Windows XP Pocket Reference
March 14, 2013
Windows XP Pocket Reference
David A. Karp
Copyright © 2009 O'Reilly Media, Inc.
Chapter 1. Introduction
This pocket reference is intended to provide the information Windows
XP users need most often in a quick and concise format. This tiny
volume is small enough to fit in your pocket or laptop case, yet is
packed with hundreds of tips, shortcuts, and other tidbits of
information that will make Windows XP easier to use.
Enjoy quick access to keyboard and mouse shortcuts (
), summaries of all the programs and games
included in Windows XP (
), and a
700-entry setting locator (
experienced users will appreciate the most commonly used Registry
), documentation on all command
prompt commands (
), and a security
) to help protect your
For less-experienced Windows XP users, a brief crash course is
included at the end of this chapter. If you're a
hands-on learner, you should be able to pick up any of the concepts
discussed here in no time at all. Anyone wishing to learn more will
benefit from the additional background and details provided by
full-size books such as
Windows XP in a
Windows XP Annoyances
Windows Power Tools, also available from O'Reilly.
Conventions Used in This Book
The following typographical conventions are used in this book:
Used to indicate anything to be typed, as well as command-line
computer output, code examples, Registry keys, and keyboard
accelerators (discussed below).
Constant width italic
Used to indicate variables in examples and so-called
"replaceable" text. For instance,
to open a document in Notepad from the command line,
the full path and name of the document you wish to open.
Square brackets around an option (usually a command-line parameter)
mean that the parameter is optional. Parameters and keywords not
shown in square brackets are typically mandatory. If you see two or
more options separated by the | character, it means that they are
mutually exclusive; only one or the other can be specified, but not
Used to introduce new terms and to indicate URLs, variables in text,
file and folder/directory names, and UNC pathnames.
Rather than using procedural steps to
tell you how to reach a given Windows XP user interface element or
application, we use a shorthand path notation. For example:
means "Open the Start menu (on the Desktop), then
choose Programs, then choose Accessories, and then click
Calculator." The path is always relative to a
well-known location, such as the following:
Control Panel (in the Windows XP-style Start
(in the Classic Start Menu)
My Computer, My Network Places, Recycle Bin
The familiar Desktop icons by these names, any of which may or may
not be visible, depending on your settings
The Start button on the Taskbar
The two-pane folder view, commonly referred to as simply
in the application currently being
discussed (e.g., File, Edit)
Note that the elements of the Control Panel may or may not be divided
into categories, depending on context and a setting on your computer.
So, rather than a cumbersome explanation of this unfortunate design
every time the Control Panel comes up, the following notation is
[Performance and Maintenance]
where the category (in this case, Performance and Maintenance) is
shown in square brackets, implying that you may or may not encounter
There is often more than one way to reach a given application or
location in the interface. You may see multiple paths to reach the
same location in this book, mostly because the shortest path is not
always the most convenient.
A Crash Course in the Basics of Windows XP
Windows XP, although technically an incremental upgrade to Windows
2000, has been positioned as the direct replacement to Windows Me,
officially marking the end of the DOS-based Windows 9x/Me line.
Windows XP is indeed the long-anticipated operating system designed
to finally unify both lines of Windows, bringing the bullet-proof
stability of NT to home and small business users, and the industry
support of Windows 9x/Me to corporate and power users.
The following brief sections illustrate the layout of the Windows XP
interface and identify the important concepts and components.
for tips and shortcuts for
working with files, windows, and applications.
Like most modern
operating systems that use graphical user interfaces (such as the
Mac, Unix, and earlier versions of Windows), Windows XP uses the
metaphor of a desktop with windows and file folders laid out on it.
This desktop metaphor is provided by a program called Windows
), which runs
automatically every time you start Windows.
shows the default Windows XP Desktop.
Figure 1-1. The layout of the Windows XP Desktop is much cleaner than previous versions
Point and Click
Windows XP offers several settings
that affect the way the interface responds to mouse clicks, all of
which are documented in
. The default
setting (the way it works when you first install Windows XP) will
also be the most familiar to most users, as it is fairly consistent
with the way that most computer software works.
object, move the arrow cursor so that its pointer is over the object
and press and release the left mouse button. Most buttons, menu
items, checkboxes, and scrollbars are activated with single clicks.
an object, click the left
mouse button twice in rapid succession (not the same as clicking
twice slowly). In most cases, icons require a double-click to be
means to click an object with the
right mouse button, which typically displays the
object's context menu (a list of suitable actions)
rather than activating the object.
