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Make Windows underline access keys (Alt shortcuts) in menus and other controls

Windows supports access-key shortcuts, awesome for commands without a keyboard shortcut. (A keyboard shortcut is something like Ctrl+S.) Below is a TextPad command I use often, but not often enough to merit its own keyboard shortcut. (There's a limited number of those.) To cut bookmarked lines, I just hit the sequence of underlined letters, and it automatically goes through menus for me. No need to click-click-click on commands deeply nested in submenus: Using access key shortcuts for nested commands

Microsoft hides accelerator keys by default, probably to avoid confusing non-advanced users. But if you press the Alt key on your keyboard, Windows will highlight all access keys available in the current window. Here's the same app, before and after hitting the Alt key. All menu headers are underlined: Same app before and after hitting the Alt key

This is both a productivity feature and an "accessibility" feature. If someone has mobility challenges that prevents them from (easily) using a mouse, they have a fallback mechanism with keyboard shortcuts and access keys.

Underline accelerator keys

Let's now make Windows automatically display access keys, without having to hit Alt. Click on the start button (Windows logo) and type "underline". Select the "Underline access key shortcuts in menus when possible" result at the top: Underline access key shortcuts in menus when possible

That will open the Settings app. Near the bottom, under "Change how keyboard shortcuts work", check the "Underline access keys when available" toggle: Underline access keys when available

Now open a classic Windows program like Notepad, which includes a traditional menu. Notice that all accelerator keys are underlined by default: Accelerator keys automatically underlined

Access keys in non-standard apps

There are some apps that behave in non-standard ways. Office apps are an example (ironically, since they're also made by Microsoft). Here's the Excel ribbon after hitting the Alt key. Just hit the highlighted letter (or number) to trigger the corresponding action. For example, N would select the Insert tab: Underlined access keys in Excel

Access keys in context menus and other "interface controls"

Underlined shortcuts in context menus The underline-shortcuts setting will also affect "context menus" (those that appear when you right-click on something). The screenshot shows the menu that opens when I right-click on an empty area of my desktop. Yours will look slightly different depending on the apps installed.

But this setting will also highlight "interface controls", a fancy name for all the other things that you see in Windows apps and popups. That includes buttons, dropdown menus, text boxes, etc. Fun-game time, locate all the underlines: Interface controls underlined in dialog box

Just like with menus, pressing the Alt key and the underlined letter will trigger the "action". This can be clicking on a button, focusing on a text box or dropdown, selecting a tab, opening a submenu, checking a checkbox or radio button, etc. Underlined dropdown menus and radio / buttons

Spread the word

This tutorial will probably get very few views. People "advanced" enough to know about access keys will figure out themselves how to underline them. Others won't know it exists. If you're reading this, consider spreading the word about accelerator keys. It's a huge time-saver I wish more people knew about.