Getting to Know the Windows Operating System

When you see a white arrow on the screen (pointing to about the 11-oclock position), the machine is ready for you to begin. If you have not used a mouse before, move it around on its pad and note how the white arrow moves in response. The white arrow is called the mouse cursor, and it is used to point at objects on the screen.

If you are not accustomed to using a mouse, take a few moments to practice pointing at objects on the screen.

Interacting with the Computer

The way in which you interact with a computer depends upon the computing environment of its operating system. For example, an environment in which you use a mouse to interact with menus, windows, and icons on a computer's screen is called a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced gooey) environment. Windows-95 and Windows-NT both provide a similar GUI environment.

Since you are reading this, you are presumably doing so using a software application called a web browser, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer. A web browser is an application that provides a GUI environment for exploring the World Wide Web, a network of computers from around the world linked together to share information. As you have (presumably) already discovered, a web browser lets you download information from remote computers simply by pointing the mouse at a link and clicking its left button.

In contrast to a GUI, there are environments in which you repeatedly:

  1. are prompted for a command,
  2. enter a command, and
  3. the machine displays the result of the command.

These are called command-line environments -- environments in which you interact with the machine by entering commands following the system prompt. The MS-DOS operating system (a precursor of Windows-95 and Windows-NT) uses a command-line environment.

In order to use a command-line environment, you must learn those commands that the environment "understands." This in general makes a command-line environment more difficult to use than a GUI, since you must be able to recall the right commands to use the system. By contrast, users of a GUI environment need only be able to recognize the proper menu choice, link, or icon they need to select in order to make something happen.

Let's begin by learning about the mouse. The left mouse button is usually used to select and open an object on the screen. Selecting an object is accomplished by pointing the mouse at the object and clicking once, opening is is similar, but requires a double-click (clicking the left button twice in rapid succession).

To illustrate, there is probably a tiny picture (called an icon) of a single computer labeled My Computer in the upper left corner of your computer's screen. (This is its default name and location -- depending on your local configuration, its name or position may be different.) Point the mouse at that icon and click the left mouse button. The icon should darken, indicating it has been selected.

Next, double-click while pointing at the My Computer icon, to open your computer. A new window should appear listing some of the storage devices that are inside your computer (e.g., a floppy drive named A:, a hard disk named C:, a CD-ROM named D: are common devices).

To select your browser window, just move the mouse over your browser and click the left mouse button. Note that the titlebar at the top of the window darkens (i.e., it turns blue on most machines) to indicate that the window is selected. If you click the left mouse button while pointing at your My Computer window, its titlebar darkens accordingly. Since you may have multiple windows on your screen at the same time, Windows darkens the titlebar of whichever window is currently selected, which is known as the active window.


Window Operations with the Left Mouse Button

One of the most common things people want to do with windows is reposition them on the screen. This is quite easy in Windows-95: just point the mouse at the titlebar of the window, hold down the left mouse button, and move the mouse until the window is where you want it. This is called dragging the window. Then release the left mouse button and the window will stay put (until you drag it somewhere else). This is called dropping the window. Dragging and dropping makes it easy to reposition a window.

Another common window-related task is resizing a window. Again, Windows-95 makes this easy: just point the mouse at one of the corners of the window until the mouse cursor changes from an white arrow to a diagonal two-headed arrow (called the resize cursor). Then drag the corner of the window in or out until it is the size you want. By dragging, dropping, and resizing you can arrange the objects on your screen according to your personal tastes.

In the upper right corner of every window are three buttons: one labeled with _, one labeled with a tiny window, and one labeled with an X. Click the _ button of your My Computer window, and you should see the window "collapse" into the task bar at the bottom or your screen. If you left-click on the rectangle labeled My Computer, the window will reappear. The _ button is sometimes called the minimize button, because clicking it shrinks the window until it is just an icon in the task bar at the bottom of the screen. Selecting that icon on the task bar returns the window to its previous position and size. Take a moment to try it with the My Computer window.

The button with the tiny window is the maximize button. Clicking it causes your window to enlarge and fill the entire screen, at which point the button changes to show two tiny windows. Clicking this button returns the window to its original size and position. Take a moment and try it with the My Computer window.

An alternative way to maximize a window is to double-click in its titlebar. Double-clicking in the titlebar of a maximized window returns it to its original size and position.

The final button in the upper right corner of a window is the X button which is called the close button. Clicking this button removes the window from your screen, terminating any program that was running within the window. You should use this button with caution, since any unsaved work (see below) is lost when a window is closed.


The Right Mouse Button

The right mouse button offers different options from the left button, usually allowing you to pop up a menu of options for the object at which the mouse is pointing. If you click it over your browser, you should see a menu with some choices, if you click it over your screen's background, you should see a menu with different choices. On this latter menu, note that some of the choices have a tiny arrow to their right -- if you move the mouse over that arrow, a secondary menu appears with more choices.

