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Chapter 3. Understanding Microsoft Windows XP > Important Windows Operations

Important Windows Operations

To use Windows efficiently, you must master a few simple operations, such as pointing and clicking, dragging and dropping, and right-clicking. You perform all these operations with your mouse.

Pointing and Clicking

The most common mouse operation is pointing and clicking. Simply move the mouse so that the cursor is pointing to the object you want to select, and then click the left mouse button once. Pointing and clicking is an effective way to select menu items, directories, and files.


This classic double-click mode is activated by default on most new PCs. Windows XP also includes a single-click mode, which makes Windows act more like a web page. In this mode, you hover over an object to select it and single-click to activate it. To learn how to switch to single-click mode, see Chapter 5, “Personalizing Windows.”


If you're using Windows XP's default operating mode, you'll need to double-click an item to activate an operation. This involves pointing at something onscreen with the cursor and then clicking the left mouse button twice in rapid succession. For example, to open program groups or launch individual programs, simply double-click a specific icon.


When you select an item and then click the right mouse button, you'll often see a pop-up menu. This menu, when available, contains commands that directly relate to the selected object. Refer to your individual programs to see whether and how they use the right mouse button.


One of the best ways to get used to using a mouse is to play a few games of Windows Solitaire, which uses practically all of these mouse-oriented operations. You launch Solitaire by clicking the Start button and then selecting All Programs, Games, Solitaire.

Dragging and Dropping

Dragging is a variation of clicking. To drag an object, point at it with the cursor and then press and hold down the left mouse button. Move the mouse without releasing the mouse button, and drag the object to a new location. When you're done moving the object, release the mouse button to drop it onto the new location.

You can use dragging and dropping to move files from one folder to another or to delete files by dragging them onto the Recycle Bin icon.


When you position the cursor over an item without clicking your mouse, you're hovering over that item. Many operations require you to hover your cursor and then perform some other action.

Moving and Resizing Windows

Every software program you launch is displayed in a separate onscreen window. When you open more than one program, you get more than one window—and your desktop can quickly get cluttered.

There are many ways to deal with desktop clutter. One way to do this is to move a window to a new position. You do this by positioning your cursor over the window's title bar (shown in Figure 3.2) and then clicking and holding down the left button on your mouse. As long as this button is depressed, you can use your mouse to drag the window around the screen. When you release the mouse button, the window stays where you put it.

Figure 3.2. The various parts of a window.

You also can change the size of most windows. You do this by positioning the cursor over the very edge of the window—any edge. If you position the cursor on either side of the window, you can resize the width. If you position the cursor on the top or bottom edge, you can resize the height. Finally, if you position the cursor on a corner, you can resize the width and height at the same time.


The cursor changes shape—to a double-ended arrow—when it's positioned over the edge of a window.

After the cursor is positioned over the window's edge, press and hold the left mouse button; then drag the window border to its new size. Release the mouse button to lock in the newly sized window.

Maximizing, Minimizing, and Closing Windows

Another way to manage a window in Windows is to make it display full-screen. You do this by maximizing the window. All you have to do is click the Maximize button at the upper-right corner of the window, as shown in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3. Use the Maximize, Minimize, and Close buttons to manage your desktop windows.

If the window is already maximized, the Maximize button changes to a Restore Down button. When you click the Restore Down button, the window resumes its previous (pre-maximized) dimensions.


If you try to close a window that contains a document you haven't saved, you'll be prompted to save the changes to the document. Because you probably don't want to lose any of your work, click Yes to save the document and then close the program.

If you would rather hide the window so that it doesn't clutter your desktop, click the Minimize button. This shoves the window off the desktop, onto the Taskbar. The program in the window is still running, however—it's just not on the desktop. To restore a minimized window, all you have to do is click the window's button on the Windows Taskbar (at the bottom of the screen).

If what you really want to do is close the window (and close any program running within the window), just click the window's Close button.

