Basic Computing Using Windows/Concepts and Settings

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We’ve been moving extremely fast and covering a lot of potentially new and confusing material, so let’s take a second to review (some of you may remember this better if you try thinking about the pictures in brackets instead of the words):

  • Computers are machines that process data (picture a giant contraption with sheets of paper containing information being fed in, and ice cream coming out)
  • Go back to the table of controls in Chapter 2 and review all of those (picture something really obvious for each one, like the control panel of a sci/fi spaceship for buttons)
  • The desktop is behind everything and is your access panel to everything (picture an office desk covered in switches, buttons, and knobs)
  • Shortcuts are only links to other files (picture a whirlpool that looks like Mars sucking you to Mars)
  • Everything, programs, shortcuts, letters, and data of all kinds is stored on the computer as files (come up with your own picture, make it interesting)
  • You copy and move files by drag-and-drop (picture a ball, you pick it up and move it, then you pick it up and put it down somewhere else while it stays in the second place)

There was much more covered (especially terms and the hardware from Chapter 1) but this should help you get oriented and give you a good handle on where we’ve been.

Now we’re moving forward again. The next big centre to tackle in Windows is the Control Panel (CP). The Control Panel is where you change almost all the main things in Windows. “But didn’t we change a lot of things, like the wallpaper and colours and screensaver, without going through there?” Yes, but we took a shortcut. Go to ‘Start->Settings->Control Panel’ or ‘Start->Control Panel’ (it may come up with a window or be a sub-menu), then double-click (click if it’s a sub-menu) on ‘Display’. There it is; the box that we used to change the wallpaper, screensaver, and colours


NOTE: Your Control Panel may come up looking totally different and you may be lost. If there is no icon in your control panel called ‘Display’ then your computer is running in a ‘User Friendly’ mode. To switch out of it into the ‘normal’ view, look at the left-hand side of the Control Panel window and find the option called ‘Switch to classic view’ and click this. If you can’t find it, look at Appendix A.


So now we’ve reached the main control centre of Windows, what’s the first thing? How about a severe warning? The options in the Control Panel are necessary and useful, however do not change anything unless you understand it and know what you are doing. Blindly changing any setting can wreck havoc with your computer.

Now, on to the next item. Desktop themes! We have already changed the way Windows looks, however Desktop Themes (or just Themes) are designed to make it easier. Navigate to ‘Start->Settings->Control Panel->Desktop Themes’ or ‘Start->Control Panel->Display’. These two versions of Desktop Themes are implemented very differently. If you have a ‘Desktop Themes’ item on your Control Panel, the double click on this icon. In the window that opens, you can select a theme from the drop down box near the top. In the centre area, the different items will change to show you what that Theme looks like. There are two buttons in the top right-hand corner of the window that allow you to preview the Screen Saver, sounds, and cursors. The check boxes below these buttons are for selecting which parts of the Theme to apply. So if you only want, say, the wallpaper from one Theme and everything else from another, then you would uncheck everything except for ‘Desktop wallpaper’.

If you don’t have a ‘Desktop Themes’ item on your Control Panel, then Desktop Themes for you are integrated into the Display box. Go to the tab labelled ‘Themes’ and select the one you want from the ‘Theme:’ combo box. Just as with the other version there is an area below that will show a preview of what the wallpaper, colours, and some of the icons will be changed to. Click ‘Apply’ or ‘OK’ to change your settings to those determined by the Theme.

Now to get to something really useful, installing and uninstalling programs! Most programs nowadays come on one or more CDs. You put the CD (or the first CD) in the drive and it auto-starts (automatically runs the installation program). You follow the instructions, answer the questions, and voila! Your program is ready to use. Sometimes, however, this does not work, and what if you want to remove a program? So, navigate to the Control Panel and open ‘Add/Remove Programs’ or ‘Add or Remove Programs’. No matter what your version of Windows, a list will be displayed of most of the programs on your computer. To remove a program (uninstall it), click on it in the list and then click ‘Add/Remove’ or ‘Change/Remove’ and answer the questions, if there are any. To add (install) a new program make sure that its CD or Floppy disk is in the drive and then click ‘Install…’ or ‘Add New Programs’ and answer the questions.

Okay, that was easy, wasn’t it? All automated and simple. Now remember back to Chapter 1 when we logged on to the computer. Some computers don’t have a password to log on: some never show the box. Some computers can be set up to have multiple usernames and passwords (accounts) so that you can log into different desktops. How can we set all this up? From the Control Panel, of course! Open ‘Passwords’ or ‘User Accounts’ on your Control Panel. These two work very differently, and they are both presented below.

