Some general tips

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Here are some random tips about computing:

Your best Windows help is Windows online help. It is right in your computer. Make it a habit to use it. The more you use it, the more you will learn about Windows, and you will need to use it less and less.

Anytime you are stuck, press the F1 key. That will open up the online help.

Learn to right click. It will often allow you to find a shortcut to a task. It might also help you to solve a mystery, or give you a way of doing a thing. Try it often. You will get a hang of things quickly.

Save, save, save. Save often. You never know when their will be a power outage or when you will have to restart your computer. All unsaved work will be lost under these unforeseen circumstances.

Press F5 key to refresh your Internet browser. Works for both Internet Explorer and Netscape.

If you are not sure when to single click and when to double-click, try single click first. If that does not work, try double-click.

If your double-clicks are not fast enough and the computer thinks those are two single clicks, then do this:
Open the Mouse Properties dialog box by clicking Start, pointing to Settings, clicking Control Panel, and then double-clicking Mouse. Under Double-click speed, drag the slider to the slower side. To test the speed, double-click the image in the test area.

If you are left-handed, and want to reverse your mouse buttons, then do this:
Open the Mouse Properties dialog box by clicking Start, pointing to Settings, clicking Control Panel, and then double-clicking Mouse. Click Left-handed.

To use larger or smaller display fonts, do this:
1. Open the Display Properties dialog box at the Settings tab by clicking Start, pointing to Settings, clicking Control Panel, double-clicking Display, and then clicking the Settings tab.
2. Click Advanced to open the properties page for your monitor.
3. On the General tab, in Font Size, click the size you want your displayed fonts to be. To customize the size of displayed fonts, click Other.
If Font Size is unavailable, make sure your setting in Screen area is higher than 640 by 480 pixels. If 640 by 480 pixels is the only setting available to you, you cannot change your display font.

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A little note about file names. Gone are the days when file names had to be eight characters long or less. These days Windows will let you make file names 255 characters long including spaces. (Who needs that many characters to name a file? I can write a few sentences within the limit of 255 characters!) But one thing has not changed. Windows still does not allow you to use the following characters in a file name:

\ / : * ? " < > |

If you, by mistake, use any of the above mentioned forbidden characters in a file name, the moment you try to save the file, Windows will throw a notice on your face saying, "The above file name is invalid." Has this ever happened to you, and you wondered why? Now you know!

A little more about file extensions. File extensions are generally three letters following the dot after the file name (Example: monthly_report.doc). But sometimes they could be two letters (such as .js) or four letters (such as .html) following the dot. To keep things simple (i.e., not looking cumbersome), Windows by default (i.e., automatically) hides the file extensions. To understand this, on your desktop double-click on My Computer, then double-click on your hard drive (usually C or D). Now double-click on any folder. The folder opens up. On the right hand side of the folder window, you will most probably see a number of files, arranged neatly, each represented by an icon (small picture) with the file names written on the bottom of each icon. Unless Windows default setting has been altered, you will observe none of the file names has an extension. Now single click on any file icon to highlight it. Notice that on the left side of the window, the full file name appears including the file extension. If the file you clicked on is a picture file, a miniature picture might also open up on the left side of the window under the full file name and its size.

Want to always see the file extension? Double-click on My Computer on the desk top. Click on View, then click on Folder Options. When the Folder Options window opens, click on the View tab. You will see a list of settings for Files and Folders. UNcheck the box (to uncheck click once on the box that already has a check mark on it) next to "Hide file extensions for known file types", then click on OK. That's it. If you open a folder now, you will see all file names are appearing along with their extensions. If you want to hide the extensions again, just follow the above procedure and put a checkmark in the box next to "Hide file extensions for known file types", then click on OK. The file extensions will disappear.

Many temporary computer malfunctions can be fixed simply by restarting the computer. Have you ever come across an error message that says, "This program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down"? This is caused by either General Protection Fault or Invalid Page Fault meaning the computer has, by mistake, written data on a memory location where it is not supposed to write (improper memory access). When you click on the "Close" button in the message box the program closes. If this happens only occasionally, this usually is not a major problem. Just restarting the computer before opening that program again generally fixes the problem. (You will lose all unsaved data when you restart the computer.) But if this happens frequently, this might signal a major problem. Before calling Tech Help for this particular problem ("illegal operation"), instead of hitting the "Close" button when you see the message, click on the button that says "Details". That will open up a new window giving a lot of technical details. Write down everything you see there, especially the name of the "module" where the irregularity has happened. That will help the Telephone Support person to determine the problem and to suggest remedies. But as I said, first try restarting the computer and see if the problem has gone away.

