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Using Windows XP


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Using Windows XP

This material in this chapter provides a quick overview of the features of the Windows XP user interface, which should be sufficient to help you get oriented and make the most of the system fairly quickly. If you're already familiar with the basic Windows interface, you may still find subtle differences between Windows XP and previous versions, making this chapter worth a quick read. If you're fairly new to Windows, you should definitely take the time to read this chapter. Concepts that advanced users might consider elementary should prove pretty enlightening. The most important thing is to get a sense of the continuity (or occasionally the lack thereof) in the Windows XP interface so that you can tackle any new Windows application with ease. Note, however, that if you are a very inexperienced user, you may prefer to start with a tutorial book on Windows XP, such as O'Reilly's Windows XP: The Missing Manual, by David Pogue. Even though this chapter is more introductory than the rest of the book, it still moves pretty quickly. Still, if you just take your time and try each feature as it's introduced, you may find that you don't need a step-by-step introduction after all.

1 The Desktop

Like most modern operating systems that use graphical user interfaces (such as theMac,Unix, and earlier versions of Windows), Windows XP uses the metaphor of a Desktop with windows and file folders laid out on it. This Desktop metaphor is provided by a program called Windows Explorer (explorer.exe). Windows XP runs this program automatically every time you start Windows XP.

Occasionally, you may see the icons on your Desktop disappear and then reappear. This is caused by Windows Explorer crashing, and Windows relaunching it immediately thereafter. See Taskbar in Chapter 3 for more information.

Figure 2-1 shows the main features of the Windows XP Desktop. The callouts in the figure highlight some of the special-purposeicons and buttons that may appear on the Desktop. Each of these is described further in Chapter 3.

Figure 2-1. Windows XP Desktop features


2 Point and Click Operations

Windows XP offers several settings that affect the way the interface responds to mouse clicks. The default setting (the way it works when you first install Windows XP) will also be familiar to most users, as it is fairly consistent with the way most operating systems work.

Depending on your current settings, however, Windows may respond to mouse clicks differently. See Section 2 that follows for differences. Later on, you'll see how to choose between theclassic behavior and the alternate behavior.

If you are one of the few computer users who haven't used a graphical user interface before, here are some things you need to know:

PCs usually come with a two- or three-button mouse (unlike the one-button mouse used with the Macintosh), although there are a variety of alternatives, such as touchpads (common on laptops), trackballs, and styluses.

To click an object means to move the pointer to the desired screen object and press and release the left mouse button.

Double-click means to click twice in rapid succession with the button on the left. (Clicking twice doesn't accomplish the same thing.)

Right-click means to click with the button on the right.

If your mouse has three or more buttons, you should just use the primary buttons on the left and the right, and read the documentation that comes with your pointing device to find out what you can do with the others. (You can often configure the middle button to take over functions like double-clicking, cut and paste, inserting inflammatory language into emails, and so on.)

1 Default Behavior

The default setting is consistent with most operating systems, including previous versions of Windows. You can tell if you have the default style if the captions under the icons on your Desktop are not underlined. The alternate behavior (sometimes called the Web View) is discussed in the subsequent section. Here is how Windows XP responds to mouse clicks by default:

Double-click on any icon on the Desktop to open it. If the icon represents a program, the program is launched (i.e., opened). If the icon represents a data file, the file is opened by the associated program. (The associations between files and programs, called File Types in Windows, are discussed later in this chapter and in Chapter 8.) If the icon represents a folder (such as My Documents), a folder window appears, the contents of which are shown as icons within the window

Single-click on an icon to select (highlight) it. A selected icon appears darkened and its caption text is highlighted.

Single-click an icon, and then click again (but not so quickly as to suggest a double-click) on the icon's caption to rename it. Type a new caption, and then press the Enter key or simply click elsewhere to confirm the new name. You can also rename by clicking and pressing F2, or by right-clicking and selecting Rename.

Right-click (click the right mouse button) on any icon to pop up a menu of other actions that can be performed on the object. The contents of this menu vary depending on which object you click, so it is commonly called the context menu. The context menu for your garden-variety file includes actions such as Open, Print, Delete, Rename, and Create Shortcut. The context menu for the Desktop itself includes actions such as Refresh and New (to create new empty files or folders). Nearly all objects have a Properties entry, which can be especially useful. See Chapter 4 for additional details.

Click and hold down the left mouse button over an icon while moving the mouse to drag the object. Drag a file icon onto a folder icon or into an open folder window to move the file into the folder. Drag a file icon onto a program icon or an open application window (usually) to open the file in that program. Drag an object into your Recycle Bin to dispose of the object. Dragging can also be used to rearrange the icons on your Desktop. More drag-drop tips are discussed later in this chapter.

By dragging a file with the right mouse button instead of the left, you can choose what happens when the file is dropped. With the release of the button, a smallmenu will pop up providing you with a set of options (Move Here, Copy Here, Create Shortcut(s) Here) to choose from. Although it is less convenient than left-dragging, it does give you more control.

Click an icon to select it, and then hold down theCtrl key while clicking on additional objects — this instructs Windows to remember all your selections so that you can have multiple objects selected simultaneously. This way, for example, you can select a group of files to delete and then drag them all to the Recycle Bin at once.

Click an item and then hold down Shift while clicking a second item to select both items and all objects that appear between them. What ends up getting selected depends on the arrangement of items to be selected, so this method is more suitable for folder windows that have their contents arranged in a list format. You can use this method in conjunction with the Ctrl method (above) to accomplish elaborate selections.

You can also select a group of icons without using the keyboard, as shown in Figure 2- Draw an imaginary rubber band around the objects you wish to select by clicking and holding on a blank area of the Desktop or folder window and dragging it to an opposite corner. Play around with this feature to see how Windows decides which items are included and which are ignored.

