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Decoding the Windows 95/Windows 98 Desktops

In the early days of personal computers, to gain entry to the computing fraternity (and it was, by and large, a male community) you had to prove your worth by learning dozens of strange cryptic commands and weird key combinations. Computer software seemed almost purpose-built to bamboozle.

Things have changed dramatically in the intervening years and learning computers these days is a much more pleasant experience. Still, if you’re using a computer for the first time, you could be forgiven for succumbing to feelings of bewilderment when you sit down in front of the ‘friendly’ Windows 95 or Windows 98.

Those strange DOS commands have been replaced by a screen full of little pictures, and instead of typing commands at the keyboard, you accomplish many actions by using a mouse to move a little pointer around the screen. Simple, huh?

Well, maybe not that simple. The trouble is, there’s still a stack of jargon which goes along with the new software, and trying to decode it all can make your first days or weeks using a computer more than a little frustrating.

So here to help you on your way is a handy-dandy dejargoniser for the basic Windows 95/98 terms you’ll encounter.


Click: When you see an instruction to ‘click’ an icon, button, or some other part of your screen, it means ‘depress the left mouse button and release it’. Similarly, double-click means ‘depress and release the left mouse button twice in rapid succession’ (make sure you don’t move the mouse at all between clicks).

The left mouse button is the main button. Unless otherwise stated, clicking refers to the left mouse button; whenever you need to use the right mouse button, it will be stated specifically. Right-click means click once with the right mouse button. The right mouse button usually provides access to advanced features contained in pop-up menus.

If you’d like to know more about the intricacies of mouse clicking in Windows 95 and Windows 98, check out To Click or to Double-click.

Cursor: When you move your computer’s mouse, a small pointer moves about the screen in a direct relationship to your mouse movements. This pointer is called the cursor. You can position the cursor over various items on your desktop and then use the mouse button to perform actions on those items.

Desktop: The Desktop is the full-screen display where all Windows activity takes place. The Desktop is supposed to be the computer equivalent of a real desktop, where you place everything you’re currently working on. Of course, the analogy tends to break down a little, because the Windows Desktop not only contains your current work, communications programs (the equivalent of a phone and fax) and various tools you need for your work, it also contains a waste basket (the Recycle Bin), filing cabinets and more.

You’d need a massive desk to hold all this stuff, but you get the picture. The Windows Desktop is the site where all your computing activity takes place.

Dialog boxes: A dialog box lets you adjust settings or provide information needed to run a program, or is used to alert you to some event. It gets the name   ‘dialog’ because it involves interaction: the box asks you for information or informs you of something and then expects a response: you choose an option, type in some text, click an OK button, and so on. Some menu options have three dots after their names. The three dots indicate that when you select the menu item a dialog box will open.

Drag-and-drop: You can move an item by pointing to it with the cursor, depressing the left mouse button and keeping it depressed while you drag the icon across the screen. When you reach the new location for the item, you release the mouse button and the item will be ‘dropped’ in that spot. This technique is called drag-and-drop, or click-and-drag.

For example, you can reorganise your Desktop by dragging and dropping icons to new locations. Similarly, you can delete a file by dragging and dropping its icon onto the Recycle Bin.

By the way, if you want to relocate the icons on your Desktop but keep finding Windows shoves them all into a heap each time you restart your computer, you need to turn the Auto Arrange feature off. To do this, right-click on a vacant spot on the Desktop. A pop-up menu will appear. Highlight the Arrange Icons option and a sub-menu will appear, including the Auto Arrange option. If there’s a checkmark beside Auto Arrange, highlight the option to remove the checkmark.

Drop-down menu: Windows menus often have sub-menus, indicated by a little arrowhead beside a menu option. These are also known as pop-up, drop-down or cascading menus.

Files: All information on your computer is stored in files. A file may contain a computer program, a word processing document, a photographic image, sounds, a link to a Web page, a video clip, an animation, a spreadsheet –– the list goes on.

Folders: Because everything on your computer is stored in files, it won’t take long before you have thousands of files sitting on your computer’s hard disk. In fact, the Windows operating system itself comes in hundreds of separate files, all with their own task to perform or containing important information needed to run your computer. To help avoid total file overload, Windows lets you organise your files into folders. These are the equivalent of folders in a normal filing cabinet, with each folder containing related documents and labelled with an identifying name. If you’ve used earlier versions of Windows or DOS, Windows 95/98 folders are exactly the same as the directories of old.

Icons: No, we’re not talking about religious effigies. Icons are the little pictures you see dotted on your Windows desktop. An icon represents something: a program, a folder containing a collection of files, or an individual file.

Menu: A list of options. Your Windows Desktop contains one menu, the Start Menu. When you click a menu, it opens to reveal the various options within. If you move the cursor over the menu options, each will be highlighted in turn. Click once to activate the highlighted option.

Open: Open, run, activate, load and start are often used interchangeably. Opening an item means to activate it. To open an item in Windows 95, double-click it. Alternatively, you can open an item by selecting it and then pressing the Enter key. In Windows 98 Web Style, you single-click to open an item.

When you open or run a program, you start that program up so you can work in it. When you open a data file (a document, sound file, Web page and so on), you run the program that created that data file, with the file already loaded so you can work on it. For example, if you’ve written a letter called ‘Letter to Sally’ using WordPad, double-clicking the ‘Letter to Sally’ icon will start the WordPad program and automatically open the ‘Letter to Sally’ document within WordPad so you can add to it or change it.

Select: Selecting means to highlight an object. To select an icon in Windows 95, click it once. If you have Windows 98, you can choose to operate in Classic Style, with the same mouse behaviour as Windows 95, or in Web Style. In Web Style, all icons are underlined and act like links on the Web. To select an icon in Web Style, simply move the mouse pointer over it (for more details, see To Click or to Double-click).

