Learn the Basics of Windows

Windows is the key to using your computer. As a new user, you'll want to explore two areas first: My Computer and the Start menu. Basically, you click on My Computer to get to files, and you use the Start menu to launch programs.

In this article, you'll learn:

1. What an operating system is and why you need one
2. How to use Windows to organize your stuff: folders, Find, and the recycle bin
3. How to open programs so you can create files

4. How to use the Windows icon key


Windows Is an Operating System

Windows is an operating system.

A computer without an operating system is like a car without a dashboard. No matter how sturdy the body and powerful the engine, you can't drive to work or see how much fuel is in the tank or play CDs without the dashboard. Likewise, you can't connect to the Internet or see how many pages you've written in your screenplay or play CDs without an operating system.

The OS:

manages invisible-to-you activities, like assigning memory to software so you can use more than one program at a time
allows your software (like Microsoft Word) to communicate with your hardware (like your hard drive)
lets you interact with different programs through mouse clicks and keyboard strokes
organizes and stores your files for future use

While you can't turn around without tripping over Windows, you've probably heard of a few other operating systems, such as the Mac OS, Unix, and Linux. Each of these perform the same essential role, albeit in different ways.

You can even run Windows on a Mac.

You're not stuck with the out-of-the-box Windows settings, either.

Once you're comfortable with basic Windows usage, customize your desktop icons and your toolbar.

If that's not enough, get fancy with Tweak UI to make Windows fly.

Windows Is a Series of Mixed Metaphors

We've already used one metaphor to describe an OS: the car dashboard. Windows itself comes with several built-in analogies to help you understand how it works.

The term "windows" refers to the boxes that appear on your screen when you work with the computer. If you're reading this article through Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, you're reading it within a window right now.

To see windows in action, hold down your Ctrl key and press N. A new browser window will appear. It doesn't replace this one; you now have two windows open. You can visit another page in that window while keeping this article open. To close that other window, click on it to bring it to the front, then press the Ctrl key and W at the same time.

Throughout this article, we refer to Windows the operating system by spelling it with a capital W.

File Cabinet
When you work on your computer, you create files. Windows-- the operating system, not the box in which you're reading this article-- stores these files inside folders. Those folders can live within other folders.

You can organize this files-within-folders scheme as it suits you. You can make one folder called Stuff and save all of your files within it. (Windows does this for you, providing you with a default My Documents folder.)

To organize better, you can create several folders, naming each one to reflect the files stored inside: Personal Finances, Love Letters, Screenplays, Recipes, and so on.

Many of the windows you open in Windows contain a series of menus. Unfortunately, as of this writing you can't order lunch from any of them. Instead, you use these lists of options to tell Windows what you want to do.

How to Create a New Folder

When you first turn your computer on, you'll see a bustle of activity on your screen while the machine boots up. Eventually you'll see your desktop. The desktop appears as a collection of small pictures, called "icons," arranged on the background.

These icons probably cluster along the left-hand side of your screen and include My Computer, the Recycle Bin, and others. We're mostly concerned with My Computer, which houses all the files on-- you guessed it- your computer.

Let's create a folder for your screenplays.


Double-click on the icon labeled My Computer. You'll probably find it in the top left-hand corner of the screen.

In the new window that opens, you'll see more icons. One of these is probably called (C:). That's your hard drive, the big disk on which you store both files and software. Double-click the (C:) icon.

The icons in the window change. In Windows 95, you'll see a line of text across the top of the window, something like this: My Computer/(C:). That tells you where you are: Within the umbrella of My Computer, you are inside the (C:) disk. In Windows 98 you'll see the My Computer icon and the words My Computer.

Double-click on the My Documents icon. The icons in the window change again, and the line of text will update to My Computer/(C:)/My Documents for Windows 95 users. In Windows 98, you'll see the My Documents icon and the words My Documents.

Within My Documents you might already have a few folders, but you need a new one in which to save the five movie scripts you are working on. You can create the new folder in two ways:


Position your cursor over a blank space in the window and press the right-hand mouse button. Hold it down. Now move the cursor over the word New. Choose Folder from the list of choices that appears. A picture of a folder, with its text box highlighted, will show up in the icon area of the window. Type "Screenplays" (without the quotation marks) into the text box and press Enter.

Move your cursor to the File menu and hold the mouse button down. From the list of choices that show up, select New; in the new list of choices that appears, click Folder. A picture of a folder, with its text box highlighted, will show up in the icon area of the window. Type "Screenplays" (without the quotation marks) into the text box and press Enter.

Now whenever you work on a script you can save it within the Screenplays folder. Talk about organized!

How to Find a Particular File

Like many busy people with families and day jobs, you haven't had time to work on your movie in months. But this weekend the kids are at camp, your spouse is visiting relatives, and you've just solved the plot tangle that has had you stuck.

Except now you can't remember where you saved your blockbuster manuscript, Something About Mike Stone.

You don't have to riffle through dozens of folders to find it. Use Windows' Find command and let the OS do the work.

The sneaky way


Move your cursor to an empty space on your taskbar. (The taskbar runs along the bottom of your screen, containing icons or text-filled rectangles for every file you have open.)

Press F3 on your keyboard.

The Find dialog box-- a small window-- will appear. Type a word that you know appears in the title of the file you need to locate. In this case, type "Mike."

