The Desktop


Now What?...
Now that the computer is on, you should see a 'desktop' with 1 or more icons (little images that indicate what software/function they represent) and a background image (the background may also be a solid color or a pattern). This background image is 'wallpaper' and NOT the screensaver. The screensaver is something that pops up after a period of inactivity and is designed to prevent burning the display of a CRT based monitor. A 'CRT' (Cathode Ray Tube) based monitor is the large heavy monitors that resemble small television sets. Other monitors such as LCD monitors are much thinner and lighter.

In the following image, you see a Windows XP (Windows XP is the 'Operating System') desktop.

Desktop Icons:
Typically, you double-click with the LEFT mouse button on one of the icons to launch a piece of software or open a file. For example, if you double-click on the blue 'e' for Windows Internet Explorer, it will launch your internet browser (a browser is a piece of software that you use to view content on the internet). There are other options that you can access with the right button and I'll cover many of those later.

The START Button:
If you click on the 'start' button, you can see that it brings up a menu. The menu allows you to easily access many of the software programs on your computer. I'll go into more detail on the start button menu later.

The Quick Launch Toolbar:
This quick launch toolbar is not enabled on many computers so you may not see it but it is an option that can be selected in the configuration section of the start menu (RIGHT-click the START button >> select PROPERTIES >> LEFT-click the TASKBAR tab >> select SHOW QUICK LAUNCH). In the quick launch toolbar, you can start any program by clicking only once. The quick launch toolbar also has a nice feature that allows you to minimize all windows. When you minimize a window, you effectively remove it from the desktop. The program for that window is still active/running but you can not see it. Click on the 'show desktop' icon and it will immediately bring you to the desktop. If you don't know which icon is the correct one, move the cursor over the individual icons in the quick launch area and the 'balloon help' will tell you the function of the icon. If you see two little arrows on the quick launch toolbar, it means that there are more icons in the toolbar and they can be accessed by clicking on the arrows. The additional programs will pop-up in a menu/dialog box. I've labeled some of the items on the quick launch toolbar below. You'll notice that there are several drives. I access the files on my drives many times in a day. To provide quick access to each drive. I dragged a shortcut for each one to the quick launch toolbar.

The Taskbar:
This is where the buttons for all of the open programs will reside. For example, if you open Internet Explorer, there will be a button with the Internet Explorer icon and the name of the page you're viewing. If the name is truncated because it will not fit on the button, move your mouse over the button and the balloon help will tell you the full name of the page. In the image above, you can see that the 'comp tutorial' folder is open (visible on the taskbar). At this time, the folder is 'minimized'. To restore it (un-minimize it) so you can view its contents, you click on the button on the taskbar. If the program's window is not minimized, clicking on the button the taskbar will minimize it.

The System Tray:
The 'SysTray' shows some of the programs that are loaded/working in the background. There are several icons. A couple of them are security software (anti-virus software, firewall and anti-spyware). Others are for the system (volume/mixer control, mouse control center...). If you double-click the clock, you can adjust the time and date. You can also see a calender for the current month.

The Volume Control:
Above, you can see an icon that looks like a speaker. If you click once on this icon, you can adjust the master volume of the system. Dragging the slider (with your mouse) will set the volume level. If you click the 'mute' box, all sounds from all sources will be set to zero (no sound).

If you double-click it, the system 'mixer' will open. There you will have access to all of the various level controls. The following is a screen-cap of the mixer.

Exploring the Computer:
Until now, we simply covered the basics. Now we will actually do something. On the desktop, you should see an icon that says 'My Computer'. It's usually in the upper left-hand corner. If it's not there, you can add one. Go to START >> RIGHT-click on MY COMPUTER >> select SHOW ON DESKTOP. Now, click anywhere on the desktop to force the start menu to close. The My Computer icon will now be on the desktop. To keep the desktop organized, right-click on the desktop and select ARRANGE ICONS BY >> NAME. Right-click the desktop again and select ARRANGE ICONS BY >> AUTO ARRANGE (unless it already has a check by it).


