Watch a Power User for a while, and you’ll soon notice that they rarely take their hands off the keyboard. Without lifting a wrist to touch a mouse, trackpad, or touch screen, these super users move seamlessly between tasks, switch programs, and navigate complex and large documents.

TL;DR version:  Press +S to search for and start any app without leaving what you’re doing.

The Deep, Nerdy History

Perhaps one of the most frequent tasks of a PC user is to start a new app.  Many times, this is related to a job you’re already working on.  You might be working on a presentation, and need to quickly use a calculator, or replying to an email, and need to check another file for information.

Savvy Windows users have long used the Run box to start a new program from the keyboard. Press +R to open the Run box, type a program name and hit enter to launch it.  This required knowing the actual file name of the program you wanted to launch: calc, winword, powerpnt, mspaint just to name a few.

Windows '95, nerds have used this to start control panels and programs.
Windows ’95, nerds have used this to start control panels and programs.

Windows Vista was the first to bring this ability into the modern age with the advent of Start search, a search box at the bottom of your Start menu. You could tap your pinky finger on the  key, type a few letters of what you wanted and receive search results as you typed, and press Enter to go to the selected result.

Just a few taps and the app you want appears before you're done typing.
Just a few taps and the app you want appears before you’re done typing.

Power users love this because typing <, wo, enter> (four keystrokes) is far faster than taking your hands away from the keyboard, grabbing the mouse, taking aim and clicking the Start menu, then the search box, then going back to the keyboard, finding your home keys and beginning to type again.

But what about Windows 8?

Window 8 still allows this same process (go to Start and type to see instant search results), but one big complaint of Windows 8 is that the Start menu covers the entire screen. If you want to search for an app, you lose sight of what you’re working on, which can be jarring.

The remedy for more discreet searching is a collection of new keyboard shortcuts in Windows 8.  All of these open in a narrow sidebar, without leaving the desktop and what you’re working on.

+S search
+F search for files
+W search for settings (Control Panel search results)

Windows 8 still lets you find and start an app without leaving the desktop.
Windows 8 still lets you find and start an app without leaving the desktop.

For other faster ways to start an app, check out the the Pin Your Stuff All Over Windows article.