User Controls

To perform any command on your computer, there are usually three different ways:
  • Use a Menu (drop-down or pop-up)
  • Use a Toolbar
  • Use a Keyboard Shortcut

Almost all commands can be performed by menus. Toolbars and keyboard shortcuts often allow access to the most common or useful commands, but they rarely give access to all commands.

 

Menus

A menu is the oldest way to do something on a GUI. Usually, menus include the File, Edit, and View menus, but the rest are different depending on the program you are using.

In Windows, there is a menu bar in every separate window. On the Mac, there is one menu bar at the top of the screen, and it changes depending on which program you are using at the moment.

Each menu has its own category of commands. For example, the File menu has commands which are related to files, such as open file, save file, print file, etc.

Although each menu represents a different category of commands, these categories are sometimes different depending on the program. For example, some programs have the “Settings” or “Preferences” command in the “Tools” menu, while other programs have it in the “Edit” menu.

On the Mac, there is a completely different menu-the Application menu, which always has the name of the program you are using. This menu allows you to open preferences, hide the program, or quit the program.

The menus we have seen so far are called “drop down” menus, because they drop down when you click on the menu in the menu bar. Notice that many of the commands show a keyboard shortcut for the same command; some menus also have small icons, which are the same as the icons used in toolbar buttons.

Menus may have sub-menus. You can see an example in the drop-down menu pictured above and to the right. A sub-menu is indicated by a small black arrow at the right side of a menu selection. When you move the mouse over the menu item, the sub-menu will appear. Sub-menus can have more sub-menus.

Another type of menu is called the “pop-up” or “contextual” menu. It appears when you right-click the mouse (see image at right).

This menu is always different when you click for it in different areas. Right-click on the desktop, this menu appears. Right-click on the task bar, and a different menu appears. Right-click on a title bar and still another different menu appears. In other words, the menu changes according to the context of the right-click--therefore, the name "contextual menu."

These menus will always show the most useful commands for whatever you clicked on.

In Microsoft Office 2007, menus have been almost completely replaced by the “Ribbon.”


 

Toolbars

Toolbars usually appear at the top of a window, but they might appear almost anywhere. A toolbar is a bar with buttons on it. The buttons usually are pictures; sometimes there are pictures with text below them, and sometimes (although rarely) they are text without pictures. Sometimes the toolbars are fixed in place, and sometimes they can be moved. Sometimes you can edit the toolbar, and change the buttons or its style.

Another kind of toolbar is called a “palette” (pictured at right). These are used mostly in programs. They look like a mini-window, and are “floating"floating" means that you can move it around; it is not attached to any stationary part of the window..” Sometimes a palette is called an “inspector.”

In Microsoft Office 2007, the “Ribbon” was introduced. It is kind of a super-toolbar, which allows access to all commands. It could be considered a kind of “visual menu,” or a compromise between a menu and a toolbar.


 

Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can be the quickest way to perform commands. They can take a while to memorize and practice, but after you become fluent with them, you can do a variety of actions with much greater speed.


One-Key Shortcuts

Many shortcuts can be achieved by pressing only one key. They include:

Windows/Start key: opens/closes the Start Menu
Escape key: cancel (close menus, dialogs, etc.)
Print Screen: copies an image of your screen to the Clipboard, so you can paste it into a document
F (Function) keys: special functions

The F-Keys each have different functions. Some are universal (the same function everywhere), though some are specific to certain programs or situations. Often, F-Keys are "programmable," which means you can change what they do in a program. Here are some of the more common uses for F-Keys.

F1 Activates the "Help" command for Windows or any active application
F2 When an icon is selected, F2 will allow you to rename the icon easily
F3 Activates the Search window
F4 In Internet Explorer, it jumps you to the address bar so you can type in a web address. ALT-F4 will close a window, and the application
F5 Refresh either a web page or a window; brings the information in the window up to date
F6 Will sometimes (not always) select the next window or possible link
F11 Will change an application, especially a browser, into full-screen mode, making the menu, status and task bars disappear

The "F1" key is so commonly associated with the "Help" function, that this cartoon about a computer programmer drowning is popularly understood:



Two-Key Shortcuts

These are the most common types. You begin by holding down one of the special shortcut keys:

The Control, Alt, or Windows/Start keys;

Then, you press any letter key in addition, then let go of both keys. For example:

+ This combination will "Select All" ("A" for "All") of whatever you are selecting. Or:

+ This combination will close a window and/or quit the program. Or:

+ This combination will open the "My Computer" window.

Here are some common two-key shortcuts:

CTRL
+
O Open
CTRL
+
P Print
CTRL
+
N New (Document)
CTRL
+
S Save
CTRL
+
W Close Window
CTRL
+
A Select All
CTRL
+
X Cut
CTRL
+
C Copy
CTRL
+
V Paste
CTRL
+
Z Undo
CTRL
+
B Bold (for word processing)
CTRL
+
I Italic (for word processing)
CTRL
+
U Underline (for word processing)
ALT
+
TAB Switch Window
ALT
+
F4 Close Window / Quit Program
ALT
+
PRINT SCREEN Copies an image of the active window to the clipboard
WIND
+
D Show the Desktop
WIND
+
F Find Window
WIND
+
E Open "My Computer" Window


Three- or Four-Key Shortcuts

It is possible to combine several of the shortcut keys (including the SHIFT key) in order to get more and more complex commands. For example:

+ + This is a common shortcut for "Save As..." (Control+S is almost always "Save").

In the program "Photoshop," this 4-key shortcut is used for "Save image for web page":

+ + +

On very common 3-key shortcut is:

CTRL
+
ALT
+
DELETE
Brings up Task Manager

This shortcut is used when a program or the whole computer becomes frozen, and you need to force-quit the program(s) causing the trouble.


The Mac Keyboard

Keyboards for Mac computers are slightly different than Windows keyboards. For example, the shortcut keys are different:

Notice that on the Mac keyboard, the "Alt" key is named the "Option" key," and the Windows key is replaced by the "Apple" ("Command") key.

On Windows, the CONTROL key is the main shortcut key, but on the Mac, the COMMAND (Apple) key is the main key. Therefore, when using the Mac, you should type "COMMAND + A" to "Select All," instead of "CONTROL + A."

On the Mac, the Option key is the same as the Alt key in Windows; the CONTROL key on the Mac is just an additional (third) shortcut key.

On the Mac, the ESCAPE and F-Keys are the same as on Windows. However, there is no PRINT SCREEN key. On the Mac, there are several special keyboard shortcuts to save screen images:

Takes picture of whole screen, saves as an image file on the desktop
Takes picture of whole screen, saves as an image in the clipboard
Lets you select an area to capture the image, saves as an image file on the desktop
Lets you select an area to capture the image, saves as an image in the clipboard

Most keyboard shortcuts are the same between the two systems, however; you just have to remember to use the COMMAND key instead of the CONTROL key when you use a Mac.