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Microsoft Windows

When you turn on your microcomputer, it automatically loads into its memory a program called an operating system. The operating system interprets your commands into terms the computer hardware can understand. When you use a DOS microcomputer, you enter your commands through a keyboard. The keyboard is your "interface" with the computer. It is a purely textual interface, and for the most part, you must know what to type each step of the way. The infamous DOS prompt, C:\>, does not suggest to the new user what can or should be typed in next.

What is Windows?

Microsoft Windows is a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced "gooey"). It relies on textual information to some extent, but also uses symbolic images to represent commands which are appropriate at that moment. Most of these symbols are called icons. An icon is associated with a command, whether it is a command to run a new program, or a command within a program to delete text or run a video. Two steps are required to run the command represented by an icon. First, the icon must be selected using the mouse. Moving the mouse across a flat surface causes it to move the cursor on the screen. When the cursor is on the icon you wish to invoke, the left-most mouse button is pressed and released to select that icon. Pressing and releasing (or "clicking") the mouse button a second time invokes the command represented by that icon. These two "clicks" of the mouse button can be combined into a single action - move the mouse over the icon and "double-click" to simultaneously select and invoke the command. This way, Windows allows you to control the computer with the mouse instead of the keyboard.

Why use Windows?

Why substitute the mouse for a keyboard? The keyboard has worked for decades - why change now? In DOS, you run a program by typing the name of the program and pressing R . If that program is in a subdirectory on your computer's hard disk, then you have to type that subdirectory name as well as the program name to run it. There's plenty of opportunity for typos here...and that's what Windows avoids. Once the icon is defined as representing a command, a simple double-click runs that program. You don't need to type in a 20, 30 or 40 character string of letters, slashes, and colons to run it. Studies have shown that graphical user interfaces, such as Windows, increase productivity by as much as 52% for those who rely on computers in their work. Windows reduces errors, increases the speed at which tasks can be completed, and provides a consistent means of interacting with all programs - old or new. Windows also provides an easy means for the computer user to seek help from the computer itself. Most modern programs which rununder Windows include extensive facilities for accessing on line help. In fact, most Windows programs today embed the entire user manual in their on-line help option.

There are several other advantages to using Windows besides ease of use and increased productivity. Under Windows, you can run more than one program at a time. For instance, you can connect to the VAX or other remote computer, and check your e-mail while at the same time, running WordPerfect and editing a document. Should you need a reference for your WordPerfect document, you can log into the Library system and locate it without having to save your document, leave WordPerfect and start up your communications program separately.

Windows also allows you to cut and paste between documents. You can use your mouse to select text in the e-mail displayed on your screen, then move to WordPerfect and paste that text into your document. You can also create dynamic links between documents. For example, if your WordPerfect document made reference to data in an Excel spreadsheet, you could embed the spreadsheet in your WordPerfect document. Each time you view or print the WordPerfect document, the most current version of the spreadsheet would be used. Change the data in the spreadsheet and it is automatically changed in the WordPerfect document. You can even embed audio and video clips into a wordprocessing document.

The Metaphor of the Desktop

Windows allows you to organize your computer in ways that are useful to you. The opening screen of Windows is called the "desktop," a metaphor which refers to the top of your office desk. You can customize your Windows desktop just as you situate objects in a preferred pattern on your office desk. You can group commonly used icons on the "top" of your Windows desktop while hiding personal files within password-protected icons not on the "top" of the desktop. You can automate certain tasks within Windows with programs that are run on a schedule, such as backing up your personal files, or retrieving e-mail.

The Windows desktop can be organized either by program (WordPerfect, Excel, E-mail) or by document (class syllabi, grade records, grant applications, etc.). The standard setup for Windows takes the first approach - your desktop is arranged by program, and most users don't restructure the desktop. On the other hand, most of us file our work by the type of document, not the type of office tool used to create or modify the document. In the past, we didn't file syllabi under "typewriter" since a typewriter created them. Why should we file our electronic course syllabi under WordPerfect? Why not within an icon titled "courses?" Windows allows you to organize your documents on your desktop by subject, and it allows you to associate each document with the program that created it so you can double-click on the document - be it a wordprocessing document, spreadsheet or database - and the appropriate program is run and that document loaded ready for work. This more intuitiveorganization of the Windows desktop is worth investigating once you're familiar with the basic use of Windows.


Perhaps the best means of becoming familiar with Windows is to run the Windows Tutorial. At the DOS prompt of your computer, run Windows. Using the mouse, point to the menu item at the top labeled HELP. Click on it once, then point to and click on the Tutorial option. After you're familiar with the use of the mouse, explore the use of the other programs installed under Windows, and don't forget to use the HELP button throughout your early work with Windows.

Consult the documentation for Windows and the programs you are running under Windows. If you don't have a printed copy of the Windows 3.1 documents, call the ICS HelpLine; we'll do our best to get you a copy.

ICS has on-line tutorials on Windows 3.1 for your use. These DOS programs are easy to install and use and teach the major principles of using Windows 3.1. We have other tutorials for Windows versions of WordPerfect and Excel. Contact the ICS HelpLine to check out a copy for periods up to one week.

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