The basic PC mouse has two buttons, but many pointing devices have
more. Extra buttons can usually be configured to mimic double-clicks
or even keyboard shortcuts, such as Cut, Copy, and Paste.
Windows and Menus
window contains a frame with a series of standard decorations, as
. To move a window from one
place to another, click on the title bar and drag.
Figure 1-2. Windows are typically decorated with a title bar, title buttons, a menu bar, and a scrollable client area
Most types of windows are resizable, meaning that you can stretch
them horizontally and vertically by grabbing an edge or a corner with
the mouse. Among the buttons on most title bars are two resizing
shortcuts: maximize and minimize. If you click the maximize button
(the middle button in the cluster in the upper-right corner of most
windows), the window will be enlarged to fill the screen, but will no
longer be resizable. If you click the minimize button (the left-most
button in the cluster), it will shrink out of sight and appear only
as a button on the taskbar.
One or two scrollbars may appear along the bottom and far right of a
window, listbox, or text input area. Scrollbars allow you to move the
viewport of the window or box so that you can see all its contents.
This behavior is often counterintuitive for new users because moving
the scrollbar in one direction causes the window's
contents to move in the opposite direction. Look at it this way: the
scrollbar doesn't move the contents, it moves the
of the contents. Imagine a very long
document with very small type. Moving the scrollbars is like moving a
magnifying glass—if you move the glass down the document and
look through the magnifier, it looks like the document is moving up.
If multiple windows are open, only one window has the
. The window with the
focus is usually the one on top of all the other windows (but not
always), and is usually distinguished by a border and title that are
darker in color, or otherwise distinguished from the rest. The window
with the focus responds to keystrokes, although any window will
respond to mouse clicks. To give a window the focus, just click on
any visible portion, and it will pop to the front (be careful not to
click a button or other control on the window, as the click may
activate the feature in addition to bringing the window to the top of
the pile). You can also click a taskbar button to activate the
corresponding window (even if it's minimized), but
often the most convenient method is to use the keyboard: hold the Alt
key and press Tab repeatedly to cycle through open windows, and then
release Alt when the desired program icon is highlighted.
Just as only one window can have the focus at any given time, only
one control (text field, button, checkbox, etc.) can have the focus
at any given time. Different controls show focus in different ways:
pushbuttons and checkboxes have a dotted rectangle, for instance. A
text field (edit box) that has the focus is not visually
distinguished from the rest, but it is the only one with a blinking
text cursor (insertion point). To assign the focus to a different
control, just click on it, or use the Tab key (hold Shift to go
The Desktop is a special case: although it can have the focus, it
will never appear above any other windows. To access something on the
Desktop, you have three choices: minimize all open windows by holding
the Windows logo key (not on all keyboards) and pressing the D key,
right-click an empty area of the Desktop and select Show the Desktop,
or press the Show Desktop button on the Quick Launch taskbar to
temporarily minimize all running applications.
Most windows have a menu bar, commonly containing standard menu items
such as File, Edit, View, and Help, as well as any
application-specific menus. Click a single menu item to drop it down
and then click any item in the menu as needed. Click outside of a
menu or press the Esc key to get out of the menu.
Figure 1-3. Menus are easy to use, but nested menus can be cumbersome
Files, Folders, and Disks
are the basic unit of long-term storage on a computer. Files are
organized into folders (also called
), which are stored on disks.
Drives are differentiated by a single letter of the alphabet followed
by a colon. "A:" and
"B:" represent the first and second
"floppy" (usually 3.5-inch) disk
drive on the system. "C:"
represents the first hard disk drive, or the first partition of the
first hard disk drive. "D:" often
represents a CD or DVD drive, but it (and subequent letters) can
represent an additional hard disk drive or other removable drive.
which contain files, are stored hierarchically on a disk, folder
inside folder. A path to a file begins with the root (top-level)
directory, represented as the drive letter followed by a sole
). Additional nested folders
are simply listed after their
"parents," with backslashes used to
separate each folder; for example,
folder, located in the
folder, located in the root of drive
. The heirarchy of all the folders on your
hard disk is visually represented by the tree in the left pane of
Windows Explorer, discussed in
Files and folders accessed remotely
over a network are referred to via a UNC (Universal Naming
Convention) pathname, similar to the standard path notation discussed
previously. For example, the UNC path
refers to a file
, located in the
folder, located on drive
, located on a computer named
DOS and Windows 3.1, the Microsoft
operating systems that preceded Windows 95 and Windows NT/XP, only
supported filenames with a maximum of eight characters, plus a
three-character file type extension (e.g.,
). Filenames could further only be
composed of letters, numbers, and these basic symbols:
$ % ^
' ` - _ @ ~ ! ( ) # &
. Spaces were not allowed.