  • Any time you want to clear the desktop so that you can see the desktop icons, you can do a couple of things. If your quick launch toolbar is active, you can click on the desktop icon. If the quick launch isn't active (you should activate it), you can right-click on any clear spot on the taskbar (not on a button) and select SHOW THE DESKTOP from the dialog box. If only a few programs are open, you can click on the buttons until they are all minimized.
  • At the top of the page, I mentioned that we're using Microsoft Windows XP as the 'operating system'. While Windows is by_far the most common OS (Operating System), it's not the only one. McIntosh computers have their own operating system. Another upcoming OS is Linux. Linux has many different 'distributions' and can look very different from one to another. If you want to look up more information on Linux, do a search for 'Linux RedHat' or 'Linux SUSE'. If you want to try Linux but don't want to load it on your computer, there are several 'live CD' versions of it. They will run from the CD drive of your computer. They will write nothing to the hard drive (unless you tell it to do so).

Now, Just For Fun...
Many people don't know that their taskbar is movable. If you RIGHT-click on a clear space on the taskbar and de-select 'lock the taskbar', you can modify its layout and position. After it's unlocked, you can click and drag (without releasing the left mouse button) the bar to the sides or even to the top (my favorite) of the desktop. Move it back to the bottom when you're done. As you can see, there are textured areas to the left of each section of the taskbar. These are handles. If you click on the handle, you can move the individual sections left or right or you can change the size of the toolbar section. Typically, I leave 3 of the most used quick launch icons showing and leave the remaining room for the button area of the taskbar. I typically don't have the 'links' or 'desktop' toolbars active and I never have the 'address' toolbar active in the taskbar. Ok, now lock the taskbar and we'll move onto something else.

Resizing the Taskbar:
One feature that virtually no one uses is resizing the taskbar. If the taskbar is resized, it's usually accidentally. I've seen a couple of computers where the taskbar disappeared. Ok, it didn't disappear. It was resized to it's smallest size. If you want to resize the taskbar, unlock it and move the mouse cursor to just over the top edge of the taskbar (assuming that the taskbar is at the bottom of the window). You will see that it changes from the standard arrow cursor to a double arrow. If you want to make the taskbar larger, simply click and drag the edge until the taskbar is the desired size. Remember, the taskbar has to be unlocked to resize it. If you have a large monitor set to high resolution and often have several programs open, set the taskbar to show 2 or 3 rows of icons.

Changing the Wallpaper:
As I mentioned before, the image or pattern that stands behind the icons on your desktop is the 'wallpaper'. It can be changed to virtually anything you'd like. To change it, you right-click on a clear area (an area without icons) of the desktop. This will bring up a dialog box. Select 'properties'. From there, select the 'desktop' tab. As you can see below, there is a list of image files from which to choose. You can select one of those (a single click will set it in the preview monitor to let you see how it will be displayed) or you can 'browse'. If you browse, you will be given access to 'windows explorer' where you can select virtually any image file on your computer. You can also select a web page if you like. You will notice a drop-down menu. The menu has 3 selections. If you select 'stretch', Windows will stretch the image to fit the desktop. Low resolution images may not look very good if stretched. If you select 'tile', the image will be repeated as many times as necessary to cover the desktop. If you select 'center', the image will be shown in actual size and centered on the desktop.


