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Hour 1: Beyond the On Switch...This is the moment you've been waiting for. You've lugged the boxes into your home or office and have managed to piece together all the cables, cords, and system components. At last, it's time to start playing with your new toy.
Go ahead-flip the switch, press the button, or do whatever your computer's manufacturer tells you to do to get the thing up and running.
Are you ready to move on? Great! We have a lot of territory to cover. In this first hour alone you'll learn the following:
- Unlock the universe of personal computing with the Start button.
- Become comfortable with your pointing device.
- Learn about the shortcuts that reside on your desktop.
- Discover how the taskbar works as well as what it does.
But whether you're using Windows XP, Windows ME, or even Windows 98, you'll notice some striking similarities between what's discussed on these pages and what you'll see when you stare into your monitor.
What in the World Is an Operating System?Now that you've joined the ranks of proud computer owners everywhere, you'll need to adjust your definition of windows. Rather than being a mere clear pane of glass that separates you from rain, snow, bitter cold, and sweltering heat, it also now is Windows with a capital W.
Even if you're entering the world of computers for the first time, you've undoubtedly heard about Microsoft Windows on the news. It's that revolutionary, controversial operating system that caused such a stir over its inclusion of the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser. Court battles went on for ages until eventually Microsoft allowed computer manufacturers like Gateway and Dell to remove Internet Explorer or include nonMicrosoft software.
Whoa, back up a minute! Operating system? Web browser? Okay, first things first. We all know how air traffic controllers monitor airport comings and goings to make sure everything runs smoothly, right? Well that's basically what an operating system does on your computer. It tells various pieces of software what to do when. I often refer to it as the brain of the PC because it has to do all the thinking. Windows helps your PC prioritize its workload in much the same way corporate managers need to prioritize and reprioritize depending on the projects or crises at hand.
A PC without an operating system is like a flashlight without batteries-pretty much useless. Given that, the operating system is the first piece of software to get installed on your machine. In virtually every case, the operating system is preinstalled on your new computer so that when you hook up the machine and turn it on for the first time, you'll be greeted by what's known as the Windows desktop (see Figure 1.1).
Uh, that's not what I want when I boot MY PC! Microsoft ships Windows XP Home Edition with the Bliss background seen in Figure 1.1. The manufacturer of your PC, however, may opt to customize it. For example Gateway might put cow spots all over the screen. You may also see a lot more icons on the desktop as a result of software preinstalled on your new machine.
Once an operating system has been successfully installed however, you can do all sorts of neat things with your new investment. You can install a word processor to generate a professional-looking resume. You can get a spreadsheet application and perform all kinds of complex calculations. You can play the hottest computer games. And with Windows XP, you can effortlessly publish family photos to the Web, "burn" a music CD containing all your favorite tunes, and even create a funky music video. And these ideas only scratch the surface of what you can do with your PC!
So What's Behind the Name "Windows"?Windows is much more than just a product name. In fact, it represents a whole new way of computing (that is, it's "new" when you compare it to how things were done in the early years of personal computing). Way back in the old days of personal computing, machines were run by an operating system called DOS. With DOS, you could do only one thing at a time. If you were writing a letter and needed to reference a specific number in a spreadsheet, for example, you would have to shut down the word processing program, open the spreadsheet application to get the information you needed, shut down the spreadsheet program, and finally reopen the word processor to continue drafting your letter-a major hassle to say the least.
After much research and development time (and a whole lotta cash), the folks at Microsoft came up with an operating system that let users do two things at once (known as multitasking). That operating system was known as Microsoft Windows because it literally created a separate window for each application or task you had running. That enabled you to easily hop from your word processor to the spreadsheet and back again with a few simple mouse clicks-a major improvement over the cumbersome, text-base DOS.
Windows offered other advantages besides multitasking, however. At the time Windows was created, Macintosh computers were reputedly the most user-friendly because they relied heavily on graphics rather than esoteric keyboard commands in order to complete various tasks. For example, to print a document, you would click on a picture of a print( rather than typing in the Print command, pressing Ctrl P, etc. With Windows, you can still use those shortcuts, but new users also have a more foolproof method of learning how to use their PCs-pictures (also known as icons). You know what they say about pictures being worth a thousand words ....
Those gooey graphics... When a program depends on the user clicking icons in order to run, the collection of graphics and resulting commands are referred to as a graphical user interface (or GUI, as in "My daughter Samantha just loves chewy, gooey brownies, fresh from the oven.") This is far from being a must-know term, but boy would it make impressive cocktail chatter the next time you're hanging out with your more nerdy acquaintances!
Microsoft tried to emulate Mac's ease of use in Windows. It took a few revisions of the software to produce a viable product (and some will argue that Windows is still far from being stable), but it has evolved and improved over time to become the operating system you have on your computer today: Windows XP, Home Edition.
Trivia buffs, might be interested to know... The incredible popularity of game shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? and Weakest Link proves that people love trivia. I can't guarantee knowing this stuff will win you a million bucks, but you never know!
Here is a brief rundown of critical Microsoft Windows release dates: Windows 1.0 on November 20, 1985; Windows 3.1 on April 6, 1992; Windows 95 on August 24, 1995; Windows 98 on June 25, 1998; Windows 98, Second Edition on May 5, 1999; Windows Millennium Edition on September 14, 2000; and finally Windows XP, Home Edition on October 25, 2001. Of course, there were many other incremental release dates; however, these are the most relevant to home PC users....