Understanding basic Windows jargon

One inescapable fact of computers is the jargon. Tens of thousands of technical terms have been invented just in the last decade, and new ones being invented every day: software terms, internet terms, gadget terms, multimedia terms... with no end in sight. You could spend a whole lifetime learning them all, but in day-to-day computer use you really only need to know the basic ones. To get you started, here's a list of common terms you're likely to run into while using Windows. You probably already know many of them, but keep this page bookmarked for when you encounter the unfamiliar ones.
Published: Oct 17, 2007
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows
Blue Screen of Death
When Windows has a serious error sometimes the so-called Blue Screen of Death or BSOD appears--you'll know it when you see it. The only way to recover from the Blue Screen is to reboot your computer by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del, or your computer's reset button.
"Cursor" can refer to two different things: The blinking, vertical line that appears in an area where you type to indicate where your typed letters will appear, or the pointer that indicates the position of the mouse. The latter is sometimes called the mouse cursor, and usually takes an arrow shape, but can also be displayed as a hand (usually when you move your mouse over a link) or any other shape to indicate the action that will be performed if you click the mouse.
The Desktop is the main workspace in Windows, and the first thing you see when Windows starts. It has a picture (wallpaper or background) that you can customize and icons for opening programs, folders, and documents.
A dialog or dialog box is a small window, usually with a single, limited purpose, like the Open and Save dialogs, or the Find dialog. Dialogs often have buttons along the bottom that say OK, Cancel, or Apply. Most dialogs are launched from a program, but Windows has a few dialogs of its own, such as the Run... dialog on the Start Menu.
An icon is a small picture with a caption that represents a file, folder, or program on your computer. Double-clicking on an icon will open or launch the file, folder, or program.
Clicking on the middle button in the upper-right corner of a window maximizes it, which makes it fill up your entire screen.
The left-most button in the upper-right corner of a window minimizes it, hiding it from view. You can make it reappear (i.e. restore it) by clicking on its entry on the taskbar or, in the case of a few programs, its icon in the system tray.
Notification areaNotification area
Also commonly called the system tray or just tray, this area on the right end of the taskbar contains the clock and several notification icons that show you the status of some running programs and Windows functions and let you control them. For example, a speaker icon lets you view and change the volume level, and a network icon shows you the status of your wireless network connection. Many programs, especially those that run all the time such as virus-protection programs, add their own icons to the notification area.
Operating system
The operating system, or OS, is the software that runs your computer, monitoring programs that are running, controlling the appearance and placement of windows, managing your internet connection, and so on. Microsoft Windows is an operating system. Other examples of operating systems are Mac OS on Apple computers and Linux, a free operating system used by many power users and on many servers.
A process is a piece of software that is currently running. Some processes are programs, and others are components of Windows or other programs. You can see what processes are running, and how much of your computer's resources (memory and processor power) they are using, with the Task Manager.
Also known as an application, a program is a stand-alone piece of software like Microsoft Word or Internet Explorer. To launch or open a program is to run it.
With regard to a window, restore can mean two things: Making a window visible again after minimizing it, or returning a window to its regular size after maximizing it. When a window is maximized, the middle button in its upper-right corner becomes the restore button.
Screen resolution
The number of pixels displayed on your screen at once is referred to as its resolution. A screen's resolution is usually described in two numbers: Its width and its height, in pixels. For example, if your screen has 1,024 pixels from its left edge to its right and 768 pixels top to bottom, its resolution is said to be 1024x768. Resolution does not depend on physical size; a small screen capable of high resolutions might be able to display more pixels than a larger screen.
A shortcut is a special kind of icon that does not directly represent a file, folder, or program, but rather serves as a link to it. Many shortcuts can be created for the same file, and deleting a shortcut will not delete the associated file. By default, Windows denotes shortcuts by displaying a small white square with an arrow in the corner of its icon.
Start MenuStart Menu
Clicking on the Start button on the left end of the taskbar opens the Start Menu, which gives you quick access to all of the installed programs, as well as the Control Panel, commonly-used folders, and other Windows functions.
The horizontal bar that sits, by default, at the bottom of the screen, is the taskbar, but the term is often used to refer specifically to is central area, which displays the titles of all of the windows currently open. You can switch to a different window or restore a minimized window by clicking on its title on the taskbar, and the taskbar can be repositioned to the top or sides of the screen.
Task Manager
The Task Manager is a special program that gives you advanced control over the programs (tasks) that are running on your computer. You usually only need the Task Manager when a program is misbehaving. To access it, hold down the Ctrl and Alt keys and press Delete (or Del). (This key combination is referred to as Ctrl-Alt-Del). In the Task Manager you can end (kill) programs and processes that are frozen ("hanging").
A toolbar is an area, often horizontal and near the top of a window, that contains a number of buttons that can be clicked to perform a specific action. In Internet Explorer, for example, the area with the Back, Forward, Stop, and Home buttons is a toolbar.
A tooltip is a short, explanatory text which appears when you "hover" your mouse cursor over a button or other control without clicking. It gives you additional information about the action clicking the button will perform. Tooltips usually appear in a yellow or white box and disappear when you move your cursor away.
User Account ControlUser Account Control
UAC for short, User Account Control is a feature in Windows Vista intended to provide additional security by only allowing administrators to perform certain actions, such as deleting important files or changing passwords, and requiring manual confirmation before such actions are performed. UAC aims to prevent malicious users and processes (like viruses or spyware) from taking control of the computer, but many users find the frequent appearance of UAC prompts to be annoying. User Account Control can be turned on or off under User Accounts on the Control Panel.
Most programs' visual representation on your screen is in the form of a window, which is just a frame that contains the user interface you interact with to control the program.
Windows Aero
Aero is a feature of Windows Vista that adds visual effects like transparency, shadows, and animations to the familiar Windows interface. Aero only works on computers with modern video hardware and plenty of memory. If your computer does not have a lot of memory, you may be able to speed it up (and, if you use a laptop, save battery power) by disabling Aero--just go the Control Panel, click on "Customize colors" under Appearance and Personalization, click on "Open classic appearance properties," and then choose Windows Vista Basic and click OK.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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