Organizing Your Icons:
If you have too many icons on your desktop, you can organize them into folders. To create a new folder, right-click on a clear area of the desktop and select NEW >> FOLDER. You will see a new folder appear on your desktop. While the text of the icon is highlighted, you can rename it. Name it something that indicates what icons are stored in the folder. After it's been renamed, you can drag and drop (left-click on an icon >> drag it to the folder and release the mouse button) the desired icons into the folder. You will probably want to leave the icons that you use most outside of the folders (for quicker access). To access the icons in the folders, you simply double-click the folder to display the icons. Double-click the desired icon to load the respective program. The image below shows the desktop after double-clicking on the 'security' folder (notice the name on the title bar and the address in the address field). If you have the folder 'view' set to 'thumbnails', you will see something like this:

And if you have the folder 'view' set to 'details' (recommended), you will see something like this:

Determining the CPU and Memory of Your Computer:
If you don't know what processor you have or how much system memory you have (I will cover CPUs and memory in detail later in the tutorial), you can right-click on 'my computer' and select 'properties'. In the 'general' tab, you will find the operating system and service pack information as well as the processor type, speed and installed memory. If the memory is slightly less than you know to be in the computer, it's likely that the memory is being shared by the integrated video card (video/graphics cards will be covered in detail later). On this computer, the installed memory is 512MB but it registers as 448MB. The other 64MB is being used by the graphics adapter (video card, graphics card, video adapter and graphics adapter are all the same thing). If you installed a dedicated video card, the memory will then register as the full installed value.

Setting Screen Resolution:
The 'screen resolution' determines how many pixels (picture elements) are produced on your monitor. Setting this too low will make all of the buttons and icons too large (taking up too much space on the screen). Setting it too high, will have the opposite effect. There is one other problem that you may have with setting it too high. If you set it too high, you may make the display un-viewable (it will look sort_of scrambled). If you change the resolution and the display becomes unusable, do NOTHING (don't even touch the mouse) and the previous display will return. It will generally take about 20 seconds. By default, if Windows recognizes your video card and recognizes your monitor, only the acceptable settings will be available. If one or both are unrecognized, you may be allowed to make a choice that's incompatible with your equipment. OK, now that you've been warned... To change the resolution, right-click a clear area on the desktop >> PROPERTIES >> click the SETTINGS tab and move the 'screen resolution' slider to the desired position. If your screen doesn't allow the images in the left window of the tutorial to fit at least as well as below, you need to adjust the screen resolution to 1024x768 or larger. If you set it to 1280x1024, it should look like the second image down. Notice that at the higher resolution, objects on the screen are smaller but more objects can fit into the viewing area.

Many LCD monitors (17" or smaller) have a relatively low maximum resolution compared to CRT monitors. If you have a CRT monitor it may have as many as 10 choices for resolution. A new LCD monitor may have only 3 or 4 different resolutions. The highest resolution that an LCD monitor can handle is the 'native' resolution. The native resolution is also the only setting that will give a perfectly clear picture. Lower resolutions will not be as sharp. The following image is from a machine (computer) with an LCD monitor.

The image below is from a machine with a CRT based monitor. You can see that it has many more resolution options. Both machines have integrated video adapters of approximately the same quality/ability. The only real difference is the monitor that's attached to the computer.

In the previous 2 images, you can see that one 'box' has the look of the XP desktop and the other looks like the older Win98. Both are XP. The bottom system was set to maximize performance (no fading or sliding menus or other such time consuming features). If you want to set this option... RIGHT-click 'my computer' >> PROPERTIES >> select the ADVANCED tab >> select the performance SETTINGS button >> select the VISUAL EFFECTS tab and select 'adjust for best performance'.

Properly Shutting Down the Computer:
We mentioned using the front panel power button to shut down the computer. While this is one way to shut down, there is another way. If you click the start button, you will see the 'turn off computer' button. When you click it, you will be given the option to turn it off completely or to restart it. Select the desired choice. If you select 'restart' the computer will shut down and then it will restart. If you click 'turn off', it will not restart until you restart it manually with the power button. Do not use the reset button or disconnect power to shut down the computer except when the computer fails to respond. If you turn off the computer improperly, it may damage the operating system. When you shut down, the computer essentially cleans up. If you remove power while it's writing certain files, the OS may not be able to restart. Windows XP is relatively tolerant but it's not foolproof.



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