Figure 2- Select multiple files by dragging a 'rubber band'


Whether you have one icon or many icons selected simultaneously, a single click on another icon or a blank area of the Desktop abandons your selection.

If you select multiple items simultaneously, they will all behave like a single unit when dragged. For example, if you select ten file icons, you can drag them all by just grabbing any one of them.

Press Ctrl-A to select everything in the folder (or on the Desktop, if that's where the focus is). This corresponds to Edit figs/U2192.gifSelect All. (See Section 5 later in this chapter if you don't know what we mean by the term focus.) See Appendix C for more keyboard shortcuts.

2 Alternate Behavior

In addition to the default style discussed in the previous section, Windows also provides a setting that makes the interface look and feel somewhat like a web page. Select Folder Options from Windows Explorer's Tools menu; if the 'Single-click to open an item' option is selected (see Figure 2-3), you're using the settings described here. If you have this setting enabled on your system, clicking and double-clicking will work differently than described above, although dragging and right-clicking (as described in the previous section) will remain the same.

Figure 2-3. Folder options specify whether to use 'web view'


Here are the differences between the default and alternate behavior:

The whole concept of double-clicking is abolished. Although double-clicking helps prevent icons from being accidentally opened when you're manipulating them, double-clicking can be confusing or awkward for some new users.

To select an item, simply move the mouse over it.

To activate (open) an item, click once on it.

To rename an item, carefully float the mouse pointer over an icon and press F2, or right-click an icon and select Rename.

You can still select multiple items using the Shift and Ctrl keys. However, instead of using Shift-click or Ctrl-click, hold the Shift or Ctrl keys down while moving the pointer over the desired items and don't click at all.

Since the default view is, by far, the setting used most frequently, most of the instruction in this book will assume it's what you're using. For example, if you see 'Double-click the My Computer icon,' and you're using the 'Single-click to open' setting, remember that you'll simply be single-clicking the item.

3 Starting Up Applications

Windows XP has more ways to launch a program than just about any other operating system.

You can:

Double-click on a programicon in Explorer, on the Desktop, or in a folder window.

Double-click on a file associated with an application to launch that application and open the file.

Pick the name of a program from the Start menu. (See Start Menu in Chapter 3 for details.)

Click on a program's icon in theQuick Launch Toolbar to start it. This Toolbar can include icons for any programs, although by default, it only has icons forInternet Explorer,Outlook Express, and MSN. See Toolbars in Chapter 3 for details.)

Right-click on a file, executable, or application icon and choose Open.

Select (highlight) an icon and press the Enter key.

Type the filename of a program in the Address Bar, which can be displayed next to the Toolbar in any folder window, in Explorer, in Internet Explorer, or even as part of the Taskbar. You may also have to include the path (the folder and drive name) for some items.

Select Run from the Start menu and type the filename of a program. You may also have to include the path (the folder and drive name) for some items.

Open a command prompt window and type the name of the program at the prompt. Note that some knowledge of the command prompt (commonly known as DOS) is required — see Chapter 6 for details.

Create shortcuts to files or applications. A shortcut is a kind of pointer or link — a small file and associated icon that point to a file or program in another location. You can put these shortcuts on the Desktop, in the Start menu, or anywhere else you find convenient. Double-click on a shortcut to launch the program. To launch programs automatically at startup, just place a shortcut in your Startup folder (WindowsStart MenuProgramsStartUp).

Some programs are really 'in your face.' For example, if you install AOL, it puts an icon on the Desktop, in the Office Shortcut Bar, on the Start menu (in two places, no less), and even shoehorns an icon into the System Tray, which is normally reserved for system status indicators. Other, less obtrusive programs may be more difficult to locate. In fact, you'll probably find several programs mentioned in this book you never even knew you had!

4 Styles and Consequences of Styles

Among the new interface changes in Windows XP is the configurablevisualstyle with which all screen elements (windows, buttons, menus, the Start menu, etc.) are shown. Users of previous versions will immediately notice the default style in Windows XP, which has a more colorful, cartoony feel than the 'classic' style more common to previous releases.

Unfortunately, many of the new interface changes in Windows XP, such as the new style, are turned on by default. This causes several problems. First, these changes widen the knowledge gap between novices, unaware of the ability or means to modify their environment, and experienced Windows users, who will most likely restore Windows XP to the 'classic' interface within minutes of installation. Second, seasoned Windows users will avoid Windows XP for fear of being 'stuck' with the new interface. Third, less-experienced users who read technical documentation, such as this book, may be confused by the reference to screen elements that do not appear on their systems.

A prime example is the Control Panel in Windows XP. The new default Control Panel interface (a consequence of the optional Web Content in Folders, as discussed in Section 8.6, later in this chapter) separates its contents into several categories. The category selection must therefore be included as an additional step to any discussion of the Control Panel.

For instance, to choose the style (explained at the beginning of this topic), double-click on the Display icon in Control Panel (short notation: Control Panel figs/U2192.gifDisplay). If, however, if you are using the Categorized view of Control Panel, you would click Appearance and Themes in Control Panel, and then click Display (short notation: Control Panel figs/U2192.gifAppearance and Themes figs/U2192.gifDisplay).

To make the Control Panel easier to use, turn off the categorized view by clicking 'Switch to Classic View' in the lefthand pane. To turn off the lefthand pane altogether, go to Tools figs/U2192.gifFolder Options and select 'Use Windows Classic Folders.' For simplicity, all subsequent discussion of the Control Panel in this book will assume you're using the classic view of the Control Panel.

For more information on the Control Panel, see Chapter 4. Details on changing the interface in Windows XP so that it more closely resembles the standard Windows look and feel are in Appendix B. More information on the Style setting and its consequences can be found in Chapter 3.

