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Windows Basics

Concept of Windows

Windows was supposed to make computers easier to use. In a sense it has, to experienced computer users. But to the new user, it has made the computer all the more intimidating. What we get on the computer screen is visual information overload. The new user has no concept of what a window does, operates, or what all the data presented means.

When you start up Windows, the first thing you normally will see is the Desktop. The Desktop is supposed to be an electronic representation of a normal desktop. Here is where you can pile up all your junk, just like a real desktop. Icons will normally litter your Desktop. Shortcuts, folders and files will be strewn about. Isn’t technology wonderful!

When you open a file, folder or start a program, it will normally open in a window. This window will cover some of your desktop. If you open another file, folder or program; another window will open and contain it. Each time a window opens; an associated button will be displayed on the Task Bar at the bottom of your screen. If you click on the associated button, it will force the window to become the active window. That means it will be displayed on top of all the other windows. So windows are stacked on your Desktop, much like pieces of papers. It should have been called Papers not Windows! Who has a window on their desktop?

A window can be moved, resized, minimized (still active but not shown), restored (undoes the minimized), maximized (window covers the whole screen) or closed (shuts down the program also). How do you do all this magic! Look in the windows help file! You can learn a lot using this tool. You can get Windows help by clicking on Start button, and then choose Help from the selections. Usually choosing the Index or Search box returns the most fruitful results.

You will encounter some windows that seem to take control of the whole screen. These windows will not allow you to do anything to other windows or the desktop until you take care of this window. Quite often these will be Error Message Boxes and you must click on “OK” to acknowledge you read it before you can proceed.

Open a few programs or files then play with the windows until you are comfortable with them. If you don’t know how to do that yet, read on, then play around.


Files: There are generally four types of files on a Windows system. They will all be represented by icons (little pictures) and captioned by the filename below. Note that most filenames have a dot (period) followed by a three-letter extension at their end indicating what type of file they are. (ie: .exe .gif .txt)

Data Files: These files are the result of work done by executable files or programs. Data files contain data such as addresses, recipes, etc. Graphics, text, database files are examples of these. When you back up, or make copies of your data, these are the ones that should be copied.

Executable Files: These are commonly referred to as programs. They make the computer go. Unless you know what you are doing, do not delete or move these types of files. Windows looks for files where it expects them to be. If there is no program file, it will not go. Some common executable file extensions are .exe .com .dll

Shortcut Files: They are not really files in the normal sense. They are icons that can point to other files, both data and executable. Just remember that they are not the file themselves. If you copy or delete a shortcut you do not copy or delete the file itself. Generally shortcut icons have a little black arrow in the bottom left hand corner.

Folder Files: These are just areas in which you can put files. They serve the same purpose as paper folders you use in your file cabinet. You most likely use them to organize your files into logical areas so you can find your files faster, or if you are like me, put them away so you can forget about them. Just like real file folders however, the organizational part comes from you, not the folder. Note that you can place folders within folders for more organizational chaos. The entire folder structure on your hard drive will sometimes be referred to as a ‘directory tree’. You can expand and collapse portions of your ‘directory tree’ by clicking on the ‘+’ or ‘-’ in the File Explorer. Unless you are a computer nerd or want your computer to fail, do not alter the ‘windows’, ‘winnt’, or ‘program files’ directories. File folder icons look like yellow cardboard file folders.

File Explorer

File Explorer lets you look at the file directory structure and associated information. It is a very useful tool, and as such, you should learn what it can do.

One way you can start the File Explorer is by ‘right clicking’ on the Start Menu button on the bottom left of your screen. A popup menu appears with a few selections. Left click on Explore.

Voila, the file structure of your computer is now open to you. Every file on your had drive, floppy or CD can be seen. It may seem a bit intimidating, but click and explore for 30 to 60 minutes. Right click. Left click. After each click, look and see what has changed. It will pay off in the long run. You will learn a lot. I am not about to hold your hand and tell you what it can do. Nor will I tell you what is the best way to use it. What I will tell you is, that if you get the idea behind the File Explorer and what you are seeing, you will have a basic understanding of where things are. This is very important.

For the new computer user, it will seem like a million things are going on at once. The screen is full on new and cryptic symbols and terms. I understand and sympathise. But with time, you will understand more of the terms and you will be able to filter out more of the useless information on the screen.

Remember, “No Fear!” It is just a little beige box!

Mouse Buttons

Left mouse button: This is the action button. It performs actions on icons (little pictures). Click on an icon once to select it. When it is selected, it will change colour and darken a bit. By selection icons, you tell windows that you intend to do something with those files. For example, you select an icon and hit the ‘Delete’ button (or right click on the icon and choose Delete). You are given the option to delete the selected icon.

Right mouse button: When an Icon or an area of the screen is right-clicked, generally you will see a little popup box which will contain options. These are options that can be applied to the selected icon or area.

“Double Clicking” is a manoeuvre that must be mastered if you are using Windows. Besides increasing the chance of living with painful Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, it allows you to select an icon and open it in one operation. The two clicks on the icon must be done rapidly to be detected by Windows. Many people finding “Double Clicking” physically difficult to do. Most situations that call for double clicking can be done by “right clicking” on the icon once, then leisurely selecting Open from the popup menu.

Selecting Icons

You can select more than one icon at a time. One way is to click and hold down the left mouse button on the desktop then move the mouse. Notice that a box appears. Any icons that are inside the box are selected. When you have chosen the icons you want selected, release the left mouse button and they will stay selected.

You may also hold the Ctrl (Control) button down while left clicking on the icons you wish selected one at a time.

Similarly, you can choose a first icon by left clicking on it. Then hold the Shift button while left clicking on the desired last icon. All the icons in between the first and last icon should now be selected.