What does the Windows key do?

What is the Windows key
The key to the Windows key is knowing its key skills

The Windows key is one of those things we take for granted. Kind of like parents, but without the guilt trip. Even if you think you know what the Windows key does, you may literally be tapping into a fraction of its abilities. Here’s how to take full advantage.

What does the Windows key do: the big one

Aside from shortcuts, which I’ll come to, the Windows key is brilliant for searches. That’s because it takes you straight to the search window.

To see what I mean, press the Windows key on your keyboard and then start typing. Search results will instantly appear.

To be clear, you don’t need to press on the Windows key and then click on the search box. Windows knows that you want to search for something and gets out of your way.

Windows key

Just like clicking on the Windows icon at the bottom-left of your screen, you can also use the Windows key to bring up the main list of settings and programs on your computer. But that’s boring. Let’s talk shortcuts.

Best Windows key shortcuts

People “in the know” use the Windows key for shortcuts.

Pressing the Windows key together with another key – let’s say D – will activate a command that would otherwise take some effort.

So, my example of Windows+D will hide all active windows if you press it now. Press it again and they’ll all reappear. Although it would have been more helpful if I told you that before telling you to hide this window…

At this point, I could bombard you with a table full of shortcuts. I don’t think that’s useful, and besides, Microsoft provides an exhaustive – and I mean exhaustive – list. Instead, I’ll start with four more Windows key shortcuts that I use almost every day.

Windows+E  This brings up File Explorer. Much easier than diving around in the Start menu.

Windows+L  Locks your computer. Great if you need to nip away from your desk.

Windows+left cursor  Want to snap one window against the left of the screen and put another on the right? This works a treat. Note it automatically snaps the current window to the right, and then thumbnails appear of your other active windows – you then click on the one you want to snap to the right.

Windows+up cursor  Handily maximises the current window.

Some other “expert” Windows key shortcuts

Windows+U  Launches the Snipping Tool, for quickly taking screenshots. Possibly not useful for everyone, but great for me.

Windows+I  The easiest way to get into the Windows Settings menu, if you can remember it.

Windows+R  Opens the “Run” dialog, which is a handy way to launch programs if you know their file names. For example, Word’s is winword.exe, so if I press Windows+R and then type winword.exe, Word will launch.

Windows+comma  Lets you peak at your desktop – let go and the window or windows all reappear.

What is the Windows 10 key

Windows+number  I like this one for its sheer, pointless geekiness. It launches a program on your taskbar depending on where it sits. So, the first one (the blue Outlook icon in my screenshot above) corresponds to Windows+1. Chrome would be Windows+2. Word would be Windows+3. Etc.

Windows key trivia to impress your friends

Just in case there’s a lull in conversation at your next dinner party, allow me to share some fascinating Windows key trivia (P.S. It might be the last dinner party you’re ever invited to, so milk it).

First, the Windows key will be 24 years old come September. It only came into existence when Microsoft released its Natural Keyboard way back in autumn 1994. What a Christmas gift that would have been.

Second, if your Windows key stops working, you can always summon its power by pressing Ctrl+Esc at the same time. Good luck getting the shortcuts above to work.

Third, you can actually disable the Windows key if you want. Microsoft explains how here.

So completes our tour of the Windows key. Got a tip you’d like to share? Then please post it below via the comments.

READ THIS NEXT: How do I hide my name from the Windows login screen?

About the author

Tim Danton

Tim Danton is editor-in-chief of PC Pro magazine and has written about technology since 1999. He enjoys playing with gadgets, playing with words and playing tennis. Email

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