5 Windows and Menus

Any open window contains a frame with a series of standard decorations, as shown in Figure 2-4. To move a window from one place to another, click on the titlebar and drag.

Figure 2-4. The decorations of a standard window: titlebar, title buttons, menu, and a scrollable client area


Most types of windows are resizable, meaning that you can stretch them horizontally and vertically to make them smaller or larger. Just grab an edge or a corner and start dragging. There are two shortcuts that come in quite handy: maximize and minimize. If you click the maximize button (the middle button in the cluster in the upper right of most windows), the window will be resized to fill the screen. Maximized windows can't be moved or resized. If you minimize a window (the left-most button in the cluster), it is shrunk out of sight and appears only as a button on the Taskbar. Minimizing is handy to get windows out of the way without closing them.

Under certain circumstances, one or two scrollbars might appear along the bottom and far-right of a window. These allow you to move the window's view so that you can see all its contents. This behavior can be counterintuitive for new users because moving the scrollbar in one direction will cause the window's contents to move in the opposite direction. Look at it this way: the scrollbar doesn't move the contents; it moves the viewport. Imagine a very long document with very small type. Moving thescrollbars is like moving a magnifying glass — if you move the glass down the document and look through the magnifier, it looks like the document is moving up.

If multiple windows are open, only one window has the focus. The window with the focus is usually (but not always) the one on top of all the other windows, and it is usually distinguished by a border and title that are distinguished in some way from than the rest, usually appearing in a darker color. The window with the focus is the one that responds to keystrokes, although any window will respond to mouse clicks. To give any window the focus, just click on any visible portion of it, and it will pop to the front. Be careful where you click on the intended window, however, as the click may go further than simply activating it (if you click on a button on a window that doesn't have the focus, for example, it will not only activate the window, but press the button as well).

There are two other ways to activate (assign the focus to) a window. You can click on the Taskbar button that corresponds to the window you wish to activate, and it will be brought to the front. If it is minimized (shrunk out of sight), it will be brought back (restored) to its original size. The other way is to hold the Alt key and press Tab repeatedly, and then release Alt when the desired program icon is highlighted.

Just as only one window can have the focus at any given time, only one control (text field, button, checkbox, etc.) can have the focus at any given time. Different controls show focus in different ways: pushbuttons and checkboxes have a dotted rectangle, for instance. A text field (edit box) that has the focus will not be visually distinguished from the rest, but it will be the only one with a blinking text cursor (insertion point). To assign the focus to a different control, just click on it or use the Tab key (hold Shift to go backwards).

Often, new and veteran users are confused and frustrated when they try to type into a window and nothing happens — this is caused by nothing more than the wrong window having the focus. (I've seen skilled touch typists complete an entire sentence without looking, only to realize that they forgot to click first.) Even if the desired window is in front, the wrong control (or even the menu) may have the focus.

If you frequently find yourself mistaking which window has the focus, you can change the colors Windows uses to distinguish the active window by going to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifDisplay figs/U2192.gifAppearance figs/U2192.gifInactive Title Bar.

Some windows can be configured to be Always on Top. This means that they will appear above other windows, even if they don't have the focus. Floating toolbars, the Taskbar, and some help screens are common examples. If you have two windows that are Always on Top, they behave the same as normal windows, since one can cover another if it is activated, but both will always appear in their own 'layer' above all the normal windows.

The Desktop is also a special case. Although it can have the focus, it will never appear above any other window. To access something on the Desktop, you have two choices: minimize all open windows by holding the Windows logo key (not on all keyboards) and pressing the D key, or press the Show Desktop button on the Quick Launch toolbar (discussed in Chapter 3) to temporarily hide all running applications.

Most windows have a menu bar, commonly containing standard menu items like File, Edit, View, and Help, as well as application-specific menus. Click on the menu title to drop it down, and then click on an item in the menu to execute it. Any menu item with a small black arrow that points to the right leads to a secondary, cascading menu with more options, as shown in Figure 2-3. Generally, menus drop down and cascading menus open to the right; if there isn't room, Windows pops them in the opposite direction. If you wish to cancel a menu, simply click anywhere outside of the menu bar. See Section 6, for details on navigating menus with keys.

One thing that is often perplexing to new Windows XP users is the dynamic nature of its menus. For instance, menu items that appear grayed are temporarily disabled. (For example, some applications won't let you save if you haven't made any changes.) Also common are context-sensitive menus, which actually change based on what you're doing or what is selected.

Each window also has a system menu hidden behind the little icon on the left corner of the titlebar (see Item 12 in Figure 2-4). You can open the menu by clicking on the little icon, by pressing Alt-space, or by right-clicking on a button on the Taskbar. The System menu duplicates the function of the maximize, minimize, and close buttons at the right end of the titlebar, as well as the resizing and moving you can do with the mouse. Using this menu lets you move or resize the window without the mouse. (See Section 6, the next section, for details.) The system menu for folder windows also behaves like the icons for folder windows and can be a convenient way to delete an open folder. Finally, the system menu for command-line applications (such as the command prompt and Telnet) provides access to the clipboard for cut, copy, and paste actions, as well as settings for the font size and toolbar (if applicable).

6 Keyboard Accelerators

Windows' primary interface is graphical, meaning that you point and click to interact with it. The problem is that repeated clicking can become very cumbersome, especially for repetitive tasks. Luckily, Windows has an extensive array of keyboard accelerators (sometimes called keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys) that provide a simple keyboard alternative to almost every feature normally accessible with the mouse. Some of these keyboard accelerators (such as F1 for help, Ctrl-C to copy, and Ctrl-V topaste) date back more than twenty years and are nearly universal, while others are specific to Windows XP or a given application.

