXE or .COM file) from folder A to folder B on any drive (other than a removable drive like a diskette). The Explorer should move the file, right?

Wrong. The file is neither moved nor copied. Instead, what you get is merely a shortcut to the original file, which remains in its original location. This is probably not what you wanted at all.

It's impossible, in fact, to move or copy executable files by dragging them with your left mouse button to any location on a non-removable drive - unless you know the secret Shift keys. Here they are:

Holding down the Shift key while you drag always moves the file.

Holding down the Ctrl key while you drag always copies the file. You see a little plus sign on your mouse pointer, indicating that dropping the file will result in a copy.

Holding down both the Ctrl key and the Shift key while you drag always brings up a "context menu" that enables you to create a shortcut (among other options). You see a little shortcut arrow on your mouse pointer.

Microsoft doesn't emphasise these keys because they want you to do things with your right mouse button now. Dragging a selection with your right mouse button always brings up a context menu that asks whether you want to move, copy, or create a shortcut - even if the files are all .EXE files.

Even better, you can select a group of files by dragging a dotted line around them with your right mouse button held down. A context menu pops up in this case, too. But this time, you can click Cut (to move the files) or Copy (to copy them). Then right-click an empty spot in the destination folder and click Paste to finish the process. Cut and Paste is usually faster than dragging with either mouse button.

It would be preferable, however, if the Explorer didn't have this schizoid behaviour with executable files in the first place.

Creating quick folder access in Start menuThe Start menu is a constant source of fascination in Windows 95. Although there are alternatives to using the Start menu - for example, you can still run the old, 16-bit Progman.exe shell instead - the convenience of the Start menu makes it a natural for most Windows 95 users.

The Start menu has its quirks, unfortunately. It's widely known that you can drag a file or folder from the Windows Explorer onto the Start button to create a shortcut on the Start menu to that object. But it's not as widely known how to get something off the list (you can't just drag it off the Start menu) or change its position (items don't allow drag and drop).

Sometimes users want to put a folder on the Start menu containing all their tools or all their documents on a certain project - or even put the Start menu folder itself on the Start menu. Then, with one click of the Start menu, they can open that folder quickly, which makes it easier to edit item names, properties, etc.

One way to take advantage of this is to right-click the Start button, then click Explore. This opens an Explorer view, showing the hierarchical structure of the Start menu in the left pane and the individual shortcuts that make up the Start menu in the right pane.

With this window open, you can easily create a shortcut in the Start menu to open a window on the Start menu itself. Simply drag the Start menu folder (using your right mouse button) from the left pane to the right. Click "Create Shortcut Here" to make the shortcut appear in the window and on your Start menu.

For other folders, it may be more convenient for you to create a new folder within the Start menu, rather than a shortcut to a folder. The difference is that actual folders create cascading menus in the Start menu - you can drop down within the menu to items or subfolders within the folder.

To do this while in the Explorer view of the Start menu folder, right-click a blank area of the right pane. Then click New and Folder. Type a name for your folder, press Enter, and it's ready to go. You can now right-drag the entire contents of any folder (executables, documents, etc.) into this new folder in the Start menu to create shortcuts. This makes them easy to pick from the Start menu.

One difference between creating a folder in the Start menu and creating a shortcut to a folder is that a folder containing shortcuts does not change when items in the actual folder change. A shortcut to a folder, by contrast, is dynamic and always remains up to date with the contents of that folder.

Brian Livingston is co-author of Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books)E-mail: brian_livingston@infoworld.comor Fax: +1-206-282-1248


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