Windows Tips: Top Techniques for Putting Windows on Hold

I jump on and off the computer several times a day to read e-mail via a dial-up connection. Is there an easier way to put my PC in "suspend" or standby mode when I'm done than by navigating through the Start menu each time?

John Gilson, Southern Shores, North Carolina

You can use a number of techniques in Windows XP and 2000 to save power or help protect your privacy every time you leave your system unattended. It depends on what you want to do--and how often you want to do it. Try these scenarios:

Lock it up: If you just want a way to screen your PC from prying eyes, the fastest way is to press <Windows>-l, which takes you back to the Welcome or log-in screen (Windows XP only). Note: Some older keyboards don't have the <Windows> key.

One-button magic: If saving power is a concern, consider using either standby mode or hibernate mode. Standby is fast, whereas hibernate is slower but safer. First, standby mode: When you put your computer on standby, your PC essentially enters a low-power state that turns off your monitor and hard drive. This is useful for saving energy during brief periods of inactivity--when you leave your PC to grab a sandwich, say. But be aware that any changes you made to your open files prior to entering standby mode aren't yet saved to your hard drive; your PC still relies on limited power to the system to preserve your work. If a power failure occurs while your PC is on standby, you could lose any unsaved data. Second, hibernate: If you want to save your data to disk, play it safe and use the hibernate feature, which stores your system's state (everything currently in RAM) to your hard disk; doing this, as you might expect, takes longer than going into standby.

The simplest way to get to standby mode is to convert your PC's power button into a button that goes directly there: In the Address bar in any Windows Explorer or Internet Explorer window, type control panel\power options and press <Enter>. Then click the Advanced tab in the Power Options Properties dialog box. Under Power Buttons, click the drop-down list labeled 'When I press the power button on my computer' and choose Stand by (see Figure 1

Figure 1: Hijack your PC's power button and turn it into a "Standby" button instead.

If you're a laptop user, you're likely to see additional options, such as a drop-down list labeled 'When I close the lid of my portable computer' that lets you send the system into standby with that simple gesture (see Figure 2

Figure 2: Got notebook? Send Windows into standby mode just by shutting the lid.

Some PCs even have their own sleep button (or a sleep function that you activate by holding down a <Fn> key, as in the case of many IBM ThinkPads). Configure this button by using the 'When I press the sleep button on my computer' drop-down list. For a more secure standby mode, click the Advanced tab and make sure Prompt for password when computer resumes from standby is checked in the Options section. On the other hand, if you want to go right back to work without the password bother, remove the check mark. When you're done, click OK. From now on, pressing the power button on your machine will force the PC into standby mode--it will not shut off all power.

But what about when you really want to power down? Most computers automatically turn off when Windows exits, so that shouldn't be a problem. But if exiting Windows doesn't shut off the power to your PC, you may want to plug your PC, monitor, and so on into a power strip. That way, you'll be able to cut the power to your system--after exiting Windows--even though your PC's reconfigured power button no longer handles that job.

Custom shortcuts: If you don't want your PC's power switch to be your standby trigger, create a shortcut that does the same thing, provided that you log on to your computer as an administrator. The easiest way to do this is to run PsShutdown, a freeware command-line utility from the swell folks at Sysinternals. Get the utility from's Downloads library. After you've finished downloading the file, simply extract psshutdown.exe from its .zip file and move it to the folder of your choice.

Now you need to create your desktop shortcut: Right-click the desktop (or in any folder window where you want to store the shortcut) and choose New,Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut wizard, type the path to psshutdown.exe, using quotation marks if any folder in the path contains a space or is longer than eight characters--for example, "C:\Program Files\psshutdown.exe" (your path, of course, may vary). After that, type a space followed by -d to initiate standby mode. (Replace this with -h if you want a shortcut that makes your computer hibernate.) To control how much time elapses before the command takes effect, type another space followed by -t followed by a space followed by the number of seconds (two digits maximum). For example, to initiate standby mode almost immediately after launching the shortcut, you would type -t 1 or even -t 0 (see Figure 3

Figure 3: Create a standby shortcut with the free PsShutdown utility from Sysinternals.
). To add your own custom text--which will appear in a message box right before the end comes--add -m followed by a space and then the message in quotation marks. Click Next, type a name for your shortcut, and click Finish.

Now right-click the shortcut icon you just created and choose Properties. With the Shortcut tab in front, click the Shortcut key box and press the keys you want to use to launch the standby maker. The keyboard shortcut you use must begin with one of the following key combinations: <Ctrl>-<Alt>, <Ctrl>-<Shift>, <Alt>-<Shift>, or <Ctrl>-<Alt>-<Shift> (see see Figure 4

Figure 4: Use keys you select in the Shortcut tab of the Properties dialog box to launch your shortcut.
). This keyboard shortcut will work only for as long as the icon resides either on the desktop or in one of the folders in the Start menu hierarchy. Finally, if you want to make your shortcut stand out, use the Change Icon button. When you're done, click OK. Launch the shortcut by clicking the icon or by typing its key combination whenever you want to put your system on standby.

The one drawback to PsShutdown? Once the program executes the standby command, there's no Cancel button available to undo what you've done. The solution is to create another shortcut icon that you can click to cancel the actions of the first. Use the Create Shortcut wizard as explained above; this time, however, end the command line with the -a switch (for "abort")--for example, "C:\Program Files\psshutdown.exe" -a (your path may vary). Click Next, type a name such as Cancel Standby, and click Finish. You may also need to edit the command line of the standby shortcut itself (right-click it and choose Properties) to confirm that its delay value--the number you entered after the -t switch--gives you adequate time to launch the canceling shortcut. Afterward, if you happen to launch your standby shortcut accidentally, simply launch the cancel standby shortcut to stop the standby process in the nick of time.

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