The Desktop

The Desktop is the first thing we see after we start up the computer. This metaphor is based upon the idea that when we want to do some work, we sit at a desk, and then we put our work on top of the desk. Beyond that, the desktop metaphor does not mean very much. But it is the name of the starting place for everything on the computer, so it is important to remember and understand.

In the image above, you can see the different parts of the Desktop screen for Windows XP. The elements of the desktop are:

1
The Desktop
5
Quick Launch
2
Icons
6
Window Buttons
3
The Cursor
7
The Task Bar
4
The Start Menu
8
System Tray (Notification Area)

The Desktop is the working place for the computer user. When you start your computer, you begin at the Desktop. Right-click on the Desktop to change the appearance of the Desktop, the arrangement of icons, or other Monitor settings.

Icons are small pictures that represent data files or containers in the computer storage. Icons can be containers: volumes or folders (directories); they can be software (programs) which do things on the computer; or they can be documents, which contain information (like text, photos, audio, movies, etc.).

The Cursor (sometimes called the "pointer") is your "hand" on the desktop. It moves with the mouse, and when you move it over something, a click of the mouse will select it. The cursor is contextual, in that it changes when you move it over different areas and objects.

The Start Menu allows you to access various programs and functions (such as shut down, control panels, find file, etc.).

Quick Launch buttons allow you to open software quickly, with just one click of the mouse, at any time. This is faster than a regular icon because the Quick Launch is always visible, even when you cannot see the Desktop. Note: the name of this feature is Quick Launch, and it is NOT "Quick Lunch." Many students make that mistake.

Window Buttons show you all the windows that are open. Windows may show folder windows (volumes or folders) or application windows.

The Task Bar is the whole stripe at the bottom of the screen which contains various parts. Right-click on it for options; for example, you can turn on and off features like QuickLaunch. If you want, you can move the task bar to any side of the screen, unless it is locked.

The System Tray (Microsoft calls it the "Notification Area," but most call it the "System Tray") shows the clock, sound control, and possibly other controls (printers, anti-virus, upgrades, etc.). You can click or double-click on any icon in the tray to see the control panel or application window for the utility. For example, if you double-click on the clock, you can see the Date & Time control panel; if you just hold the cursor over the time without clicking, you can see the date. If you single-click on the speaker icon, you can set the volume simply; double-click on the speaker icon to get the detailed control panel.

The Mac OS Desktop

The Mac OS Desktop is a little different from the Windows Desktop. Since the Desktop first appeared on the Mac, the Windows desktop actually copies many elements that began with the Mac OS, although Windows gave them slightly different names. For example, the Mac desktop has a "trash" can; Windows has a "recycle bin."

Here is the desktop for Leopard, the latest version of the Mac OS:

In the image, you can see these parts:

1
The Desktop
5
System Tray (not official name)
2
Icons
6
The Dock
3
The Cursor
7
Applications
4
The Menu Bar
8
Documents & Trash

The (1) Desktop, (2) icons, and (3) cursor are very similar to Windows' version. Notice the icons line up on the right side instead of the left, and the cursor is black instead of white. These are just small, cosmetic differences.

The Menu Bar (4) is much different from Windows. In Windows, every window has its own menu bar. In the Mac OS, there is only one menu bar, and it is always at the top of the screen; it changes depending on what program is active. At the right is what Windows users would call the "System Tray" (5), but on the Mac, it's just part of the menu bar. It might be called the "utility area," but that also is not an official name.

At the bottom of the screen is the "Dock" (6). The Dock serves the same purpose as the Task Bar and Start Menu in Windows. You can open programs, do quick launch, select windows, choose open programs to become active, and much more. On the left side (7) is the area for application (program) icons. You can add or remove icons just by dragging and dropping. On the right (8) is the Document area; you can place any documents or folders you wish here so they can be opened quickly. This also includes the Trash can, which becomes an "eject" button when you have selected a disk or other volume icon.

 



 



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