Friday, April 15, 2011

Computer Tips and Tricks: The Basics

Being the administer of several popular fan pages and the writer of a couple of blogs, I get a lot of technical questions, which I am happy to answer. So I want to start writing posts that discuss computer tips and tricks that I find myself explaining to people often. I'm going to assume that the majority of people reading this have Windows 7 for an operating system and Internet Explorer 8 or 9 for a web browser, but most of the things I discuss work with similar systems and other browsers like Firefox and Chrome. In my first post I want to discuss the basics of file and internet operations.

Note: I'm going to highlight important terms in bold initially, however after a while, I'll leave them alone as they should by then have found their place in your vocabulary.

File Operations

Computers are like virtual "file cabinets". Inside the cabinets are different "drawers" called drives. Usually there is only one main drive built into the computer called the hard drive, but drives can be anything you plug into the computer like cameras, USB (also called flash or thumb) drives, CDs, DVDs, and external hard drives. Inside these "drawers" can be an infinite amount of folders. Folders can exist side by side and also can be inside each other. Folders are used to contain and organize files. These files can be documents, presentations, spreadsheets, images, videos, songs, and programs.

Files are created and edited with various programs (which can be called applications). Files can be easily moved from folder to folder, but it usually takes a bit longer to move a file to a different drive. The main operations that pertain to files are new, save, save as, close, open, delete, cut, copy, and paste.

When you run a file editing program like Microsoft Office, Notepad, or MS Paint, the important operations are newsavesave asclose, and open. New creates a new fileSave places that file in a folder and/or updates it with any changes made with the programSave as can be used to save changes to a new file without overwriting the original. Close shuts down the program used to view and/or edit the file; any changes made since the last save or save as will be lost, however some programs have an optional auto save feature that automatically saves changes as soon as they are made. This prevents the loss of changes if the program crashes or is accidentally closed. Finally, open is used to view/edit a previously created file with a program.

When navigating through folders with a folder viewing program like Windows Explorer, the main operations are opendeletecutcopy, and paste. You will see these and other options when you click a file or folder icon with the right mouse/touchpad button. Open brings the file up in a viewing/editing program, if you want to specify which program to open the file with, click the open with option. Delete removes the file from its folder and places it in a virtual "trash bin" that can be emptied to permanently remove the file from the computer. When files that aren't on the main drive are deleted they usually don't go into the "trash bin" and are permanently removed. Cut moves the file to the clipboard, a virtual temporary holding place that usually can only contain one file or inseparable group of files at a time. From there the file can be placed into another folder with the paste operation. Copy places a replica of the file on the clipboard without removing it from its original folder. This is the easiest way to duplicate a file. Two other options in the "right click" menu are rename and properties. These can be used to change the name of a file and view information about it, like its size or when it was created.

There are three main ways to manipulate files on a screen. They are using the touchpad/mouse, the touchpad/mouse buttons, and the keys. Here I'll go over what can be done with these controls.

Move pointer: The simplest control operation is to move the pointer around the screen with the touchpad/mouse. When the pointer "hovers" over an object on screen it can change form. Generally it looks like an arrow. When it hovers over the edge of something that it can change the size of it looks like a 2-way or 4-way arrow. If the pointer looks like a hand, it means that you can click the object and something will happen, and when it looks like a thin capitol "I" it indicates that you can type into that area.

Left click: The most important button on the computer is the left large button on the mouse or right under the touchpad. Sometimes tapping the touchpad achieves the same effect. The button is the one used to "click", "left click", and "select" objects on screen. This is how you navigate menus and other on screen controls. Sometimes objects require a "double click" of the left mouse/touchpad button.

Right click: Another important button is the left mouse/touchpad button. This is used to bring up an options menu for objects. For instance, when you "right click" a file, a little menu pops up where you can use the "left click" to copy, delete, or rename it. Usually you can paste an object into a folder or document by "left clicking" an empty area where you want to put it and selecting the paste option.