Appendix C gives a complete list of keyboard accelerators. Some of the most important ones are described below:

Menu navigation

In any window that has a menu, press the Alt key or the F10 key to activate the menu bar, and use the cursor (arrow) keys to move around. Press Enter to activate the currently selected item or Esc to cancel.

You can also activate specific menus with the keyboard. When you press Alt or F10, each menu item will have a single character that is underlined (such the V in View); when you see this character, it means you can press Alt-V (for example) to go directly to that menu. Once that menu has opened, you can activate any specific item pressing the corresponding key (such as D for Details) — you don't even need to press Alt this time. The abbreviated notation for this is Alt-V+D (which means press Alt and V together, and then press D). You'll notice that it's much faster than using the mouse.

The other way to activate specific menu items is to use the special keyboard shortcuts shown to the right of each menu item (where applicable). For example, open the Edit menu in most windows, and you'll see that Ctrl+Z is a shortcut for Undo, Ctrl-V is a shortcut for Paste, and Ctrl-A is a shortcut for Select All. These are even faster than the navigation hotkeys described above. A few notes: not all menu items have this type of keyboard shortcut, and these shortcuts only work from within the application that 'owns' the menu.

The special case is the Start menu, which can be activated by pressing the windows logo key (if your keyboard has one) or Ctrl-Esc, regardless of the active window. After that, it works pretty much like any other menu.

Note that once a menu has been activated, you can mix pointer clicks and keystrokes. For example, you could pop up the Start menu with the mouse, then type S for settings, and then click on Control Panel. Or you could type Ctrl-Esc, and then click Shut Down.

If there is a conflict and multiple items on a menu have the same accelerator key, pressing the key repeatedly will cycle through the options. You must press Enter when the correct menu item is highlighted to actually make the selection.

Window manipulation without the mouse

The system menu, described in the previous section, facilitates the resizing and moving of windows with the keyboard only. Press Alt-space to open the active window's system menu, and then choose the desired action. If you choose to move the window, the mouse pointer will change to a little four-pointed arrow, which is your cue to use the cursor (arrow) keys to do the actual moving. Likewise, selecting Resize will allow you to stretch any window edge using the cursor keys. In either case, press Enter when you're happy with the result, or press Esc to cancel the operation. If a window can't be resized or minimized, for example, those menu items will not be present. Note that system menus work just like normal menus, so you could press Alt-space+M to begin moving a window.


In most applications, Ctrl-X will cut a selected item to an invisible storage area called theClipboard, Ctrl-C will copy it to the Clipboard, and Ctrl-V will paste it into a new location. Using the Delete key will simply erase the selection (or delete the file). There is a single, system-wide clipboard shared by all applications. This clipboard lets you copy something from a document in one program and paste it into another document in another program. You can paste the same data repeatedly until it's replaced on the Clipboard by new data. See Chapter 3 for more information on the Clipboard.

While you probably think of cut-and-paste operations as something you do with selected text or graphics in an application, the same keys can be used for file operations. For example, select a file on the Desktop and press Ctrl-X. Then move to another folder, press Ctrl-V, and Windows will move the file to the new location just as though you dragged and dropped it.


Unlike Windows 9x/Me, simultaneously pressing the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys opens the 'Windows Security' window rather than a shutdown dialog. The Windows Security window provides access to several important features. The most useful is the Task Manager, which, among other things, allows you to close crashed applications. See Chapter 4 for details.

Alt-Tab and Alt-Esc

Both of these key combinations switch between open windows, albeit in different ways. Alt-Tab pops up a little window with an icon representing each running programs — hold Alt and press Tab repeatedly to move the selection. Alt-Esc has no window; instead, it simply sends the active window to the bottom of the pile and activates the next one in the row. Note that Alt-Tab also includes minimized windows, but Alt-Esc does not. If there's only one open window, neither keystroke has any effect. Also, neither method activates the Start menu (Ctrl-Esc) or the Desktop.

Tab and arrow keys

Within a window, Tab will move the focus from one control to the next; use Shift-Tab to move backwards. A control may be a text field, a drop-down list, a pushbutton, or any number of other controls. For example, in a folder window, Tab will switch between the drop-down list in the toolbar and the file display area. Use arrow keys in either area to make a new selection without moving the focus. Sometimes a dialog box will have one or more regions, indicated by a rectangular box within the dialog box. The arrow keys will cycle through buttons or fields only within the current regions. Tab will cross region boundaries and cycle through all the buttons or fields in the dialog box.

If there's only one control, such as in a simple folder window, Tab has no effect. In some applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets, Tab is assigned to a different function (such as indenting).

7 Common Controls

Many application and system windows use a common set of controls in addition to the ubiquitous titlebar, menubar, system menu, and scrollbars. This section describes a few of these common controls.

Figure 2-5 shows some of the common controls in Control Panel figs/U2192.gifDisplay figs/U2192.gifScreen Saver and the additional dialog box that pops up from its Settings button.

Figure 2-5. Common controls in Windows applications and dialogs


Some of these controls include:

(1) Tabbed dialogs

Settings may be grouped into separate tabbed dialog pages. For example, see Control Panel figs/U2192.gifSystem or Control Panel figs/U2192.gifDisplay. Click on any tab to bring that page to the front.

(2) Radio buttons

Radio buttons are used for mutually exclusive settings. Clicking on one causes any other that has been pressed to pop up, just like on an old car radio. The button with the dot in the middle is the one that has been selected. Sometimes you'll see more than one group of buttons, with a separate outline around each group. In this case, you can select one radio button from each group.

