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You should be familiar with the following components of the Windows interface:

Component Purpose
Desktop The desktop contains icons that access programs, files, applications, and file systems. The desktop is what is seen when all programs and open folders are minimized. Earlier versions of Windows installed many icons on the desktop; later versions moved many of these icons to the Start Menu, although installing an application often adds an icon to the desktop.
Start Menu The Start Menu is the easiest way to access the most useful things on your computer.
  • The list of programs in the Start Menu are divided by a separator line into two sections: "pinned" (default) programs and the most frequently used programs.
  • The Start Menu also contains default icons that provide quick access to important features and folders such as My Computer, My Documents, Help and Support, Search, Printers and Faxes, Run, and Control Panel.
  • The Start Menu can be customized for each user.
  • The appearance of the Start Menu is different with each Windows version. With the exception of Windows 7, you can use a "classic" style for the Start Menu to match the appearance of previous versions.
Taskbar The Taskbar is the bar that is typically displayed at the bottom of a Windows Interface (although its position can be changed). The Taskbar:
  • Contains icons that represent each program or application that is currently running.
  • Can be configured to display different types of toolbars. For instance, Quick Launch is a toolbar that contains shortcuts to designated programs.
System Tray The System Tray is a part of the Taskbar, usually located to the right of the Taskbar. The System Tray:
  • Displays the time and date.
  • Displays icons that represent the applications and processes that are running behind the scenes on your computer such as audio volume, security programs, and connectivity to the Internet or a workgroup.
In Windows Vista/7, the System Tray is referred to as the Notification Area.
Windows Explorer Windows Explorer provides a graphical user interface for viewing and managing the file system.
My Computer My Computer (simply Computer in Windows Vista/7) is essentially Windows Explorer with a different name. Both provide an interface for viewing the contents of your computer including the file system, printers, and the network.
Control Panel The Control Panel contains various utilities that change how a computer looks and behaves. Use the Control Panel to configure settings for hardware devices, manage printers and networks, configure personal settings, and manage the system.
Sidebar The Sidebar provides a way to display information to which you desire quick and easy access. It is made up of small programs called gadgets that you can add or remove from the Sidebar.
  • The sidebar is only available with Vista.
  • Gadgets can display virtually anything, including weather forecasts, notes, time, news headlines, and stock quotes.
  • Windows comes with default gadgets, but you can download additional gadgets.
  • You can undock gadgets from the Sidebar and place them on the desktop. When you close the Sidebar, the undocked gadgets remain.
  • With Windows 7, the Sidebar has been removed, with all gadgets being freely placed on the desktop.
Aero Windows Aero is a set of features that improves the visual appearance of Windows. Features of Aero include:
  • Glass effects on window borders that make borders semi-transparent (translucent). You can view objects behind windows through the window borders.
  • Window animations when windows are opened or closed.
  • Taskbar thumbnails show the contents of an open window when you move the mouse over items on the taskbar.
  • Windows Flip shows thumbnails of running programs when you use the Alt + Tab keys to switch between running programs.
  • Windows Flip 3D is activated with the + Tab key and shows an expanded 3D view of running programs.
Aero features new to Windows 7 are:
  • The Show Desktop button (on the right side of the Taskbar) hides all open windows. Hovering over the button makes the content of all open windows disappear (called Peek).
  • Snap is a new feature that maximizes a window as you drag its border to the edge of the screen. Snapping multiple windows on the screen tiles them side-by-side.
  • Shake lets you hide all but the current window. Click the top window border and shake the mouse to hide or unhide all other open windows.

Windows Aero is available only in Vista and Windows 7, but is not available in the Home Basic versions. In addition, features depend on the graphics card in the system. For example, you might not be able to use Windows Flip 3D if the graphics card does not have the necessary features.

Search Windows Vista and Windows 7 include improved search features to help you find documents on your computer.
  • Windows includes a new indexing service that catalogs objects and files on your computer to improve the speed of searches on your computer. The search is typically fast because it is not searching the complete hard drive but instead is looking through the index.
  • Instant Search provides a box for typing keywords and phrases. As you type, matching results are displayed. Instant Search boxes are available on the Start Menu and in other applications such as Internet Explorer, Photo Gallery, and Media Player.
  • Custom properties allows you to add tags or descriptions to files as attributes that can be easily searched or indexed.
  • Search Folders lets you save a search as a folder. When you open the folder again, the search is performed and the results are displayed.
User Account Control (UAC) User Account Control (UAC) is a feature introduced in Windows Vista that helps minimize the dangers of unwanted actions or unintended software installations.
  • UAC differentiates between standard user privileges and administrative privileges.
  • Icons next to some tasks identifies tasks that require administrative privileges. In addition, performing other tasks, such as installing applications or hardware devices, require administrative privileges.
  • If standard user privileges are not sufficient to perform a task, the system requests privilege elevation.
    • If you are logged on as a standard user, you are prompted to supply the username and password for an administrator user.
    • If you are logged on as an administrator, you are prompted for permission before the action is performed.

Libraries is a new feature in Windows 7 that groups files and folders, stored both locally and on network locations, into a single logical folder. When you open a library, you see the files and folders associated with that library as if they were in a single folder, even though the library contents might exist in several different locations in the file system.

  • Default libraries included in Windows 7 are Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. These default libraries organize files of a specific media type.
  • You can create your own libraries.
  • To add folders to a library:
    • Edit a library’s properties and click Include a folder.
    • Right-click a folder, select Include in library.
  • Each library can hold multiple folders. A single folder can be added to multiple libraries.
  • Library contents are indexed for easy search.
  • You can share a library to make its contents available on the network.