If your computer has the ‘Users’ item, then you have to check something before you can change the accounts. Open the Control Panel item called ‘Passwords’. In the window that pops up, click the ‘User Profiles’ tab (profile is another word for account). There are two radio buttons here. Click the first one if you want to have only one account on the computer, click the second one if you want to have multiple accounts. Then use the check boxes at the bottom to specify what things can be customised on each account. It is recommended to check all of these.

Once you have enabled using multiple accounts, it becomes easy to create a new account. To create a new account, just type in a different name and password when you start the computer. Windows will automatically create the new account with that username and password to be used every time you log on with them.

If your computer has the ‘User Accounts’ item then you have a much easier way to change all of these options. To create a new desktop click ‘Create a new account’. The computer will ask you what you want to call the new account, this is the username. Click ‘Next’. The computer will then ask you if you want this to be a ‘Computer administrator’ or ‘Limited’ account. It is recommended to run most desktops as limited accounts, however there are some programs that do not function well this way. There are also many things you cannot do from a limited account (like create a new account, so if the instructions in this paragraph don’t work for you, then it is because you have a limited account). Click ‘Create Account’ and you have a new desktop of that type under that name!

To change an account in ‘User Accounts’, click on it in the list at the bottom of the window. The window will then give you the list of options of what you can change. You can change the account name by clicking on the first option. You can also change the password by clicking the second option or you can make your account password-less with the third option. To change the picture representing the account you use the fourth option. You change the account type from administrator to limited and vice-versa with the fifth option, and you assign a ‘.NET Passport’ to the account with the fifth option. All of these options save the last one should be self-explanatory. The final option will be discussed when we discuss the Internet. If you have multiple desktops on your computer and the account selected is not the account that is currently logged on, then there appears a sixth option ‘Delete the account’. This options starts a wizard to remove the user from the computer.

You can change the ‘Welcome screen’ (which is the log-on screen variation that fills the whole screen talked about in Chapter 1) to the normal log-on box. To do this select ‘Change the way users log on or off’ from the main ‘User Accounts’ screen. Then uncheck ‘Use the Welcome screen’ and click ‘Apply Options’.

All right, was that a lot of stuff or what? Now for some concepts, first of all, viruses, hackers,crackers, scanners, and firewalls. You may have heard some of these terms before. Viruses are what people often like to blame (wrongly) for computer problems. Computer viruses work much the same way as normal ones. They ‘infect’ a computer by getting their files on its hard disk. They then begin to copy themselves all over the computer and onto anything that might carry them to another computer, such as floppy disks and emails (more on emails when we talk about the Internet). They also do damage while they are on the computer. Many viruses do annoying things, like playing a song or slowing the computer down, however some of them delete files and erase crucial data. Therefore many people get Virus Scanners. There are some major benefits to scanners. The biggest one being that they will destroy many (and maybe all) of the viruses on your computer. Their disadvantages are that they must be updated regularly, and they slow your computer down. They also give a false sense of security, making you think you are well protected when they may have missed something.

Crackers are people who break into computers. Sometimes they do it for fun, sometimes for profit, sometimes to show off. They often touch nothing. Sometimes they will take data or erase it. They tend to prefer government or corporate targets and seldom do serious hackers target normal people. However, to protect against the theft of data, many people run firewalls. Firewalls are pieces of software that identify hacker-like things and cut them off, providing a huge measure of protection for the home user. A similar term, hacker, is often used to refer to crackers, however the term hacker more properly refers to someone who knows how to exploit a computer system for beneficial purposes.

We’re almost done, now for error messages. Error messages do not always indicate an error (or at least, not what you call error messages). Many so-called error messages are simply the program asking for more information. The first thing to do when you see an error message is to read it. Many computer experts may seem to violate this rule: that is often because they recognise common messages and know what they say without reading it. Below is a list of common error message buttons and what they usually do:

Button label What it does
OK Confirms the operation and shuts the box
Yes It performs the operation the message box says it is going to
No It does not perform the operation the message box says it is going to
Cancel Stops the operation and shuts the box (any data is lost)
Abort It stops the operation you were trying to do
Retry Tries again giving to time to make changes
Ignore Cancels an error message.

Most error boxes have icons beside them to indicate their nature as well:

Icon What it means
UI-QuestionBaloon.png The computer have some information for you.
UI-AlertBaloon.png The computer is warning you that there may be something you forgot to do or did wrong.
UI-ErrorBaloon.png There has been a major computer error.

Computers can break. Things can go wrong, viruses can destroy information, and the person using the computer can do something wrong. To protect your data just in case this happens it is necessary to back it up. Backing up is making a second copy of data. If you are changing something and do not want to lose the original you can create a second copy on the hard drive to work with, this is a back up. However to protect your data in the case of major computer error it is necessary to back it up off of the hard drive. The most common way to do this is to put all of your data on CDs or DVDs.