Windows XP supports long filenames (up to 260 characters), which can
include spaces, as well as the additional punctuation characters:
are no longer limited to three characters; for example,
is perfectly valid (and distinctly
different from .
filesystem is case-preserving, but also case-insensitive. For
example, the case of a file named
will be preserved with the capital F and B, but if you were to type
FOObar in a File
Open dialog box, Windows would
recognize it as the same file.
File Types and Extensions
Most files have a filename extension, the (usually three) letters
that appear after the last dot in any file's name.
Common file extensions include
(for plain text files),
(for hypertext markup language files,
commonly known as web pages), and
image files). Although all these files hold very different types of
data, the only way Windows differentiates them is by their filename
By default, file extensions are hidden, but it's
best to have them displayed. Go to Control Panel
View tab, and clear the checkbox
next to the "Hide extensions for known file
types" option. This way, you can see what type a
given file is, and even change its extension to expose new
Renaming a file's extension will not alter the
file's internal structure or formatting;
you'll need an application that understands the
file's format to convert it to a different type.
However, changing the extension will likely change the application
with which the file is associated.
Windows uses a file's extension to determine what to
do when the file is double-clicked and right-clicked; this system is
known as file types or file associations. To see all the configured
file extensions on your system, go to Control Panel
File Types tab.
Here, you can change the applications that are associated with
certain documents, and even add new associations and functionality.
Although only the
application for a file
type will be used when a file is double-clicked, additional programs
can be linked up with a file type so that they appear when a file is
right-clicked. For example, you can set it up so that right-clicking
image file allows you to quickly view,
edit, print, or email the image by simply selecting the appropriate
Chapter 2. Shortcuts
There are a bunch of ways to improve your experience with Windows XP.
Some solutions involve making modifications and additions to the
operating system, while others describe how to work with the tools
that come out of the box. The tips in this chapter illustrate the
various keyboard and mouse shortcuts available in Windows XP.
Working with Files
The tips that follow show you how to predict — and even change
— how Explorer responds to the dragging and dropping of files.
Here's an overview of how drag-drop works in Windows
If you drag an object from
one place to another on the same physical drive
object is moved.
If you drag an object from one physical drive to another physical
), the object is copied, resulting in
two identical files on your system. This means that if you drag an
object from one physical drive to another physical drive and then
back to the first physical drive, but in a different folder
), you'll end up with
three copies of the object.
If you drag
from one place to another, Windows will create a
shortcut to the file,
regardless of the source or destination folder. The exception is if
you drag a file named
recordable CD drive, it will be copied. And if you drag a bunch of
files of different types (including, say,
), the create-a-shortcut rules will be
ignored, and they'll just be copied or moved as
If you drag any file with the
extension into any portion of your Start Menu or into any subfolder
folder, Windows will create a
shortcut to the file. Dragging other file types (documents, script
files, other shortcuts) to the Start Menu will simply move or copy
them there, according to the aforementioned rules.
If you drag a system object (such as a Control Panel icon), a warning
is displayed, and a shortcut to the item is created. These objects
aren't actually files and can't be
duplicated or removed from their original locations.
To aid in learning the keystrokes, notice that the mouse
cursor changes depending on the
action taken. A small plus sign [+] appears when copying, and a
curved arrow appears when creating a
shortcut. If you see no symbol,
the object will be moved. This visual feedback is very important; it
can prevent mistakes if you pay attention to it.
The best way to control drag-drop is to use a combination of certain
keystrokes and the correct mouse button to ensure the desired results
every time you drag an object. That way, you don't
have to try to predict what will happen based on some rules you
won't likely remember.
To copy an object in any situation, hold the Ctrl key while dragging.
If you press Ctrl
you click, Windows
assumes you're still selecting files (as Ctrl is
also used to select multiple files, as described later in this
chapter), so make sure to press it only
you've started dragging but before you let go of
that mouse button. Of course, this won't work for
system objects such as Control Panel items—a shortcut will be
created regardless. Using the Ctrl key in this way also works when
dragging a file from one part of a folder to another part of the same
an object in any situation, hold the
Shift key while dragging. Likewise, if you press Shift before you
click, Windows assumes you're still selecting files,
so make sure you press it after you've started
dragging but before you let go of that mouse button. Like above, this
doesn't apply to system objects like Control Panel
Create a shortcut
To create a
shortcut to an object under any
situation, hold the Alt key while dragging. Note that this is
different than in previous versions of Windows.