Illegal operation message.
Illegal operation message box.
Technical details are revealed when the "Details" button is clicked on.
In this example, a General Protection Fault has happened
in module MACXW4.DRV

Have you ever wondered how to jot down the long and complicated error messages the technical help people always want to know from you before they can suggest a remedy to your problem? In the preceding paragraph, I have recommended that you write down everything that appears in a new window after you click on the "Details" button. In reality, when that happened to me first, I found it very difficult to write down everything. That is when I started thinking that there must be an easier way of doing it. And guess what? That is when I discovered how to use the Print Screen button.

It is very simple. Anytime you want to capture everything that you are seeing on your monitor, just hit the Print Screen button once. No, it will NOT print out everything you see on your monitor on a piece of paper even though you have your printer turned on and the printer has paper in it. It will just make a copy of the screen and store the copy in your computer's clipboard. You can actually see the copy by going to Clipboard Viewer (Start-->Programs-->Accessories-->System Tools-->Clipboard Viewer). To get a actual printout of the screen, just open your fancy wordprocessor (like Microsoft Word) or Windows free wordprocessor, called WordPad (Start-->Programs-->Accessories-->Wordpad). Then in WordPad, click on File, then New, and then hit OK in the new window that appears. A blank page will open up, ready to type a new document. With that blank page open, press Ctrl+V (for paste) at the same time. Voila! An exact copy of your monitor's contents will appear on that blank page. NOW you can print it out by clicking on your wordprocessor's File, then Print, and then hitting OK in the new window that appears. So there is an easier way of writing down everything that you see on the screen! Note: Print Screen button makes a copy of the contents of the entire screen in the computer's clipboard. If you want to make a copy of the contents of the active window only, press Alt+Print Screen together. To make a copy of the above illegal operation message box, I had pressed Alt+Print Screen keys at the same time.

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Here is a real shortcut to opening your "Display Properties" dialog box from where you can apply, change, and remove your wallpaper or desktop background and screen saver, and do a whole lot of other things to change the way things look on your monitor. The usual way of opening this dialog box is to click on Start, then point to Settings, then click on Control Panel, and then double-click on Display. Here is a cool shortcut: Right-click on an empty space on your desktop. On the resulting menu, click (left-click) once on Properties. The same "Display Properties" dialog box will open up. Try both methods. You will see the latter method is way faster and cooler!

Want to go back to the window you last used (but not closed)? Press Alt+Tab. Or, if you have several windows open, and you are not finding the one you are looking for because some of the windows got covered by other windows, hold down the Alt key and keep tapping on the Tab key. This process will cycle through all the open windows. When you see the one you are looking for, release the Alt key. That window will become active and jump up to the top. Pretty cool. Try this process.

If you are using Windows98 or any later version, all open windows will be represented by a button on the taskbar. In a situation mentioned in the last paragraph, instead of holding down the Alt key and repeatedly pressing the Tab key to find a particular window, you can simply click on the desired window's button on the taskbar. It will immediately jump up to the top.

Ever wondered why some of the letters on a menu is underlined? That is for keyboard shortcuts. Some people prefer to use the keyboard rather than the mouse, whenever possible. Alt+underlined letter in the menu carries out the corresponding command on the menu. These letters are lower case letters (i.e., you don't have to press the shift key) even if they appear under a capitalized letter. For example, if you see File, just press the Alt+F key (without pressing the shift key to make f capital F). The File drop down menu will appear. (Same effect as clicking on File).

In many programs, you will see on a menu, next to the command name something like Ctrl+N is written. Obviously, this also is keyboard shortcut for keyboard buffs. In this example, Ctrl+N will open a new file. (Same effect as clicking on the word New on the menu). Again, as stated in the last paragraph, you don't have to press the shift key for N.

Sometimes you may see that your mouse pointer has been replaced by an hourglass and you cannot click anywhere inside the program with the mouse. This means the program is experiencing some problems and it is asking you to wait. Normally, the hourglass will disappear in a few moments and you can continue to do whatever you were doing. However, rarely a program might freeze and the hourglass does not go away. In that case you cannot even exit or close the program in the normal way. What should you do? On your keyboard hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete at the same time. A Close Program dialog box will appear listing ALL the programs that are currently running in your computer (some of them are running in the background about which you may not even have any knowledge). You will notice, the program that has frozen, is highlighted and listed on the top with a remark "Not Responding". All you have to do is click on the button below that says End Task. That will close the program. In some cases, another window might appear in a few seconds. Just click on End Task in that window to close the program immediately.

If you need help using the Internet, check out the companion site:
Internet Basics For Seniors
If you need help with Windows XP, check out the companion site:
Help with Windows XP (New)
If you are an absolute beginner in computing, check out:

ABC's of Computing

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