Windows XP Tutorial - The Windows XP desktop & icons.

Welcome to our Windows XP® tutorial, this tutorial is aimed at new Windows XP users that are unfamiliar with the operating system.

In this first part of the tutorial we will have a look at the Windows desktop and introduce you to icons and the taskbar.

The Windows XP desktop

Above in fig 1.1 you can see an example of the Windows XP desktop. When you first switch on your machine and Windows XP loads, it will look similar to that shown in our example (although Windows XP by default has a picture for the desktop background).

Desktop refers to the main background area (in our example the white area). You can customise your desktop in various ways, including adding a background picture, changing the background colour, and changing the size of the icons on the desktop.

In fig 1.1 we have pointed out some areas of interest, we will look at these below.

Introduction to the Windows desktop icons

Icons are small graphical images that can represent your computer's programs, files, folders and printers amongst other things (see fig 1.1).

To activate the program/file/folder that an icon represents you simply double click (two clicks in quick succession) on it with the left mouse button. This will activate the icon and either start a program or open a file/folder.

The icons on your desktop can be renamed by right clicking on them and selecting rename. They can be deleted by right clicking and selecting delete.

It's possible to create your own Windows desktop icons for programs, files, folders, etc. See our guide to creating desktop shortcuts in our tips and tricks section.

In our example we have two icons. The outlook icon is for example purposes only, you may have different icons including My Documents and the recycle bin icon.

Recycle Bin
When you delete a file, Windows XP will place the file into the recycle bin (instead of deleting it altogether), this allows you to restore the file in case you deleted it by mistake.

For example, if you deleted a file by accident you could double click on the recycle bin icon to see its contents. Inside you will see the file/folder that you deleted, to restore the file back to where you deleted it from, right click on it and then select restore from the menu that appears.

Note: some files may be too big to be stored in the recycle bin. Windows XP should warn you if you delete a file that cannot be restored.

Keeping the Windows desktop tidy

The more you use Windows XP the more your desktop may start to fill up with icons, either because you install more software or you create your own icons.

Windows XP can automatically align and sort your desktop icons to keep the desktop tidy.

To achieve this, click the right mouse button anywhere on the desktop and a menu will appear (similar to that shown in fig 1.2). Hover the mouse pointer over Arrange Icons By and a submenu will appear, from here you can sort your desktop icons by name, size, type and last modified date.

Selecting the Auto Arrange option will automatically align your desktop icons every time one is added to the desktop.

The Desktop Cleanup Wizard will remove any desktop shortcuts that have never been used. They get stored in a new folder on your desktop called Unused Desktop Shortcuts.

The Win XP start button

The start button (see fig 1.1) is a very important part of Windows XP. Clicking on the start button opens up what is called the start menu, the start menu is used to access your programs, settings, printers and more. We will take an indepth look at the start menu and its functions in part 2.

The Win XP taskbar

The taskbar (see fig 1.1) is another important part of the Windows XP operating system. One of its main uses is to switch between any open programs or documents, we will look more closely at the Windows XP Taskbar and its features in part 3.

The Win XP clock

The clock sits on the taskbar (see fig 1.1) and displays the system time. Hovering the mouse pointer over the clock will reveal the date, to learn how to change the time and date see our guide to changing the date/time in Win XP.

The start menu overview


In fig 1.1 above is an example of a typical start menu.

Here is an overview of the different options:

Log off - Log off the current user.

Turn Off Computer - shutdown, restart and standby.

All Programs - Access to installed programs.

Run - Used to manually start executable files (programs).

Search - Search your PC for pictures, music, documents, files and folders.

Help and Support - Opens the built-in Windows help system, including various help and support topics. You can control windows updates and also request remote assistance from a friend/colleague via the Internet or network.

Printers and Faxes - Access to your printers and faxes folder, allows you to add and configure printers/faxes.

Control Panel - The control panel is used to configure various Windows XP settings. We will be looking at the Win XP control panel in detail later in the tutorial.

My Computer - Gives you access to your computer's disk drives and files. We will be looking more closely at the My Computer function later in the tutorial.

My Music - Links to a folder created by Windows XP which is used (by default) to store any music files on your hard drive.

My Pictures - Links to a folder (again created by Windows XP) used (by default) to store any pictures/images on your hard drive.