Choose what happens each time
To choose what happens to dragged files each time
having to press any keys, drag your
files with the
right mouse button
, and a special
menu will appear when the files are dropped. This context menu is
especially helpful, because it displays only options appropriate to
the type of object you're dragging and the place
where you've dropped it.
Undo command (in the Edit menu, as
well as available by right-clicking in an empty area of Explorer or
the Desktop, or by pressing Ctrl-Z) allows you to undo the last few
file operations. If you've copied, moved, or renamed
one or more objects, the command will read Undo Copy, Undo Move, or
Undo Rename, respectively. Additionally, if your Recycle Bin is
configured to store files, Undo Delete may appear.
If you're doing a lot of copying, moving, and
deleting of files, it's hard to know exactly what
you're undoing when you use Undo. The easiest way to
tell is to click and hold the mouse button over the Undo menu item in
Explorer or a single-folder window and look in the status bar (use
Status Bar if it's not
visible). This is not available on the Desktop, but luckily, Undo
works the same regardless of the folder from which you use it.
Specifying the Destination
Typically, you must have both the source folder and the destination
folder open and visible to copy or move an object. Here are some ways
to overcome this limitation:
Open Explorer (launch
) or a single
folder window (by double-clicking a folder icon) and make sure the
folder tree is visible (View
Folders). Or, right-click any folder icon and
select Explore. Then, drag one or more items over the tree pane on
the left and hold the mouse cursor over the visible branch of the
destination folder. After two or three seconds, Explorer
automatically expands the branch and makes the subfolders visible.
Figure 2-1. Hold dragged files over folders to expand the branches
You can also use cut-and-paste (or copy-and-paste) to move or copy
files, respectively. Select the file(s) you want to copy,
right-click, and select Copy to copy the file(s) or Cut to move the
file(s). The keyboard shortcuts for the cut, copy, and paste
operations are Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V, respectively. Then, open
the destination folder (or click on the Desktop), right-click on an
empty area (or open the Edit menu), and select
. Whether the file is copied or
moved—or a shortcut is made—depends on the same criteria
as if you had dragged and dropped the item.
The standard Windows Explorer toolbar has two buttons, Move To and
Copy To, that allow you to point to a location when moving and
copying, respectively. Select the file(s) you want to move or copy,
click Move To or Copy To, and then specify the destination folder in
the dialog that appears.
Unfortunately, these functions can't be found in
Explorer's menus or in the context menus of any
files or folders; they're only available on the
toolbar. If Explorer's toolbar
isn't currently visible, go to View
Standard Buttons to turn it on. By default,
the Move To and Copy To buttons are in the sixth and seventh
positions on the toolbar, respectively. If they're
not, right-click on the toolbar and select Customize. An alternative
tool with more options is available as part of Creative Element Power
Duplicating Files and Folders
lets you copy and move files from
one folder to another by dragging them with different combinations of
keystrokes, as described earlier in this chapter. You can also rename
a file by clicking on its name or highlighting it and pressing the F2
key. However, if you want to make a duplicate of a file in the
directory and assign it a different name,
the process might not be as obvious. There are several ways to do it:
Hold the Ctrl key while dragging a file from one part of the window
to another part of the
window. This works
in single-folder windows, on the Desktop, and in Explorer.
Use the right mouse button to drag the file from one part of the
window to another part of the same window, and then select Copy Here.
For keyboard enthusiasts: press Ctrl-C and then Ctrl-V to create a
duplicate of a file using the clipboard.
Regardless of which solution you use, duplicates are always assigned
new names to avoid conflicts.
If you need a bunch of duplicates of a file or folder, start by
duplicating it once. Then, select both the original and the copy, and
duplicate them both. Then, select the resulting four objects and
duplicate them to make eight.
Helpful Explorer Keystrokes
Certain keyboard shortcuts can be real time savers in Explorer,
especially when used in conjunction with the mouse. The following
tips assume you're using standard double-clicking,
the default in Windows XP. If you've chosen to have
icons respond to a single click (by going to Control Panel
just replace "double-click" here
Hold the Alt key while double-clicking on a file or folder to view
the Properties sheet for that object.
