How To Use Your PC - The Basics
18 February 2007
An introduction to the basics of using your Windows PC. How to use the keyboard, mouse, desktop, My Documents, files and Control Panel.
The Mouse is the device you will use for most of your interactions with your PC. It is primarily used to move the pointer arrow around the screen and to select and activate options.
The mouse buttons are used to interact with whatever is on the screen where the pointer is located. The left mouse button is the one you will use most often. Clicking this tells the PC to select an item and is called 'left-clicking'. To activate an item and use it, you will often need to click the button twice or 'double-click'.
If you click and hold the left button and move the mouse, this has the effect of 'dragging' a selected object about the screen until you release the button.
Left-clicking on text in a document will place a flashing cursor at that point, which allows you to begin typing there.
The right mouse button is usually used to bring up a small menu window that gives options specific to the selected object. To use a particular option you just left-click it.
Common right-click menu options for an object include: Open (activate, same as if you double-click), Cut (remove to be placed elsewhere), Copy (make a copy of this object) , Create Shortcut (create a shortcut link elsewhere to give quick access to this object), Delete (remove permanently), Rename (give a new name), and Properties (find out information).
You may have a third smaller button in the center of your mouse that can be rolled forwards and backwards. This mouse-wheel can be used to move up and down through documents.
Keyboards can come in a number of different layouts. QWERTY keyboards are so-called because the top line of letters, underneath the number line, begins with those six letters.
There are a number of other useful keys too. The Enter key confirms a selection, and pressing the Shift or Caps Lock keys activates uppercase letters when you type, or special characters on number keys.
There are a number of function keys beginning with F1, F2 and so on, and these are used to access different options in different programs. Other keys such as Home, End and Page Up and Page Down allow you to quickly move about within a document.
The arrow keys move the text typing cursor up, down, left or right.
You may have a number keypad too. This acts as an alternative to the number keys above the main letter keys. Pressing the Num Lock button will switch between using the keypad as number keys, or arrow keys.
There are certain key combinations that can be used to perform particular tasks. See Keyboard Shortcuts for more information.
The Desktop is the main background on your screen when you are working on your PC. It consists of a background picture or 'wallpaper', any program shortcuts you have created, and the Taskbar.
The Taskbar runs along the bottom of the screen (or the side, or top - you can click and drag it wherever you want to place it) and shows the date and time as well as giving you access to the Start menu. You can also put program shortcuts on the taskbar so that one click will activate a particular program.
Left-clicking on the Start menu brings up the All Programs list of shortcuts to programs you have on your computer. These are often arranged in 'folders', so that you can find all the programs made by one company under a folder in their name.
By holding the mouse pointer over a folder you will see a new list appear of whatever programs are within that folder. Some programs will have several related entries - so you might see a README (a document that has instructions for using the program), or an option to Uninstall (remove the program from your PC).
You can access your Desktop settings by right-clicking anywhere on the background wallpaper and then clicking on Properties.
The operating system that runs all your programs and allows you to easily interact with your PC is called Windows for a good reason. It allows you to work with several different items and programs at once, all in their own 'window'. A window is like a smaller screen contained within a box on your main screen.
When you are working with a window it is brought to the 'front' of the screen, overlapping the Desktop and any other items behind it, so that you can focus on whatever is in the window.
In this way, you can have several windows open at the same time containing different programs that can be opened, closed, and re-arranged across the screen. This means you can do multiple tasks at the same time, such as playing your favorite music while writing an e-mail for example.
Files And Folders
Every item stored on your PC, whether it is a document, picture, song, game or whatever, is a file. A file can only be activated by programs that understand and are able to use it.
For example, you cannot use a music program to open a letter document. Each program on your computer understands what type of file it can or cannot use by the fact that every file has a filetype given to it.
This takes the form of a few extra letters or numbers added on to its name after a full stop. So for example, 'myletter.doc' is a file named 'myletter' with the filetype '.doc', meaning it will require a program that understands doc (document) files, such as Microsoft Word.
There are many different filetypes. Read Common Filetypes for a list of the more common.
Any one single program or application can actually consist of many different files, all working together to achieve the same task.
This means modern computers can have millions of files spread across different locations. Folders help organize these files, so that for each particular program there can be one folder that contains all the files it needs in one place.
A folder can even contain other folders inside it called 'sub-folders'. For example, to organize your holiday pictures together you might have a folder called 'Holidays 2006' and then other sub-folders within that for each particular holiday destination, for example 'France 2006'.
You can create your own folders. You can also create shortcuts to make it easier to find particular files. Read Organize Your Files/Folders/Shortcuts to learn more.
You can take a look at an example of a folder now. On your Desktop you should see a shortcut icon called My Documents. Double-clicking this will open a new window showing the contents of the My Documents folder.
My Documents is a folder on your computer that is automatically created for you, so that you can store all your own files in one place away from all the program and system folders, making them easier to find.
Double-click the My Documents shortcut on the Desktop and you will see a list of folders, within which are your files. To see what is inside a folder, double-click on it and the current window will change to show the contents.
You may see some other folders which have been automatically created for you to help you store certain types of files, such as My Music, My Pictures and My Videos. However, you do not have to use these, and you can store any of your files in any folder you want to. You don't even have to use My Documents, though it is usually easier if you do.
Close any open windows by clicking the X button in the top-right. On your Desktop, double-click the My Computer shortcut and you will see a list of locations where files are stored on your PC's disk drives.
If you double-click the Local Disk (your Hard Disk, usually C: ) you can see all the folders that are stored on your Hard Disk - this will be the part of your PC where all your files are usually kept, unless you have extra disk drives.
The Program Files and Windows folders here are especially important, and should usually not be changed as they contain the files necessary for programs and Windows to run.
All files take up 'disk space' and your computer only has so much room to store them all. If you want to see how much of your Hard Disk you have used up so far, and how much space you have left, double-click My Computer again and this time, instead of double-clicking the Local Disk, right-click it and select Properties.
If you find you are running out of disk space, you should try to clean up some unnecessary files. Read Clean Out And Clean Up Files for more information.
If you decide you need a lot more space than you have, it is possible to buy extra Hard Drives and connect them to your computer.
If you right-click the My Computer icon on the Desktop rather than double-clicking it, and then click on Properties, you can see detailed information about your PC including your hardware devices and performance settings.
The Control Panel
The Control Panel is a collection of all the important options you will need when you want to change settings on your computer. You can find control icons for display, sound, Internet, hardware, programs, security and system settings. To access the Control Panel, click the Start menu and then click Control Panel.
Changing settings in the Control Panel can make big changes to your PC's setup. For example, the Appearance and Themes or Display options in the Control Panel can affect the quality of your screen and the size of text. Read Change Display Settings And Text Size for more information.
Click on your Start menu and then Help and Support for more help with using your PC and particular Windows features.
Ask A Computer Expert
Ask your computer question and get an answer in minutes via e-mail from experts at Just Answer. Choose how much to pay and only pay if you like the answer.
Get more tips in your free Easy Computer Tips E-book
Most Popular Tips
Change how you view file lists
You can change how your files are shown in a folder by clicking on View then choosing between Thumbnails, Tiles, Icons, List or Details.
more Quick Tips..
Software A - Z
Dreamweaver is the most popular software for designing, developing and maintaining web sites.
Computer Jargon Box
View our Computer Jargon page for explanations of common computer and internet terms used on this site.