Disable Global Hot Keys

The Windows Explorer registers nearly two dozen keyboard shortcuts, all involving the Windows key, as hot keys for the taskbar window. Almost all are documented in Help and Support, as “Microsoft keyboard shortcuts”. Very likely the others are documented elsewhere. Also documented, at least for administrators and programmers, is that these hotkeys can be disabled collectively. What doesn’t appear to be documented is that they can be disabled selectively through a registry value.

The global hot keys are:

Hot Key Brief Description  
Win-B set focus to the taskbar notification area  
Win-D show the desktop same as “Show the Desktop” on context menu
Win-E open Computer  
Win-F search for files  
Win-Ctrl-F search for computers  
Win-M minimise windows same as Alt-M
Win-Shift-M restore windows same as Ctrl-Z
same as “Undo” on context menu
Win-R open the Run dialog similar to “Run…” on start menu
Win-T cycle forwards through task buttons on taskbar  
Win-Shift-T cycle backwards through task buttons on taskbar  
Win-F1 open Windows Help and Support  
Win-Break open System Properties  

Quick Launch shortcuts  

All registry values described below are read only when EXPLORER starts as the shell, to create the desktop and taskbar. Changes do not take effect until you restart the shell, e.g., by logging off and logging back on.

Disable All

EXPLORER does not register any of the global hot keys if they are disabled by policy. Programmatically, this policy is the REST_NOWINKEYS shell restriction, implemented in the following registry value in either of two possible keys, listed below in decreasing order of precedence.

Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer
Value: NoWinKeys
Default: 0

This shell restriction has user-interface support through the Group Policy Object Editor as “Turn off Windows+X hotkeys” in the Windows Explorer administrative template (shown under Windows Components). It is there said to require “at least Microsoft Windows Server 2003”, but Microsoft perhaps means to speak just of the user-interface support. The registry setting that corresponds to this policy actually dates from as far back as Windows 2000.

Disable Selectively

EXPLORER does not register any of the hotkeys that are listed in the following registry value:

Key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced
Value: DisabledHotkeys

Each character in the string data represents one key which is to be disabled in all its supported combinations. For instance, F disables both Win-F and Win-Ctrl-F. Interpretation is in terms of what programmers know as virtual-key codes. Alphabetical keys must be in upper case. For the F1 key, use the lower-case p. For the Break key, the character must have the numerical value 0x13.

Only 22 characters of data (after expansion of REG_EXPAND_SZ data) are supported. To provide more is effectively to provide none.