Although this is often quicker than right-clicking and selecting
Properties, the right-click menu — also known as the context
menu — has a bunch of other options, most of which are not
accessible with keystrokes. For more information on context menus and
file types, see the discussion of Explorer in
Hold the Shift key while double-clicking a folder icon to open an
Explorer window at that location (as opposed to a single-folder
window). Be careful when using this, because Shift is also used to
select multiple files. The best way is to select the file first.
Press Backspace in an open folder window or in Explorer to go to the
Hold Alt while pressing the left arrow (cursor) key to navigate to
the previously viewed folder. Note that this is not necessarily the
parent folder, but rather the last folder in
Explorer's history. Once you've
returned to a previously viewed folder, you can also hold Alt while
pressing the right arrow key to move in the opposite direction (i.e.,
forward). Explorer's toolbar also has Back and Next
buttons by default, which work just like their counterparts in
With the focus on Explorer's folder tree, use the
left and right arrow keys to collapse and expand folders,
respectively. Press the asterisk (*) key to expand all the
sub-folders of the currently selected branch.
Hold the Shift key while clicking on the close button [X] to close
all open folder windows in the chain that was used to get to that
folder. (This, of course, makes sense only in the single-folder view
and with the Open each folder in its own window option turned on.)
Select one icon, then hold the Shift key while clicking on another
icon in the same folder to select it and all the items in between.
Hold the Ctrl key to select or deselect multiple files or folders,
one by one. Note that you can't select more than one
folder in the folder tree pane of Explorer, but you can in the right
You can select multiple files without using the keyboard by dragging
them. Start by holding down the left mouse button in a blank portion
of a folder window, then drag the mouse to the opposite corner to
select everything that appears in the rectangle you just drew.
You can also use Ctrl key to modify your selection. For example, if
you've used the Shift key or a rubber band to select
the several files in a folder, you can hold Ctrl while clicking or
dragging a second rubber band to invert selections (highlighting
additional files or deselecting already-highlighed files)
losing your original selection.
Press Ctrl-A to quickly select all the contents of a folder: both
files and folders.
In Explorer or any single-folder window (even in the folder tree
pane), press a letter key to quickly jump to the first file or folder
starting with that letter. Continue typing to jump further. For
example, pressing the T key in your
folder will jump to the
subfolder. Press T
again to jump to the next object that starts with T. Or, press T and
then quickly press A to skip all the Ts and jump to
. If there's enough
of a delay between the T and the A keys, Explorer will forget about
the T and you'll jump to the first entry that starts
Keyboard Accelerators Listed by Function
The following keys operate in most
contexts—i.e., on the Desktop, in Explorer, and within most
applications and dialogs.
AutoPlay, disable temporarily
Shift (while inserting CD)
Checkbox, toggle on or off
Clipboard, copy current window as a bitmap
Clipboard, copy entire screen as a bitmap
Close current document
Close current window
Close dialog box, message window, or menu
Command button, click
Context menu, open
Shift-F10, or context menu key on some keyboards
Controls, cycle focus on a dialog box
Tab (hold Shift to go in reverse)
Copy selected item or selected text to the clipboard
Cut selected item or selected text to the clipboard
Date and Time Properties, open
Delete a file without putting it in the Recycle Bin
Shift-Del or Shift-drag item to Recycle Bin
Delete selected item
), then Esc, Tab,
Desktop, activate by minimizing all windows
-D, or click empty portion of
Taskbar and press Alt-M
Dialog box, cycle through controls
Tab (hold Shift to go in reverse)
Dialog box, cycle through tabs
Ctrl-Tab (hold Shift to go in reverse)
Dialog box, click OK
Enter (or Return)
Dialog box, click Cancel
Document, move to the beginning
Document, move to the end
Document, switch between
Ctrl-F6 or Ctrl-Tab
Drop-down listbox, open
Down Arrow or F4
Exit an application
Ctrl-Esc, then Alt-F4
File, delete without moving to Recycle Bin
-F (or F3 or Ctrl-F in Windows
Explorer or on the Desktop)
Find a computer on your network
Find Files or Folders
-F (or F3 or Ctrl-F in Windows
Explorer or on the Desktop)
Focus, move between controls on a dialog box
Tab (hold Shift to go in reverse)
Folder, close current and all parents (Windows Explorer in
single-folder view only)
Shift-click Close button
Folder, expand and collapse folders in tree
Right and left arrows
Folder, open in two-pane Explorer view