Scrolling Through a Window

Many windows contain more information than can be displayed at once. When you have a long document or web page, only the first part of the document or page is displayed in the window. To view the rest of the document or page, you have to scroll down through the window, using the various parts of the scroll bar (shown in Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4. Use the scrollbar to scroll through long pages.

There are several ways to scroll through a window. To scroll up or down a line at a time, click the up or down arrow on the window's scrollbar. To move to a specific place in a long document, use your mouse to grab the scroll box (between the up and down arrows) and drag it to a new position. You can also click on the scroll bar between the scroll box and the end arrow, which scrolls you one screen at a time.

If your mouse has a scroll wheel, you can use it to scroll through a long document. Just roll the wheel back or forward to scroll down or up through a window.

Using Menus

Most windows in Windows use a set of pull-down menus to store all the commands and operations you can perform. The menus are aligned across the top of the window, just below the title bar, in what is called a menu bar.

You open (or pull down) a menu by clicking the menu's name. The full menu then appears just below the menu bar, as shown in Figure 3.5. You activate a command or select a menu item by clicking it with your mouse.

Figure 3.5. Navigating Windows' menu system.

Some menu items have a little black arrow to the right of the label. This indicates that additional choices are available, displayed on a submenu. Click the menu item or the arrow to display the submenu.


If an item in a menu, toolbar, or dialog box is dimmed (or grayed), that means it isn't available for the current task.

Other menu items have three little dots (called an ellipsis) to the right of the label. This indicates that additional choices are available, displayed in a dialog box. Click the menu item to display the dialog box.

The nice thing is, after you get the hang of this menu thing in one program, the menus should be very similar in all the other programs you use. For example, almost all programs have a File menu that lets you open, save, and close documents, as well as an Edit menu that lets you cut, copy, and paste. While each program has menus and menu items specific to its own needs, these common menus make it easy to get up and running when you install new software programs on your system.

Using Toolbars

Some Windows programs put the most frequently used operations on one or more toolbars, typically located just below the menu bar. (Figure 3.6 shows a typical Windows toolbar.) A toolbar looks like a row of buttons, each with a small picture (called an icon) and maybe a bit of text. You activate the associated command or operation by clicking the button with your mouse.

Figure 3.6. A typical Windows toolbar—this one's the Standard toolbar from Microsoft Word.

If the toolbar is too long to display fully on your screen, you'll see a right arrow at the far-right side of the toolbar. Click this arrow to display the buttons that aren't currently visible.


If you're not sure which button does what, you can hover the cursor over the button to display a tool tip. A tool tip is a small text box that displays the button's label or other useful information.

Using Dialog Boxes, Tabs, and Buttons

When Windows or an application requires a complex set of inputs, you are often presented with a dialog box. A dialog box is similar to a form in which you can input various parameters and make various choices—and then register those inputs and choices when you click the OK button. (Figure 3.7 shows the Print dialog box, found in most Windows applications.)

Figure 3.7. Use dialog boxes to control various aspects of your Windows applications.

There are several different types of dialog boxes, each one customized to the task at hand. However, most dialog boxes share a set of common features, which include the following:

  • Buttons— Most buttons either register your inputs or open an auxiliary dialog box. The most common buttons are OK (to register your inputs and close the dialog box), Cancel (to close the dialog box without registering your inputs), and Apply (to register your inputs without closing the dialog box). Click a button once to activate it.

  • Tabs— These allow a single dialog box to display multiple “pages” of information. Think of each tab, arranged across the top of the dialog box, as a “thumbtab” to the individual page in the dialog box below it. Click the top of a tab to change to that particular page of information.

  • Text boxes— These are empty boxes where you type in a response. Position your cursor over the empty input box, click your left mouse button, and begin typing.

  • Lists— These are lists of available choices; lists can either scroll or drop down from what looks like an input box. Select an item from the list with your mouse; you can select multiple items in some lists by holding down the Ctrl key while clicking with your mouse.

  • Check boxes— These are boxes that let you select (or deselect) various standalone options.

  • Sliders— These are sliding bars that let you select increments between two extremes, similar to a sliding volume control on an audio system.

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