Hardware

What can the Tab key do apart from the obvious?

If you’re of a certain age, even thinking of the Tab key will conjure up a mental image of a muumuu-clad, corpulent Homer Simpson getting to grips with his new work PC.

If not, chances are you’ll only ever use Tab to indent a paragraph in a word processor or, very occasionally, switch between tabs in your web browser.

Short for the word “tabulate” (“to show information in the form of a table”), the Tab key first appeared on typewriters so users didn’t have to repeatedly press the spacebar to get a uniformly neat indent at the beginning of a paragraph. This very simple tool then moved, more or less unchanged, into the Digital Age.

However, what appears to be the blandest of buttons has a few tricks and shortcuts up its sleeve. We’ve rounded them up into one list.

  • Pressing Win+Tab (or Cmd+Tab, if you’re using a Mac) will bring up a list of open applications. On a Mac, this is a horizontal bar, which you can cycle through by re-pressing Tab. In Windows 10, applications are presented as tiles that you click to select, with the option to create a new desktop in the bottom-right corner.
  • Similarly, if you dislike taking your fingers off the keyboard while browsing the web, Ctrl+Shift+Tab (it’s the same for both Windows and Mac) will switch between open tabs.
  • In Microsoft Excel (and most other spreadsheet software), Tab selects the next cell to the right, while Tab+Shift moves to the left – ideal for when you’re entering a lot of data.
  • When browsing a disorganised list of files, pressing Tab will jump through the files in alphabetical order. Granted, sorting by name now easily solves this problem, but it’s an obscure piece of trivia and we all like those.
  • In Adobe’s InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, a simple tap of Tab will hide all of the palettes and panels, giving you a simple view of your creation. Re-press Tab to bring them back.
  • In video games, Tab is often used to bring up the inventory, world map or other useful tidbits for your quest.

Also read, What does the AltGr key actually do?

Image: Kai Hendry on Flickr/CC

About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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