(3) Drop-down lists

Any time you see a downward-pointing arrow next to a text field, click on the arrow to drop down a list of other values. Often, a drop-down list contains a history of previous entries you've made into a text entry field. Pressing the first letter will often jump to that place in the list, as long as the list has the focus. The down arrow (or F4) will also drop down the currently selected list. The arrow keys will scroll through the stored entries, even if the list is not already dropped down. Microsoft sometimes calls these lists 'Look In Lists.' For an example, see Start figs/U2192.gifFind Files or Folders figs/U2192.gifName & Location.

(4) Checkboxes

Checkboxes are generally used for on/off settings. A checkmark means the setting is on; an empty box means it's off. Click on the box to turn the labeled setting on or off.

(5) Grayed-out (inactive) controls

Any control like this one that is grayed out is disabled because the underlying operation is not currently available. In the dialog box shown in Figure 2-7, you need to click the 'Password protected' checkbox before you can use the Change button.

(6) OK, Cancel, Apply

Most dialogs will have at least an OK and a Cancel button. Some also have Apply. The difference is that OK accepts the settings and quits the dialog andApply accepts the changes, but doesn't quit. (This is useful in a dialog with multiple tabs, so that you can apply changes before moving to the next tab.) Cancel quits without making any changes. If you click Cancel after clicking Apply, your changes will probably already have been applied and will not revert to their original settings. But don't be surprised if some applications respond differently. Microsoft has never been clear with application developers about the expected behavior of these buttons.

(7) Counters

You can either select the number and type in a new value or click on the up or down arrow to increase or decrease the value.

(8) The default button

When a set of buttons is displayed, the default button (the one that will be activated by pressing the Enter key) has a bold border around it. The button or other area in the dialog box that has the additional dashed outline has the focus. You can move the focus by clicking with the mouse, typing the underlined accelerator character in a button or field label, or pressing the Tab or arrow keys.

In some dialog boxes, the default button (the button the Enter key presses) is hardcoded — it will always be the same (see Figure 2-6).

Figure 2-6. A tab containing a hardcoded default button


In others, the default button follows the focus from button to button, as in Figure 2-7. For example, right-click on the Taskbar and select Properties. The Taskbar Options tab has the OK button hardcoded as the default. Note that the bold border will stay on this button even when you move the focus among the checkboxes. The Start Menu Programs tab does not have a hardcoded default button. As you move the focus between buttons, the default button highlight moves with it. Regardless of which button is the default, pressing Esc always has the same effect as clicking the Cancel button: it cancels the dialog box.

Figure 2-7. A tab without a hardcoded default button


For more information on these various UI features, see Chapter 3.

8 Files, Folders, and Disks

Files are the basic unit of long-term storage on a computer. Files are organized into folders, which are stored on disks. (In DOS, Unix, and earlier versions of Windows, folders were more often referred to as directories, but both terms are still used.) This section reviews fundamental filesystem concepts, including file- and disk-naming conventions and file types.

8.1 Disk Names

Like every version of Windows that preceded it, Windows XP retains the basic DOSdisk-naming conventions. Drives are differentiated by a single letter of the alphabet followed by a colon:


Represents the first 'floppy' (usually 3.5-inch) disk drive on the system


Represents the second floppy disk drive, if present


Represents the first hard disk drive or the first partition of the first hard disk drive


Often represents a CD-ROM drive, but can represent an additional hard disk drive or other removable drive

E: - Z:

Represent additional hard disk drives, removable cartridges such as Zip or Jaz drives, or mapped network drives

By default, driver letters are assigned consecutively, but it's possible to change the drive letters for most drives so that you can have a drive N: without having a drive M:.

8.2 Pathnames

Folders, which contain files, are stored hierarchically on a disk and can be nested to any arbitrary level.

The filesystem on any disk begins with the root (top-level) directory, represented as a backslash. Thus C: represents the root directory on the C: drive. Each additional nested directory is simply listed after its 'parent,' with backslashes used to separate each one. c:WindowsSystemColor means that the Color folder is in the System folder in the Windows folder on the C: drive. Thus a path to any given folder can be expressed as a single string of folder names.

A path can be absolute (always starting with a drive letter) or relative (referenced with respect to the current directory). The concept of a current directory is somewhat obsolete in Windows XP, with the exception of commands issued from the command prompt. Each command prompt window has an active folder associated with it, to which each command is directed. For example, if the current directory is c:windows, and you were to type DIR (the directory listing command), you would get a listing of the files in that folder. If you were to then type CD cursors, the current directory would then become c:windowscursors.

The fact that the entire, absolute path was not needed after the CD command is an example of the use of a relative path.

A special type of relative path is made up of one or more dots. The names and refer to the current directory and the parent of that directory, respectively (c:windows is the parent folder of c:windowscursors, for example). Type CD .. while in c:windows, and the current directory becomes simply C:. Additional dots ( , and so on) move up more levels at a time (to the grandparent and great-grandparent, so to speak). The graphical equivalent of is the yellow folder icon with the curved arrow, found in common file dialogs.

The left pane in Windows Explorer (by default) contains a hierarchical tree-structured view of the filesystem. The tree structure makes it easier to navigate through all the folders on your system, since it provides a graphical overview of the structure. See Chapter 3 for more information on the tree and Chapter 4 for more information on the Explorer application.

8.3 Paths to Network Resources

Files on any shared network can be referred to via a Universal Naming Convention (UNC) pathname, which is very similar to a path (described in the previous section). The first element of a UNC pathname is the name of the computer or device that contains the file, prefixed by a double backslash. The second element is the device's share name. What follows is the string of folders leading to the target folder or file.

For example, the UNC path shoeboxohempadriana.txt refers to a file named adrianna.txt, located in the hemp folder, located on drive O:, located on a computer named shoebox. For more information on UNC pathnames and sharing resources on a network, see Chapter 7.

