It’s your first day, your first hour with Windows 95 or Windows 98. You switch your computer on, watch the pretty clouds appear on the introductory screen, and then you’re confronted with the Windows desktop. What do you do now?
The answer is: very little. The best way to get started with any computer program is to spend some time sitting and looking. Get your bearings. Fold your hands carefully in your lap. Keep away from the keyboard!
Your Desktop will look something like the somewhat spartan Figure 1 (click the image to see a detailed screenshot). Not exactly like it – because Desktop appearances differ depending on what Windows components have been installed, whether any of the icons have been moved around, and whether you’re using desktop ‘wallpaper’, which replaces the boring old green desktop depicted with something more interesting. But you should be looking at something fairly similar.
Figure 1: The Windows 95 desktop looks, initially, somewhat barren. That will change as you start to personalise it and put it to use. (Click the image to see more detailed screenshots contrasting the Windows 95 and Windows 98 Desktops.)
What’s there to notice about the Windows Desktop?
Well, there’s a grey strip along the bottom of the screen called the Taskbar, which includes a button labelled Start on the left, a little clock on the right, and one or more pictures – icons is the correct jargon – beside the clock.
There are a number of icons scattered around the screen. You may not have The Microsoft Network or Inbox icons on your screen, but you’ll most certainly have the My Computer and Recycle Bin icons, and possibly a printer icon and Network Neighbourhood icon.
If you’re using Windows 98 you’ll also see a My Documents folder and four icons to the right of the Start button in the Taskbar. In Windows 95, the My Documents folder is just like any other folder. In Windows 98, it has become more central and promoted as the easiest place to store all the documents you create or download. The My Documents icon gives you quick access to the folder at all times.
The icons beside the Start button let you launch Internet Explorer, Outlook Express (the e-mail program that comes with Internet Explorer) or the Internet Explorer Channel Bar. The Channel Bar lets you see ‘push’ content: information broadcast directly to your computer from a Web site (provided you have an active connection to the Internet). The fourth of the new icons lets you quickly hide all your open windows and display the Desktop.
If you look at the expanded screenshots in Figure 1, you’ll also see that the icon captions in Windows 98 are underlined. This is to indicate that these icons work like links on the Web: click them once to run or open them. In Windows 95, you have to double-click an icon to open and run it.
Apart from those few things, there’s a vast expanse of nothingness. However, there’s one obvious clue as to where to begin: the Start button at the bottom of your screen is, indeed, the place to start. So, give it a single-click using the left mouse button (if you’re confused about when to single click and when to double-click, have a look at To Click or To Double-click).
The Start Menu is the centre of activity in Windows. The first thing to locate is the Help option. Windows provides extensive online help and troubleshooting ‘wizards’. A wizard, by the way, is Microsoft’s term for a series of dialog boxes that step you through a procedure.
You may have wondered at the skimpy nature of the Windows manual. It’s deliberately skimpy: Microsoft has decided to provide most help via your computer screen. If you want more assistance in printed form, you’ll need to go out and buy yourself one of the hundreds of Windows books, or try a magazine aimed at helping users such as Australian PC User.
It’s amazing how under-utilised online help usually is. When I wear one of my other caps, that of computer trainer, I find most people I teach never even think to look for help in the Help menu. That’s partly because they forget it’s there. It’s also because online help is not always helpful. In fact, it can be a vicious circle: it often seems you need to know the correct computer jargon before you can get help with a problem. Help in Windows is much better than this, so remember to use it whenever you get stuck.
How do you use Windows Help? All Windows applications, as well as the operating system itself, use the same style of help, so it’s well worth learning how to use it.
Let’s get back to the Start Menu.
When you click the Start button to display the Start Menu, you’ll notice some items on the menu have little black arrowheads beside them. The arrowhead indicates that when you select that item, a drop-down or cascading menu will appear, showing more options.
Try it out by selecting the Programs item. This is where you’ll find all your applications and Windows accessories (mini-applications supplied free with Windows). If you’ve ever used earlier versions of Windows, this is the equivalent of the Program Groups which used to dot your desktop.
During installation, Windows places all the programs which it recognises on your hard disk onto the Programs drop-down menu, as well as many of its own programs. The latter groups include items such as Windows Explorer (a program which helps you manage all the files on your computer); The Microsoft Network (the software which lets you connect to Microsoft’s online information service); a StartUp group, where you can place programs you want to run automatically each time you start Windows; and Accessories, where you’ll find all sorts of wonderful little add-on programs supplied with Windows.
If you don’t have much software of your own, you’ll find the Windows 95/98 accessories already provide some pretty nifty functionality. On the whole, they’re much better than the accessories provided with earlier versions of Windows.
In particular, try out WordPad, which is a more-than-basic word processor. And, if you have a CD-ROM and soundcard, check out the Multimedia tools, which include an application for playing audio CDs (you can play an audio CD in the background while you work or do other things on your computer) as well as some neat little sound recording and playback utilities.
If you’re not sure how to use these accessories, you’ll find a Help menu at the right-hand end of the menu bar at the top of the screen or dialog box.
By the time you’ve explored some of the accessories, you’ll be starting to get a good sense of how this new Windows looks and feels. Remember, the key to learning a new program is to take time to look and notice what’s in front of you, and to use the online help.