We will occaisionally use the right mouse button, but the left mouse button is used far more often. As a result, if we say "click the mouse button" without specifying which one, we will be referring to the left button. If we want you to click the right button, we will explicitly say so.


Customizing Your Computer's Interface

Before we explore, lets take a moment to make sure that your environment is configured consistently with this exercise. While the customization in Windows-95 is convenient and user-friendly, covering every possible configuration is difficult and inefficient, so we will set up your environment to have a uniform look and feel.

Open (i.e., double-click) your My Computer icon. Then click on the View menu and make certain that selections Toolbar and Status bar both have check-marks beside them. If either of them does not, select it with the mouse, so that both of these features are enabled.

Next, select View -> Details to provide a detailed listing of the devices in your computer. This will provide more information than the other choices, including how much free space is available on each device.

Finally, select View -> Options and an Options dialog box will appear. Make sure the the File tab is selected in the box, and then make sure that the second radio button is selected:

Browse folders by using a single window that changes as you open each folder.

This will help to avoid "screen clutter" by using a single window for navigation through your computer.


Navigating in Your Computer

Ok! We're ready to explore! If you have a floppy disk, insert it into your computer's floppy drive, and let's get started.

At the top of the list of devices in the My Computer window should be 3-1/2 Floppy (A:) which refers to your floppy drive. Double-click on its icon or name and the window will change to display the contents of whatever disk you placed in the drive. Note that the title of the window changes to A:\, which is the short-name by which the system refers to your floppy drive.

To get "back" to your My Computer window, click on the small button that looks like a folder with an up-arrow inside it. This button always take you "up" to the folder containing the current window, and since A:\ is "inside" My Computer, clicking this button returns you from A:\ to My Computer.

The other icons in your My Computer window refer to the other storage devices in your computer. If your computer has a second floppy drive, its name is B:. Since A: and B: are commonly used for floppy drives, C: is the name of the hard disk on most Windows-95 computers, D: is the name of either a second hard disk or the CD-ROM drive. Your computer may have additional devices (e.g., network drives) depending on how it has been set up.

Each of these other devices can be explored in exactly the same way as your floppy drive -- by clicking on the icon for that device, and then in its window, clicking on whatever icon(s) you want to examine next.

Open your C: drive, and find the Temp folder, and open (i.e., double-click) it.

Folders in Folders

Very soon, we'll be entering and running a simple C++ program. But when we are done, we'd like to be able to save your program somewhere "safe" -- somewhere that, if the power goes off, your program can still be retrieved. To save your program safely, the computer stores it on magnetic media (usually a hard disk) in a container called a file.

During this course, we'll create dozens of files, and so some means of organizing them is needed. Just as the documents in a filing cabinet are often kept in manila folders, Windows-95 lets us create a folder container in which we can store related files.

To do so, point the mouse at your C:\Temp window and click the right mouse button to display a menu. Move the mouse downwards until it points at the New choice, and wait while the secondary menu appears. Then move the mouse again until you are pointing at the Folder choice, and click either button. You should see a folder icon labeled New Folder appear on your C:\Temp window.

When the new folder appears its name is automatically selected, so that you can give it a more descriptive name. Since we are creating a folder in which to store our labs, type labs to rename this folder appropriately.

Viewing the Contents of a Folder

To see what's inside of a folder is easy -- just double-click on the folder icon to open it! Take a moment to look inside your labs folder. It should be empty, since we have not yet put anything into it. Note that the titlebar of the window changes when you open a folder, to indicate "where you are" within the folder hierarchy.

As this indicates, the labs folder is within the C:\Temp folder. Now, suppose we want to get from C:\Temp\labs back to C:? We could click twice on the button with the folder-and-up-arrow icon, but when you want to jump "up" several folders at once, the white text window containing labs provides a faster way: Click on this box and a drop-down menu will appear showing that labs is within Temp which is within C:. Just click on the C: choice to return directly to C:.

For practice, navigate back to C:\Temp and make three other folders: one named "practice", one named "projects" and one named "myLib".


Discarding a Folder

We made practice just for practice, to learn how to get rid of unwanted folders. Click on practice, drag it to the Recycle Bin icon (the icon will darken when the mouse is properly positioned over it) and drop it there. Your folder should disappear "into" the Recycle Bin, and if the Recycle Bin was empty, its icon should change to indicate that it is no longer empty.

If you throw something away and later decide you want to get it back, you can open the Recycle Bin by double-clicking on it and drag what you want to retrieve from the window back to your desktop. If you are certain that you will not want to retrieve anything from the Recycle Bin, you can empty the bin by pointing the mouse at the Recycle Bin icon, clicking the right mouse button to get its menu, and choosing the Empty Recycle Bin choice from the menu. This operation cannot be undone, so use it with caution.


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Copyright 2000 by Prentice Hall. All rights reserved.