My Recent Documents - This folder contains any recently viewed documents.

My Documents - Gives access to a folder created by Windows XP which is used (by default) to store any documents on your hard drive.

Tour Windows XP - Starts the built-in tour of Windows XP's features.

Windows Movie Maker - Opens Windows XP's movie editing software.

Outlook Express - Opens the Outlook Express mail program.

Files and Settings Transfer Wizard - Allows you to import or export your files and settings from or to a different installation of Windows XP.

note: some of the options have a small black arrow to their right, this means that another submenu will appear when you hover your mouse pointer over it.

Turn off computer options box

If you click on the Turn Off Computer option on the start menu you will see a dialogue box like that shown in fig 1.2, below is a summary of the options available:

Standby - This will put your computer into standby mode. Windows XP will power down components like the monitor and hard drive to preserve energy.
Turn Off - Shuts down the PC, always use this option to turn off your PC.
Restart - This will restart the computer.

The all programs menu

all programs menu
When you hover the mouse over All Programs on the start menu, you will see a menu appear similar to that shown in fig 1.3. The menu gives you to access the programs currently installed on your PC.

Your menu will be different from our example, as you will have different programs installed on your PC.

To open a program simply left click on it with the left mouse button. Notice some options have a small black arrow to the right hand side, this indicates that it contains another sub-menu.

For example, the accessories folder in our example has a sub-menu, if you wanted to open a program from within the sub-menu, you would hover the mouse pointer over accessories and click on the program you want from the list that appears.
You can rename any program on the menu by right clicking on it and selecting rename from the menu that appears.

After installing new software it will (usually) appear on the programs menu.

To remove a program from the All Programs menu simply right click on it and select delete.

NOTE: if you want to uninstall a program then use the control panel (covered later in the Win XP tutorial) to uninstall it. Simply deleting it from the programs menu will not uninstall the software.

It's possible to create a desktop shortcut for any of the programs, see related pages at the top of this page.

The Windows XP taskbar overview

windows taskbar
In fig 1.1 shows a typical Windows XP Taskbar.

We have pointed out the areas of interest, these are explained below:

Start Button - The Start Button is used to access the Windows XP start menu (covered in part 2).

Window Tabs - The Windows tabs are used to switch between any open windows (programs, folders, documents, etc).

In our example we have 2 windows open (word and excel). You can switch between the windows by simpy clicking on the corresponding window tab, clicking a second time on the same tab will minimise the window.

Grouping Window Tabs - A nice feature of Windows XP is that, unlike previous versions of windows, when the taskbar fills up with window tabs it can group all files/windows within a single program into just one window tab. In other words, if you have 2 documents open in Word, you will only have one tab on the taskbar (instead of 2). You can then access each document by left clicking on the tab and selecting the file/window you want from the menu that appears. This feature can be switched off by right clicking on the taskbar, clicking on properties and then unchecking the box next to Group similar taskbar buttons.

System Tray - The system tray displays icons for programs that are loaded into memory, although not all programs place an icon in this tray. We will cover the system tray in detail later in this section.

The quick launch bar

By default, Windows XP has the quick launch bar hidden, if you want to use the quick launch bar you need to activate it. To do this simply right click on the taskbar, hover the mouse pointer over toolbars and then put a tick in the box next to Quick Launch.

The Windows XP quick launch bar (see fig 1.2) provides direct access to your programs, files or folders with just one click. The quick launch bar is visible (by default) even when you have a window open.


When you first enable the quick launch bar there are normally a couple of icons visible:

show-desktop - Show Desktop Icon - This icon is used to minimise all open windows to show the windows xp desktop, clicking again will restore the windows to their previous state.

explorer-icon - Internet Explorer Icon -This icon will open Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser.

Adding icons
It is very straight forward to add icons to the quick launch bar. Simply drag the icon of the program/file/folder over the quick launch bar and drop it (release the mouse button).

If you add or delete icons you can increase or decrease the size of the quick launch bar by moving the divider (see fig 1.2) left or right.

Deleting icons
It is also very easy to delete icons from the quick launch bar. Right click (click with the right hand mouse button) on the icon you want to delete and then select delete from the menu that appears.

note: removing the icon will not uninstall the associated program/file/folder from your PC.

The system tray

In the system tray you will find icons belonging to some of the programs that are currently running, as well as the clock.