Dragging: You can "drag" over a group of files or text by "left clicking" the beginning of the section you want to highlight and holding the left touchpad/mouse button down while you move the pointer to the end of the section. After you release the button, something will indicate that the area has been selected. Then you can "right click" the selected area to bring up an options menu. Another from of "dragging" is "drag and drop". Here you "drag" over an area and then "pick it up" by "left clicking" the selected area and moving the pointer while holding the left touchpad/mouse button down. This way you can move the selected objects or text to another part of the screen. When you drag and drop files from one folder to another, it usually copies the file.

Keys: There are various operations that can be performed by pushing one or a combination of keys on the keyboard. Here are some examples:

F5 - View a presentation in full screen
F11 - View a website page in full screen
PRTSC - Copy an image of the screen to the clipboard
DEL - Delete the selected object(s)
HOME - Go to the top of a page
END - Go to the bottom of a page

ALT + F4 - Close program / Turns off computer if no program is open
CTRL + ALT + DEL - Opens a task manager where you can view all programs running
CTRL + S - Save changes in editing program
CTRL + Z - Undo change in editing program
CTRL + X - Cut selected object(s)
CTRL + C - Copy selected object(s)
CTRL + V - Paste object(s) in clipboard

Internet Operations

The internet is a web of cable, satellite, and wireless connections between computers. Through it all the "file cabinets" in the world can share files and information. Here are some basic internet terms:

Client: That's you! A client is an individual computer or device that accesses the internet.

Server: That's them. Servers are computers that are connected to the internet 24/7 and hold files that are accessible by clients. Servers can also facilitate communication between clients.

ISP (Internet Service Provider): Your ISP is the company that you pay to access the internet.

IP (Internet Protocol) address:  This is like your computer's phone number. Every device that accesses the internet has its own unique IP address.

Web Browser: This is the program that you use to view and interact with the internet. Examples are Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome.

Webpage: A webpage is what you see on screen when your go on the internet. They are stored on servers.

Website (often abbreviated "site"): A website is a group of connected webpages. A website is like a book, and a webpage is like a book page.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator): The URL is the address of a webpage. Each webpage has its own unique URL. For example this page's URL is "".

Address Bar: This is the section of the web browser that contains the URL of the webpage you are viewing.

Domain: The domain is the section of the URL that comes between the "www" and the next slash. "" is a domain. Usually all the webpages in a website have the same domain.

Hyperlink: This is a segment of text or an image that "links" to another webpage. When you hover over a hyperlink, usually the pointer turns into a hand. Then you can "left click" the link to view the webpage it links to. Most sites will let you create your own hyperlink by pasting the URL of a webpage into a text box.

Text Box: This is an area that you can type text into.

Window: A window is a separately running program. You can view multiple webpages at once by opening multiple windows. Sometimes you can open up a new window by pressing "CTRL + N" on the keyboard.

Tab: You can toggle back and forth between different webpages in a single browser window by having multiple tabs. An easy way to make a new tab is to press "CTRL + T" on the keyboard. You can also close a tab by pressing "CTRL + W".

Bookmarks: Web browsers contain easily accessible lists of your favorite webpages called bookmarks or favorites.

History: This is a list of all the webpages you have visited.

Cookies: These are small text files that your web browser saves on your computer. They remember settings you have on various sites.

Upload: The term for transferring a file from your computer to a server.

Download: The term for transferring a file from a server to your computer.

Stream: The term for watching and downloading a video at the same time.

Hopefully you have understood everything I've said and have learned at least a few things. If you knew all these things already, than you can consider yourself a computer wiz ;-) But don't worry, this is just my first post on the subject, and I wanted to cover all the terminology that I will use in further computer tips posts. If you have any questions about this post, or want to suggest that I discuss something in a future post, please leave a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Cool Chris, i just brushed through it, as most of this stuff is already famialr to me.

    I'd suggest you put a smilie guide in your next post.

    This is geat, i love it!!