Windows compiles a list of all the files with the word "Mike" in the titles. To open your screenplay, click on it from that list.
While you're at it, look at these other sneaky Windows shortcuts.

The traditional way


Position your cursor over the Start button in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen. Hold the left mouse button down.

Move the cursor over the word Find and let go of the button.

The Find dialog box-- a small window-- will appear. Type a word that you know appears in the title of the file you need to locate. In this case, type "Mike."

Windows compiles a list of all the files with the word "Mike" in the titles. To open your screenplay, click on it from that list.

How to Move Files to Other Folders

You stored SomethingAboutMikeStone.doc within your Screenplays folder. Now you've realized you need to organize yourself further, so you create three folders within Screenplays: Action, Comedy, and Drama.

To move SomethingAboutMikeStone.doc into the Comedy folder:


Position your cursor over the SomethingAboutMikeStreet.doc icon.

Hold the left mouse button down.

Drag the icon over the Comedy folder icon. (Move the mouse. As long as you hold the left button down, the icon will stick to the cursor.)

Let go of the button.

To verify the move, double-click the Comedy folder so you can see the file within.

How to Delete Files

As you double-click on SomethingAboutMikeStreet.doc to open it, you see your very first attempt at screenwriting: ApocalypseTomorrow.doc. You can't even stand the thought of that awful piece of dreck-- you want it out of your life, and off of your hard drive.

The sneaky way

Right-click on the file you wish to purge.
From the pop-up menu that appears, choose Delete.
Windows will ask you whether you're sure. Click Yes.

The traditional way

Locate the Recycle Bin icon on your desktop.
Within the Screenplays folder, move your cursor over the ApocalypseTomorrow.doc icon.
Holding the left mouse button down, drag the icon to the Recycle Bin.
Let go of the mouse.

If you need to get rid of a file right away, hold down the Ctrl key and press Delete. This will permanently delete the file without sending it to the recycle bin. It also won't ask you if you're sure you want to delete it, so don't do it unless you really want that file out of your life.

Technically, moving a file to the Recycle Bin or using Ctrl-Delete does not wipe out the file. The file will remain on your hard drive until your computer needs to make room for new data, at which point it will write over the files you marked for deletion.

If you want to make sure that nobody can find the file ever again, read this article.

How to Launch a Program

You can get to your applications (programs like Microsoft Word) by clicking on My Computer, then (C:), then Programs (or whatever folder you store your software in), and then the specific piece of software you want to run. But why go through all those steps when the Start menu is so handy?


Click on the word Start at the bottom left of your screen. That brings up the Start menu.
Hold the left mouse button down and move it over the word Programs.
Still pressing the button, select a program from the list that appears to the right.
Let go of the mouse button and the program you selected will open.

How to Create a Shortcut to Programs and Files

If you use a particular application or file often, you may want to create a shortcut to it. Once you've created a shortcut, you can open it by double-clicking its icon from the desktop.


Navigate to the program or file the long way: Click on My Computer, then (C:), then the folder that houses the program or file.

Position your cursor over the program's or file's icon and hold down the right-hand mouse button.
From the pop-up menu that appears, move your cursor over Create Shortcut.
Let go of the mouse button.

You'll now see an icon on your desktop that sports a little arrow. Double-click that to launch the program or open the file.



The Windows icon key located on the bottom of your PC's keyboard is a little-used treasure. Don't ignore it. It is the shortcut anchor for the following 10 commands.


Windows: Display Start menu.
Windows + D: Minimize or restore all Windows.
Windows + E: Display Windows Explorer.
Windows + Tab: Cycle through buttons on taskbar.
Windows + F: Display find: all files.
Windows + Ctrl + F: Display find: computer.
Windows + F1: Display Help.
Windows + R: Display Run command.
Windows + break: Display system properties dialog box.
Windows + shift + M: Undo minimize all windows.

Windows has a few shortcuts that allow you to compute without the mouse. The Shift key is the gateway to five of these useful shortcuts.


SHIFT+F10: Equivalent of right-click

SHIFT+DEL: Deletes immediately without removing to the Recycle Bin

SHIFT+TAB: Moves to previous control in the dialog box (TAB alone goes forward, SHIFT+TAB backward)

Press Shift when inserting a CD-ROM and you can skip auto-run

Pressing Shift while holding down CTRL and dragging to the desktop or to a folder creates an instant shortcut. (Of course, you can do the same thing by clicking and holding the right mouse button, letting go on the desktop, and choosing "create shortcut.")

Most people who use Windows are familiar with the terms cut, paste, and copy. Do you know what they do?

The cut and paste collection allows you to cut out, replace, or rearrange any highlighted text or data. If you are writing a family newsletter and want to move the upcoming birthday list from the bottom to the top, highlight the paragraph, copy, cut, and then paste it at the top of your document. Simply click Edit in any Windows application and choose the appropriate command, but it's easier to use one of these shortcuts.

Control + X
This command cuts out any highlighted text or data.

Control + C
This command copies any highlighted text or data.

Control + V
This command pastes any copied text or data from the clipboard to any open application. Position your cursor where you want the text to appear.

You can cut and paste any text or data from one Windows application to another. The copied information is held on the clipboard until you press paste.

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