There are normally a couple of icons residing in the system tray. In our example (fig 1.3) we have 2 icons, your icons will depend on what programs you have running on your PC.

Some typical programs would be your firewall (if you have one), antivirus software, printer status monitors and some messenger programs.

When you install some software it will automatically set itself to load when you start your PC, when these programs are running they are using your computer's resources.

If there are any programs running that you don't need, for instance messenger programs, you can stop them running by right clicking and using their menu to close them.

If you want to stop a program loading when you first start your machine, either use the setting within the software itself or another option is to use the msconfig utility (we will cover msconfig in future sections).

note: - If you have a broadband or cable Internet connection, then any firewalls and/or antivirus software should be left running. If you have a standard dial up connection then ensure your firewall and antivirus are running before you connect to the Internet.

Opening Windows Explorer

An integral part of using your PC is file management, at some point you will want to make a new folder or delete a file.

Windows Explorer has been around since Windows 95 and is a very handy tool for managing your files and folders.

Windows Explorer is basically the same environment as My Computer, except it has a folders list shown by default (which can be turned on anyway in the My computer environment).

So all of the tasks in this section can be achieved using either Windows Explorer or the My Computer environment.

To Open Windows Explorer
There are a few ways to open Windows Explorer, here are 4 different methods:

Method 1
Click on the START button, hover your mouse over the All Programs (or programs in classic view) and then hover over Accessories, finally click on Windows Explorer.

Method 2
hold down the START button and press the E key.

Method 3
click the START button, click run, type explorer into the box and press enter.

Method 4
open My Computer and click on the Folders button at the top of the My Computer environment.

Whichever method you choose to use, it has the same results.

Navigating through your drives and folders

When you have opened Windows Explorer (or opened my computer and then clicked the folders button) you will see something similar to that shown in fig 1.1 below:
You can see Windows Explorer is split into two parts. The left hand side which is called the folders list (A in fig 1.1), and the right hand side (B in fig 1.1) which is where you will be managing your files and folders.

First let's concentrate on the folders list, you may have noticed the small plus sign (+) next to some of the icons, these indicate that the drive/folder has more folders inside it.

The file system of your PC is organised in a hierarchical way, below is an example:

The Disk or Device is the upper hierarchical level and is known as the root.

Notice how the folders are organised, this type of structure can facilitate a very organised PC!

In the following example, the disk or device is Local Disk (C:).
In fig 1.3 above we have navigated to the pc courses folder on Local Disk (C:).
  1. First we clicked on the small plus symbol next to the My Computer icon
  2. then clicking the plus symbol next to Local Disk (C:)
  3. and finally left clicking on the pc courses folder in the left pane.
Now that we have navigated to it, we could make some changes to our pc courses folder. Which is exactly what we are going to do in the next part of our tutorial.
note: you can also navigate through your folders by double clicking a folder in the right hand window

Creating a new folder or folders

As mentioned there are numerous ways to create a new folder in Win XP, we will look at only one method here.

Open Windows Explorer, navigate to the drive or folder in which you want to create your new folder. For our example we are going to create a new folder in our pc courses folder.

The steps are:
  1. right click anywhere in the white space (fig 1.1) and hover the mouse over new
  2. then click on folder from the sub-menu that appears as shown in fig 1.2 below.



You will then be prompted to name the folder (as shown in fig 1.3 on the left), simply type in the name and then press the enter (return) key. We are going to name our folder example C.

Try and be as descriptive as you can when naming folders, and avoid using any punctuation symbols in the names.

Copying, deleting, and renaming files and folders

All of these tasks are straight forward and can be achieved using the same method.

First, navigate to the folder where the file or folder is stored, then right click on the file/folder of interest. You will be presented with a menu similar to that shown in fig 1.4.

Your menu may vary, we have pointed out 3 options:
  1. copy - clicking on this option will copy the file or folder into (the clipboard) memory. You can then navigate to the folder where you want to copy the file to, right click (as if making a new folder) in the right hand pane and select paste from the menu that appears.
  2. delete - this option will delete the file or folder (send it to the recycle bin), Windows XP will prompt you for confirmation first.
  3. rename - this option allows you to rename the file or folder, simply type in the new name and press the enter (return) key.

 For quicker ways of achieving the above tasks, see our guide to keyboard shortcuts.

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