8.4 Short Names and Long Names

DOS and Windows 3.1, the Microsoft operating systems that preceeded Windows 95 and Windows NT, only supported filenames with a maximum of eight characters, plus a three-character file type extension (e.g., myfile.txt). The maximum length of any path was 80 characters (see Section 8.2, earlier in this chapter, for more information on paths.) Legal characters included any combination of letters and numbers, extended ASCII characters with values greater than 127, and the following punctuation characters:

$ % ^ ' ` - _ @ ~ ! ( ) # &

Spaces were not allowed.

Windows XP supports long filenames (up to 260 characters), which can include spaces as well as the additional punctuation characters:

$ % ^ ' ` - _ @ ~ ! ( ) # & + , ; = [ ] .

For example, a file could be named Picture of my Niece.jpg, and could be located in a folder named Family Photos. Furthermore, extensions are no longer limited to 3 characters; for example, .html is perfectly valid (and distinctly different from .htm). For more information on file extensions, see the discussion of file types in Chapter 7.

The maximum length of any path in Windows XP depends on the filesystem you're using (NTFS, FAT32, etc.). For more information on filesystems, see Appendix A.

Windows XP's filesystem is case preserving, but also case insensitive. For example, the case of a file named FooBar.txt will be preserved with the capital F and B, but if you were to type FOObar in a file open dialog box, Windows would recognize it as the same file.

Long filenames are compatible with all modern versions of Windows, but to maintain compatibilty with DOS programs and applications written for Windows 3.x, Windows XP maintains a short counterpart to every long filename. The short name consists of the first six letters of the long name, a tilde, a number from 1 to 9 (the number is incremented to prevent two long filenames being linked to the same short filename; after ~9, those six characters are reduced to five), and the file type extension, if any. (If an extension is longer than three characters, only the first three characters appear.) Any spaces in the first six characters are removed.

The easiest way to investigate short filenames is to use the command prompt (see Chapter 6 for details). If, for example, you had a file named Adrianna.html and you typed DIR adrian~1.htm, you'd have a match. The same rules apply to folder names: Program Files becomes PROGRA~1. For the most part, these short filenames are of little importance if you only use applications that are long filename-aware, but they may come up, for instance, if you share files with a user of an older computer.

8.5 File Types and Extensions

Most files have a filename extension, the (usually three) letters that appear after the last dot in any file's name. Here are some common file extensions:


An Excel spreadsheet


A text file ( to be opened with Notepad)


A hypertext markup language file, commonly known as a web page


A JPEG image file, used to store photos

Although each of these files hold very different types of data, the only way Windows differentiates them is by their filename extension. How Windows is able to determine a given file's type is important for several reasons, especially because it is the basis for the associations that link documents with the applications that created them. For example, when you double-click on a file named donkey.html, Windows looks up the extension in the Registry (see Chapter 7), and then, by default, opens the file in your web browser. Rename the file to donkey.jpg, and the association changes as well. (The exception to this is a special, invisible link shared only by Microsoft Office documents. If you rename an Office 2000 document (say, donkey.doc to donkey.stubborn) and double-click it, Windows will still open it in Word. Unfortunately, this mechanism is not available for any non-Office file types.)

The lesson here is that filename extensions are not a reliable guide to a file's type, despite how heavily Windows XP relies on them. What can make it even more frustrating is that known filename extensions are hidden by Windows XP by default, but unfamiliar extensions are shown. Rename (a unassociated extension) to donkey.txt, and the extension simply disappears in Explorer. Or, try to differentiate donkey.txt from donkey.doc when the extensions are hidden. To instruct Windows to show all extensions, go to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifFolder Options figs/U2192.gifView, and turn off the 'Hide file extensions for known file types' option.

To see all the configured file extensions on your system, go to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifFolder Options figs/U2192.gifFile Types. More information on File Types can be found in Chapter 4. Appendix F contains a list of common filename extensions and their descriptions.

8.6 Views Through Folder Windows

Double-click on a folder icon, and you'll see the contents of the folder. Look at the status bar (turn it on with the View menu if it's absent) for summary information, such as the number of items in the folder, the total size of the contents, and the amount of free disk space.

Depending on your settings, theicons may be shown in any of five different formats:Thumbnails,Tiles, Icons, List, orDetails. If you're looking at a folder full of images, the Thumbnails settings (in the View menu) might be useful. The Icons setting resembles the way files and folders are shown on the Desktop, but the Details view shows the most information. To customize the columns in the Details view, use View figs/U2192.gifChoose Details. Figure 2-8 shows the Details view of a folder.

Figure 2-8. Sort folder listings by clicking on column headers or change column widths by dragging boundaries between the headers


Windows XP will remember the view setting for each folder by default and will display it the same way the next time the folder is opened. (If a long time passes before you open a folder again, Windows will forget its settings.) You can turn this setting off by going to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifFolder Options figs/U2192.gifView figs/U2192.gifRemember each folder's view settings.

In addition to the icon styles, three other elements are of interest in Folder Windows: the Explorer Bar, the Web View, and the Explorer toolbar.

The first is the Explorer Bar, which usually contains the folder tree (called simply Folders). If you press Ctrl-F or F3, the folder tree disappears and a search box is put in its place. Use View figs/U2192.gifExplorer Bar to access the other things that can appear in that pane, or to hide it entirely. Note that the window icon changes to reflect the Explorer Bar setting, implying that the primary function of the window has changed. If you don't want the current state of the window to change, say, when you want to search for a file, you'll have to open a new folder window and search from there.

The second element is what is commonly known as the Web View, and in Windows XP, is more specifically known as Web Content in Folders. The Web View, first introduced in Windows 98, is intended to provide more information than is normally available in a bare folder window. Microsoft has changed the appearance and contents of the Web View in each successive release of Windows, although it has never proven to be especially useful. (For example, it provides little information that isn't already available in the Details view.) Unfortunately, the Web View in Windows XP is no different.

