Perhaps the Most Under-appreciated Tool in Windows: the Command Line


Many readers of Gizmo’s Freeware know and use the Windows command line. However, a large number of PC users are only vaguely aware that Windows has a command line or have never heard of it. As a result they are missing out on a powerful tool for helping to manage and configure Windows. There is also a popular misconception that the Windows command line is just the old DOS but that is far from the truth.

I am a big fan of the command line; it is easy to use and from time to time I will be giving tips on quick and useful ways to take advantage of it. I will begin with the basic process of opening the command line window (also known as the command prompt or shell).

How to open the command line prompt in Windows XP

1. Open the Start menu
2. Click “Run…”
3. Enter “cmd” in the Run box (without quotes)
4. Click “OK"

The command line can also be opened this way:

1. Open the Start menu
2. Click “All Programs”
3. Select “Accessories”
4. Click “Command Prompt”

I use the command line a lot so I pin a shortcut to the Start menu. Right-click the item “Command Prompt” in the Start-All Programs-Accessories listing. Select “Pin to Start menu.”

How to open the command line prompt in Windows Vista and 7

1. Open the Start menu
2. Enter “cmd” (without quotes) in the box labeled "Start search" (Vista) or "Search programs and files" (Windows 7)
3. Click “cmd.exe” or “cmd” from the list of programs that appears. Which one appears will depend on whether you have enabled the showing of file extensions.

To pin a command line shortcut to the Start menu, right-click the “cmd” entry in the programs list that appears after step 2 above. Click “Pin to Start Menu”. In Windows 7, you can also pin it to the Taskbar.

There are many commands that require administrator privileges so you will often need to run as administrator. Right-click “cmd” as above and choose “Run as administrator”. Click “Yes” in the User Account Control window that pops up. If you are running in a restricted account, you will have to enter the administrator password as well.

How to open the command line prompt in Windows 8.1 and 10

Right-click the Start flag and choose "Commmand Prompt" from the context menu. If administrative privileges are needed, choose "Command Prompt(Admin)".

Now that everybody knows how to get to the command prompt, I’ll be passing along some of the nifty things that can be done with it. Watch for future tips. In the meantime, send me your favorite command line tips.

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs a Windows blog called The PC Informant and also operates a computer education website.

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