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Starting Programs

This chapter is from the book

Working in a Program

When the program is started, you see the program window. A great thing about Windows XP is that all program windows share similar features (see Figure 3.6). Learning to use one program helps you master key skills for almost all other programs. For example, most programs include a menu bar that works the same in all programs. This section covers some basic skills for working in programs.

Figure 3.6 Get familiar with the basic program window features.

Selecting Commands

The top line of the program window is called the title bar and includes the name of the document (or a generic name if the document has not been saved) and the program name.

Below the title bar, you see the menu bar. You use this to select commands. For instance, open the File menu and select the Save command to save a document. To use a menu, follow these steps:

  1. Click the menu name. The menu drops down and displays a list of commands. For instance, in Figure 3.7, you see the File menu in WordPad.

Figure 3.7 To open a menu, click its name in the menu bar.

  1. Click the command. Depending on the command you select, one of the following happens:

    The command is executed. For instance, if you select File, Exit the program is closed.

    You see a submenu. Any commands followed by an arrow display a submenu. Click the command in this menu to execute the selected command.

    You see a dialog box prompting you for additional information about how to execute the command. For example, if you select File, Print you see the Print dialog box. You can select options for printing such as the printer to use and the number of copies to print. See the upcoming section "Selecting Dialog Box Options."


Many commands have a keyboard shortcut. Instead of selecting the command, you can press the keyboard shortcut. For instance, the shortcut for printing is Ctrl+P (press and hold the Ctrl key and then press the P key). These shortcuts are listed next to the command name on the menu.

You'll find that not only do the menus work the same in most programs, but also many programs include the same commands. For example, you can commonly find a File, Save command for saving documents (covered in Chapter 4, "Saving Your Work"). File, Print is another common command; printing is covered in Chapter 5, "Printing." The Edit menu usually has commands for cutting text (Cut), copying text (Copy), and pasting cut or copied text (Paste). The Help menu provides access to online help; you can use the commands in this menu to look up help topics for the program. You learn more about help in Chapter 7, "Troubleshooting Common Problems."

Using the Keyboard to Select Commands

If you are a fast typist, you might prefer to keep your hands on the keyboard and use the keys to open and select a menu command. You can use the keyboard shortcuts, or you can select menu commands with the keyboard. Follow these steps to use the keyboard for opening menus:

  1. Press the Alt key. Notice that the program's menus now have an underlined letter. This is the letter you press to open the menu and select the command. For instance, press Alt and then look at File. To open this menu, press the F key.

  2. Press the key letter for the menu. You see a drop-down list of commands. Notice again that each command has one key letter underlined (see Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8 You can use the keyboard to select commands.

  1. Press the key letter for the command.

Selecting Dialog Box Options

As mentioned, when you select some commands, a dialog box appears prompting you for additional information. Like menus, dialog boxes work the same across most Windows programs. (This also includes commands in Windows itself.)


In previous versions of programs, the letter always appeared underlined. In Windows XP, you must press the Alt key to have the key letters appear.

Dialog boxes vary from command to command and from program to program. But they do include like features that you select in the same way:

  • Tabs—If the dialog box has many options, they may be divided into tabs or pages. Click the tab you want to view from the page of options. For example, if you select View, Options in WordPad, you see the Options dialog box with several tabs (see Figure 3.9). Click the tab you want.

Figure 3.9 Click the tab for the options you want to select.

  • Check boxes—Some options can be turned on or off, and these are controlled with check boxes (refer to Figure 3.9). If a box is checked, the option is on. If the box is unchecked, the option is off. You can click within the box to toggle between on and off. With check boxes, you can select as many options in a group as you want.

  • Option buttons—When you can select just one option in a group of options, you see radio or option buttons rather than check boxes. The button that is darkened is the one that is selected. You can select another option by clicking its option button (refer to Figure 3.9).

  • List boxes—For some options, you can select from a list. Sometimes the list is displayed, and you can click the item in the list that you want to select. You can also scroll through the list to view other options. For instance, in Figure 3.10, the Font list enables you to select a font. (To follow along, click Format, Font in WordPad.)

Figure 3.10 You can select items from a list.

  • Drop-down list boxes—To conserve space, some list boxes are condensed and only the current option is displayed. You can display and select from other options by clicking the down arrow next to the option and then clicking the new option you want to select. For instance, you can click Color in the Font dialog box and then select from a palette of colors (see Figure 3.11).