The 'Common Tasks' feature replaces the Web View pane found in earlier versions of Windows, and can be turned on or off by going to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifFolder Options and selecting the 'Show common tasks in folders' or 'Use Windows classic folders' options, respectively. If the Common Tasks pane is visible, you can collapse and expand the boxes by clicking on the little arrows. Unlike the earlier Web View pane, however, the Common Tasks pane is not customizable. Although there is a Customize this Folder option in the Explorer View menu, it's only used for changing the icon of the currently selected folder.

The third element is the Toolbar. The Explorer Toolbar, like toolbars in most applications, provides quick access to some of the more frequently used features, all of which are otherwise accessible through the menus and with keyboard accelerators. Enable, disable, and customize the toolbar View figs/U2192.gifToolbar. One of the components in the Toolbar, the Address Bar, is most useful with Internet Explorer, but can be of some use in ordinary folder windows. For example, you can type the path to a folder, press Enter, and the folder's contents will be shown in the current window. This can often be faster than navigating with the folder tree or using several consecutive folder windows. See Chapter 6 for details on using the Address Bar. Figure 2-9 shows the buttons on the Toolbar for a folder.

Figure 2-9. The Toolbar provides quick access to frequently used functions; the Status Bar shows additional information about selected icons


Although each new folder window you open will appear with Microsoft's default settings, it's possible to modify those defaults. Start by configuring a folder according to your preferences: choose the icon size, the sort order, etc. Then, go to Tools figs/U2192.gifFolder Options figs/U2192.gifView, and click Like Current Folder. The setting will then be used for each new single folder window that is opened.

If you click Windows Explorer in the Start menu, you'll get a folder window with the folder tree shown in the left pane (as opposed to a folder window opened by double-clicking on a folder icon). This window is commonly referred to simply as Explorer, and although the right pane looks just like a single folder window without the tree pane, Windows XP treats them slightly differently. For example, if you use the Like Current Folder button in a single folder window, as described above, Windows will use your preferences for all single folder windows, but not for Explorer. Likewise, saved settings in Explorer aren't reflected in single folder windows. Because of this, you may feel like you have to jump through several hoops in order to set your preferences in all the windows you use; unfortunately, there's no easier way.

8.7 Keyboard Accelerators in Folder Windows

Some keyboard accelerators are especially useful in Explorer and folder windows. These are used in addition to the various keys described in Section 2, earlier in this chapter.

Hold the Alt key while double-clicking on a file or folder to view the Properties window for that object.

Hold the Shift key while double-clicking on a folder to open an Explorer window (with the tree view) at that location. (Be careful when using this because Shift is also used to select multiple files. The best way is to select the file first.)

Press Backspace in an open folder to go to the parent (containing) folder.

Hold Alt while pressing the left cursor key to navigate to the previously viewed folder. Note that this is not necessarily the parent folder, but rather the last folder opened in Explorer. You can also hold Alt while pressing the right cursor key to move in the opposite direction (i.e., forward); this is similar to the Back and Next buttons in Internet Explorer, respectively. The Windows Explorer toolbar also has Back and Next buttons.

Hold the Shift key while clicking on the close button (the x in the upper right corner of the window on the menu bar) to close all open folders that were used to get to that folder. (This, of course, makes sense only in the single-folder view and with the 'Open each folder in its own window' option turned on.)

Press Ctrl-A to quickly select all contents of a folder: both files and folders.

In Explorer or any single-folder window, press a letter key to quickly jump to the first file or folder starting with that letter. Continue typing to jump further. For example, pressing the N key in your Windows folder will jump to NetHood. Press N again to jump to the next object that starts with N. Or, press N and then quickly press O to skip all the Ns and jump to notepad.exe. If there's enough of a delay between the N and the O keys, Explorer will forget about the N, and you'll jump to the first entry that starts withO.

8.8 Advanced Drag-Drop Techniques

Some of the basics of drag-drop are discussed in Section 2, earlier in this chapter, but you can use some advanced techniques to have more control when you're dragging and dropping items. Naturally, it's important to be able to anticipate what will happen when you drag-drop an item before you actually do the dropping. The problem is that drag-drop is handled differently in various situations, so sometimes you'll need to modify your behavior to achieve the desired result. Here are the rules that Windows follows when determining how dropped files are handled:

If you drag an object from one place to another on the same physical drive (c:docs to c: files), the object is moved.

If you drag an object from one physical drive to another physical drive (c:docs to d: files), the object is copied, resulting in two identical files on your system.

If you drag an object from one physical drive to another physical drive and then back to the first physical drive, but in a different folder (c:docs to d: files to c:stuff ), you'll end up with three copies of the object.

If you drag an application executable (an EXE file), the same rules apply to it that apply to other objects, with the following exceptions:

The behavior in Windows XP is the same as in Windows Me and Windows 2000, but a little different from Windows 95, 98, and NT 4: in these releases, dragging an EXE file anywhere created a shortcut.

o        If you drag any file named setup.exe or install.exe from one place to another, Windows will create a shortcut to the file, regardless of the source or destination folder.

o        If you drag any file with the .exe filename extension into any portion of your Start menu or into any subfolder of your Start Menu folder, Windows will create a shortcut to the file. Dragging other file types (documents, script files, or other shortcuts) to the Start menu will simply move or copy them there, according to the previous rules.

If you drag a system object (such as an item in the My Computer window or Control Panel) anywhere, a warning is displayed and a shortcut to the item is created. This, of course, is a consequence of the fact that these objects aren't actually files and can't be duplicated or removed from their original locations.

