Windows for absolute beginners

I recently helped someone with a computer problem. They had been using a computer one way or another for about 10 years apparently. Yet, they referred to their “main screen” which was in fact their webmail (ie the gmail web site in a browser). Entered website addresses into their google search box and chose from the “found” list. Also didn’t know who Microsoft were and why they kept sending messages. If you are thinking “well d’uh” then read no further, but otherwise the rest of this blog might inform you. This user was not dumb, but had jumped into the Windows swimming pool deep end and doggy paddled his way around. If you read on, hopefully I’ll at least help you swim without splashing too much!

Start up

Lets start with the act of turning your machine on. Even this is not always obvious since it can depend upon how you shut down but lets assume that you have shut everything down and are starting from the real start.
The first thing you will see depends upon the machine, but there is always some image or white on black text before Windows itself loads. At this point you can press a key to produce a system menu that can let you get into the actual BIOS (basic in/out system) setup not Windows but the “raw” mechanics of the machine itself. The key to press will vary, it might say briefly on the bottom screen otherwise enter your computer make and model and BIOS configure into google to find it. But if you are reading this far then… DON’T – it’s way above your pay-grade.

The next thing you can do at this beginning stage is repeatedly press the F8 key to interrupt the Windows startup to access the various safe modes (including the last working configuration). If you have just installed something (usually hardware but sometime software) that is preventing you from getting into Windows. Windows 8 and 10 are far more clever at detecting problems and may well go into a recovery menu anyway. I will look at this in another blog. For now lets assume you have started up and are now sitting at your login screen?

Login, Desktop and the Start Menu

Not logging in? OK but it IS an extra level of security and you can set a number of ways to login in Windows 10 (I for instance use a 4 digit PIN with a password as backup). Again… another blog. So you have logged in and the screen you now see is called the Desktop (except Windows 8 where it will be a version of the start menu Microsoft call Metro - targeted at touch screens, click the “tile” saying desktop and read on).


Taskbar, Internet Browsers and Search Engines

OK on the desktop you will have a taskbar along a side/bottom/top of the screen This will always have a perspective view of a window, often called the start button and if clicked will pop up the start menu (as will the key with the same icon on the lower left of your keyboard). See here for more on the task bar. Either on the task bar or on the start menu will be a blue e (hover over it with the mouse and it will either say Edge (in Windows 10) or Internet Explorer. Either way this is your Internet Browser. The program that accesses the internet. There are others, FireFox, Opera, Safari (iPad and Macs), Google Chrome (often described by users as google and mistaken for the search engine itself, but Google make Chrome and they also provide a search engine, they are NOT the same thing). When you start up Edge it present you with a long white box that says “Search or Enter web address” which means, if you just type a word or phrase it will use a “search engine” (out of the box this will be Microsoft’s Bing) if you type an actual web address (or URL as it is often referred to, Uniform Resource Location fyi) such as (you usually don’t need to enter the www now, its assumed). This will take you directly to the Google search engine. If you type it will go to the google mail login page (where your mail is stored on the “internet” – another blog!) a web site in other words. When someone tells you to “google something” they usually just mean any search engine (bing, yahoo, google and a whole range of others).

The search engine is your friend

OK, so now you know the difference between your desktop, your browser, a web page/site and a search engine. If you have a problem (and I mean ANY problem) type it into your search box and see the list of possible answers. Like asking a question in a pub, not all answers are correct. The first few might be paid advertising (but can still be your answer) the next are ranked (using a complex algorithm, later blog?). If you have a problem on your computer by all means contact me but first you might like to “google” it. The solution might be simple.

Turning your computer off

Shutting down, turning off, whatever you call it, there are three options as far as windows is concerned.


Which will save all of your current session to a special hidden part of the disk and power everything down.

On the plus side:

  • when you start up you are exactly where you were before.
  • you are not wasting power

On the down side:

  • shutting down and starting takes longer
  • you are not allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping


Which will turn off all non-essential power except a small trickle to keep your session alive.

On the plus side:

  • when you start up you are exactly where you were before.
  • shutting down and starting is fast

On the down side:

  • you are wasting power and your battery could go flat
  • you are not allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping



Which will turn off all power.

On the plus side:

  • you are allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping
  • you are not wasting battery power

On the down side:

  • shutting down and starting is slow (normal actually)
  • you are allowing Windows to do its background housekeeping

There is also Restart which shuts down completely and then restarts.

You also have options about what happens when you close the lid or press the power button. Type Power Options into windows search (the magnifying glass). You have a lot of options depending upon whether on battery power or plugged in. Personally whether plugged in or not I like the lid to do nothing and the power button to shutdown.

Oh and if everything seems stuck you have a last resort to hold your machine's power button down and force a shut down.

The Windows Taskbar part two

Lets look at the functions of the taskbar from left to right (or top to bottom if you’ve moved it to the side).


Windows 7 Taskbar



Windows 8 Taskbar and part of the Start/Metro screen



Windows 10 Taskbar


  • On the far left is the window flag icon, clicking this will have the same effect as pressing the flag key on the keyboard. The start menu will pop up (Windows 8 used a full screen equivalent, baffling and reviled by to many called Metro which Microsoft intended as an interface for all devices – phone, tablet, laptop and desktop – its main problem is that it assumes touch screen functionality an issue for the usual desktop and most laptops) I will discuss the start menu in a later blog.
    • In Windows 10 the next item on the taskbar is a “Search Windows” field. This may be set to “Ask Cortana” a voice activated “guide” that defaults to searching the web and other annoying traits (disabling Cortana in a later blog!). This is one of many ways to access an installed program or function. Start typing its name and it will do a pretty good job of showing you what you have on your machine and also options on the internet beyond.
    • Again, in Windows 10 only, the next item is an icon showing a window outline with two behind; this is the Task View and will do the same as [alt][tab] showing currently running programs (which can be clicked to select)
  • Now starts the bulk of the taskbar showing… tasks. The first icons will be the Quick Launch icons (placed there by dragging an icon from the desktop or explorer (with a hint or question about pinning it to the taskbar). After these come the running tasks (again selectable by clicking). In Windows 10, if you have clicked a Quick Launch icon and it is running, it will be underlined (such as the three rightmost icons in the Windows 10 taskbar image above).


Right clicking on the quick launch icons allows you to unpin, or if running, show some task specific options as well as close all windows.


Right clicking on a blank area of the task bar gives options for managing the taskbar as well as the Task Manager (I’ll look in more detail at this in a later blog)

The final two items on the far right of the taskbar are the notification area and the clock which I will cover later.

Robert Cort

This was a fairly minimal brochure site. I consider my target clientele to be mostly individuals and small businesses who need to do what they are good at and not have to spend too much time ensuring they have a web presence. Robert was a minimalist version of this target. I have run advertising campaigns where I talk about how a website backs up and adds detail to a business card and other advertising. Robert wanted very little involvement in “internet stuff”, since most of his work came by word of mouth he didn’t feel it relevant. But some potential customers had tired to find out more about him by looking on the internet (I know thats one of the first things I do). So, in short, we worked on a minimal site, that satisfied this need. Very low maintenance and only three pages of info. Like him “it does what it says on the can” except unlike him thats it, he can do so much more… the web site serves and an introduction.