Shortcut: A shortcut is a pointer to a file. Creating a shortcut allows you to quickly access a program or document no matter where it’s stored. Say, for example, you create a budget using your spreadsheet program and you store the budget in a folder called C:\My Documents\Personal\Finances. Instead of having to search through your drive and folders to find this file each time you want to work on it, you can place a shortcut to the file on your Desktop and then simply open the shortcut.

To create a shortcut:

  1. Open Windows Explorer (you’ll find it on the Start Menu, under Programs). If the window is obscuring your whole Desktop, double-click the blue title bar at the top of the window to resize it so you can see a vacant patch of Desktop.
  2. In Windows Explorer, click down through the folders until you find the folder containing the desired file. In our example, you’d open the My Documents folder, then open the Personal sub-folder, and finally the Finances sub-folder.

Locate the file in the folder and right-click and drag the file onto a vacant spot on the Desktop. A pop-up menu will appear asking what you want to do. Choose Create Shortcut Here.

You can recognise shortcuts by the little arrow included on each shortcut’s icon. Make sure you don’t confuse shortcuts with the files they point to. For instance, you can make multiple shortcuts to the same file (perhaps one shortcut on your Desktop, another in a folder you often use). Creating a shortcut to the file doesn’t copy the file, so you don’t waste your hard disk space.

You can delete a shortcut and the file stays put. Delete the file that a shortcut points to, however, and your shortcut will no longer work.

You can rename a shortcut without affecting the file, too. This means you can give your shortcuts highly descriptive names. To rename a shortcut, right-click it and choose Rename from the pop-up menu, then type in the new name and press Enter.

Start button: In the left of the Taskbar is the Start Button. Click it to display the Start Menu, which contains a list of the programs on your computer, plus additional useful functions such as the Find command for searching for files and the Help command.

Taskbar: The Taskbar is the long horizontal bar at the bottom of the Desktop (this can be moved to any other edge of the Desktop, so if yours is not at the bottom, don’t worry). It’s basically a beefed up toolbar (like the toolbars you see in each of your applications, providing shortcuts to often-used commands) with some special features.

The Taskbar contains the all-important Start button at the left, a time indicator and sometimes other small icons at the right, and a long strip of space which is initially empty. In Windows 98, it also contains a group of items immediately to the right of the Start button. These additional icons let you quickly launch Internet Explorer, Outlook Express e-mail, and the Internet Explorer Channel Bar. There’s also an icon which lets you quickly hide all open windows so you can see your Desktop. Click it again to re-display the hidden windows.

Whenever you start up a program, such as a word processor or Web browser, a button will appear in the Taskbar indicating this program is running. With Windows, you can run many programs at once, each contained in its own window. If you run multiple programs, you may find the program on top (called the ‘active window’) obscures programs behind. The other programs are still running, they’re just not easily accessible.

You can use the program buttons in the Taskbar to see quickly which programs are running. By single-clicking any of the program buttons, you can switch immediately to that program, making it the topmost, active window.

By the way, it’s possible to move the Taskbar to the top of the Desktop or either side. To do this drag and drop the Taskbar to the top or side of your screen. It won’t appear as if the Taskbar is moving as you do this, but when you release the mouse button, the Taskbar will ‘dock’ into its new location.

You can also resize the Taskbar by clicking and dragging the edge of the Taskbar. Just place the mouse cursor over the edge of the Taskbar and when the cursor changes to a double-headed arrow, click and drag the Taskbar to the size you desire. This is especially useful in Windows 98, where you’ll find your Taskbar rapidly filling with icons and buttons.

Toolbars: Windows 95 features one Desktop ‘toolbar’, the Taskbar. In Windows 98, you have five built-in toolbars – the Taskbar, the Quick Launch bar, the Address bar, the Links bar and the Desktop bar – and you can create your own additional toolbars. The Taskbar and Quick Launch bar are initially the only visible toolbars. You can make the others visible by right-clicking in a vacant spot on the Taskbar (or on the time display in the Taskbar if you can’t find a vacant spot), choosing Toolbars from the pop-up menu, and then selecting the toolbar you want to display.

You can move the toolbars around the desktop. The Taskbar can only be move to the top or sides of the screen. The other toolbars can be placed anywhere, and resized to suit. When you open the toolbars, they lodge themselves in the Taskbar, which can soon become crowded. To provide more space, click and drag a toolbar to move it.

You can close a toolbar either by clicking its close box (if visible) or by right-clicking the time in the Taskbar, choosing Toolbars and deselecting the toolbar in the list.

The Address bar provides you with an Internet Explorer-style address bar. Type in an Internet address and press Enter, and your browser will be launched and you’ll be connected to the Internet and taken to the site.

The Links bar gives you a copy of your Internet Explorer Links toolbar.

The Desktop bar shows each item on your Desktop, giving you single-click access to these items even when you have other windows open obscuring the Desktop.

If you want a more in-depth exploration of the Taskbar, take a look at Taking Windows to Task.

Window: Every program runs within its own window or separate area on your desktop. You can expand a window so it takes up the whole screen, hiding any other programs in the background (called maximising). You can reduce a window so that it becomes nothing but a button in the Taskbar (called minimising). Or you can adjust the size of windows so you can see multiple programs running within their own windows at the same time (simply called sizing, or resizing).

Each document, too, has its own window. So, if you open up a letter and a memo in your word processor, the word processor will have its own window, and the letter and memo will each have its own window within the word processor’s window. If you close the letter or memo, the word processor will still be open. If you close the word processor, the letter and memo will also be closed.




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