If you drag system icons or items that appear within system folders, such as My Documents, Internet Explorer, or the Recycle Bin, any number of different things can happen, each depending on the specific capabilities of the object. For example, if you drag a recently deleted file from the Recycle Bin, it will always be moved, since making a copy of, or a shortcut to, a deleted file makes no sense.

If you have trouble remembering these rules, or if you run into a confusing situation, you can always fall back on the information Windows provides you while you're dragging, in the form of the mouse cursor. A small plus sign (+) appears next to the pointer when copying, and a curved arrow appears when creating ashortcut. If you see no symbol, the object will be moved. This visual feedback is very important; it can eliminate a lot of stupid mistakes if you pay attention to it.

Here's how to control what happens when you drag-drop an item:

To copy an object under any situation, hold the Ctrl key while dragging. If you press Ctrl before you click, Windows assumes you're still selecting files, so make sure to press it only after you've started dragging but before you let go of that mouse button. Of course, this won't work for system objects like Control Panel items — a shortcut will be created regardless. Using the Ctrl key in this way will also work when dragging a file from one part of a folder to another part of the same folder, which is an easy way to duplicate a file or folder.

To move an object under any situation, hold the Shift key while dragging. Likewise, if you press Shift before you click, Windows assumes you're still selecting files, so make sure to press it only after you've started dragging but before you let go of that mouse button. This also won't work for system objects like Control Panel items — a shortcut will be created regardless.

To create ashortcut to an object under any situation, hold the Ctrl and Shift keys simultaneously while dragging. If you try to make a shortcut that points to another shortcut, the shortcut will simply be copied (duplicated).

To choose what happens to dragged files each time without having to press any keys, drag your files with the right mouse button and a special menu will appear when the files are dropped. This context menu is especially helpful because it will display only options appropriate to the type of object you're dragging and the place where you've dropped it.

9 The Command Line

Many of those who are new to computers will never have heard of thecommand line, also known as the command prompt or the Disk Operating System (DOS) prompt. (DOS was the operating system used by most PCs before Windows became ubiquitous. The command line in DOS was the only way to start programs and manage files.) Those who might have used older PCs may remember the command line, but may be under the impression that it's purely a thing of the past. Advanced users, on the other hand, whether they remember the old days of the DOS command line or not, have probably learned the advantages of the command-line interface, even when using Windows XP on a day-to-day basis.

Many tasks can be performed more quickly by typing one or more commands into the command prompt window. In addition, many of the programs listed in Chapter 4 are command-line based tools, and some familiarity with the command prompt is necessary if you plan to use them.

For full documentation on the command line and the Command Prompt application, see Chapter 6. Also see Chapter 3 for information on the Address Bar and Start figs/U2192.gifRun, two alternatives to the Command Prompt window.

Here are a few examples that show how the command line can be used as an alternative to the GUI:

To create afolder called sample in the root directory of your hard disk, and then copy all the files from another folder into the new folder, for example, it can be quicker and easier to type:

C:>mkdir sample
C:>copy d:stuff*.* sample

than it would to open Windows Explorer, navigate to your d:stuff folder, select all the files, click File figs/U2192.gifCopy (or Ctrl-C), navigate to the new location, click New figs/U2192.gifFolder, type the folder name, open the new folder; and then click Edit figs/U2192.gifPaste (or Ctrl-V) to copy in the files. That's a heck of a sentence, and a heck of a lot of steps for what can be accomplished with the two simple commands shown above.

Once you learn the actual filename of a program rather than its Start menu shortcut name (as described in Chapter 4), it's almost always quicker to start it from the Run prompt or the Address Bar (see below) than it is to navigate the Start menu hierarchy. Which is really easier? Clicking your way through four menus:

Start figs/U2192.gifPrograms figs/U2192.gifAccessories figs/U2192.gifSystem Tools figs/U2192.gifCharacter Map

or typing:


into the Run prompt or Address Bar and pressing the Enter key? Typing a command is much faster than carefully dragging the mouse through cascading menus, where an unintentional slip of the mouse can get you somewhere entirely different than you planned.

Finally, many useful programs don't appear on any menu in the Start menu. Once you know what you're doing, you can put shortcuts to such programs in the Start menu or on the Desktop — but once you know what you're doing, you might just find it easier to type the program name.

10 Online Help

Most windows have some degree of online documentation, in the form of a Help menu that you can pull down with the mouse or by typing Alt-H. In addition, you can pressF1 at almost any time to display help. In some situations, pressing F1 will only display a tiny yellow message (known as a tooltip) with a brief description of the item with the focus; at other times, F1 will launch an online index to help topics. Sometimes, F1 will have no effect whatsoever.

Furthermore, if you hold the pointer over many screen objects (such as items on the Taskbar or a window's toolbar), a tooltip may appear. A tooltip may display nothing more than the name of the object to which you're pointing, but in other cases, it may provide additional information. For example, placing the pointer on the system clock pops up the date. You can turn tooltips off in the Windows interface by going to Control Panel figs/U2192.gifFolder Options figs/U2192.gifView and turning off the option 'Show pop-up description for folder and Desktop items.' Note that this won't necessarily turn off tooltips in other applications — only Explorer.

At the command prompt, you can get help on the available command-line options by typing:


Finally, Windows XP includes a number of readme files, which typically contain release notes — information about special handling required for specific applications or hardware devices. The file c:Windowsreadme.txt contains a list of all the other readme files on the system. Or, you can just look in the Windows directory for any file with the .txt extension. Use Notepad or any other ASCII text editor or word processor to read them.

11 Shutting Down

You shouldn't just turn off the power to a Windows XP machine, since it caches a lot of data in memory and needs to write it out before shutting down. See Shut Down in Chapter 3 for additional details.

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