Figure 3.11 Click the down arrow next to a drop-down list to view the complete list of options.

  • Text boxes—For some items, you can enter text. For instance, you can enter the name of a file when you save a document. (Saving your work is the focus of the next chapter.) To enter something in a text box, click in the box and select the current entry. Then type your new entry. In Figure 3.12, for instance, you can type the page range to print.

Figure 3.12 This dialog box includes spin boxes, a text box, and command buttons.

  • Spin boxes—For values (numbers), programs commonly use a spin box. In this type of box, you can type the value or use the arrows to increase or decrease the value. The Number of copies option in Figure 3.12 is one example of a spin box.

  • Command buttons—Most dialog boxes include a confirm and cancel button. The confirm button is usually OK, but it may vary. For instance, when printing a document, you click the Print button to carry out the command. To cancel the options and command, click the Cancel button.

Using Right-Click Shortcut Menus

Because each person prefers a different style for performing certain tasks, Windows programs provide many ways to perform these common tasks. For instance, I like to use the keyboard because I am a fast typist and don't like to take my hands away from the keyboard to use the mouse. Beginners often use the menu commands because they are easier to figure out than toolbar buttons (covered next). Long-time computer users often use keyboard shortcuts because originally (wayyyyy back) programs were not menu-driven.


Some dialog boxes provide access to still more options. For instance, you can click the Preferences button in the Print dialog box to display the Printing Preferences options for the printer. If you click one of these buttons, select the options and then click OK to return to the primary dialog box.

So yet another method for selecting commands is using the shortcut menu. To display this menu, right-click on the area you want to modify. For instance, right-click on some text to display a text shortcut menu in a word processing program. Right-click on a picture to display picture commands. You can even use the right-click within Windows: right-click the desktop to display desktop commands (see Figure 3.13); right-click the taskbar to display taskbar commands.

Figure 3.13 Another method for selecting commands is using a shortcut menu.

The commands you see vary depending on what you right-click. To select a command from a shortcut menu, click its name. To close the shortcut menu without making a selection, press Esc or click with the left mouse button outside of the menu area.

Using the Toolbar

In addition to using the menus and keyboard shortcuts, you can also use toolbar buttons to select commands. Most Windows programs include toolbar(s), which are displayed right under the menu bar. The buttons vary depending on the program, but most of them are similar. Figure 3.14 shows the toolbar buttons in WordPad.

Figure 3.14 Look for a toolbar for fast access to common commands.

The following list gives you some insight on how to work with toolbars:

  • Toolbar buttons are shortcuts to commands. You can click the button instead of selecting the command. For instance, click the Save button to save a document (same as selecting File, Save).

  • If you aren't sure what a toolbar does, hover the mouse pointer over the edge of the toolbar. A ScreenTip (the button name) should appear.

  • Some programs have more than one toolbar. Usually the standard toolbar includes buttons for common commands (Save, Open, New, and so on). The program may also include a toolbar with formatting options (usually called the Formatting toolbar or the Format bar). This toolbar includes buttons that let you quickly make formatting changes such as making text bold, changing the font, and so on.

  • If you see a down arrow next to a command, you can click this arrow to display a drop-down list of choices (see Figure 3.15). Then click the option you want to select. For instance, you can click the down arrow next to the Font button to display a list of available fonts. From the list, click the one you want to use.


You can learn the basics of entering, formatting, and editing text by practicing with WordPad. See Chapter 25, "Using Windows Accessory Programs," for more information.

Figure 3.15 If you see an arrow next to a button, click it to display all your button options.

  • If you don't use the toolbar and want more room for the document to be displayed, turn off the toolbar. You can also select to display more than one toolbar in some programs such as Word for Windows. Look in the View menu for a Toolbar or Toolbars command. Any toolbars that are checked are displayed (see Figure 3.16). The command is a toggle: select the command to uncheck and hide the toolbar. To display the toolbar, select it again so that there is a check next to it.


Another common feature in program windows is the window control buttons. These are located in the upper-right corner, and you can use these buttons to change the size and shape of the window. Chapter 2, "Getting Started with Windows XP," covers these buttons in detail.

Figure 3.16 Turn on or off toolbars using the View menu.

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