The Windows Desktop

Two major components of any "real" office are its filing cabinet and desktop. The filing cabinet is where you store and organize things you may need access to at some time. The desktop is where you do your work. In a computer, your hard disk plays the role of the filing cabinet. Everything that's "in your computer", so to speak, is actually stored on the computer's hard disk. The Windows desktop is the equivalent of your "real desktop", where you keep things you're working on right now.

When you first start your computer, you probably see only the Windows desktop and some desktop icons, the Start button, and other objects shown in Figure 1.  Your desktop and icons won't look exactly like those in Figure 1. But you'll learn to easily recognize your own desktop in a moment.

Figure 1

The Desktop is Always There

Nothing ever replaces the Windows desktop. The desktop is always there, though it might be covered by some other item. It's like a real desktop in that way. If you clutter up your real desktop with enough stuff, you might not even be able to see your desktop. But it's still there, under all the clutter.

Right now you're using your Web browser (a program) to read this page. Your Web browser might be covering your Windows desktop. But the desktop is still there. Each open item on the desktop has a taskbar button, that you can click to make the item visible or invisible on your desktop. The taskbar button for your Web browser probably looks like one of the examples shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

If you click on your Web browser's task bar button a few times, this window will disappear, and reappear, with each click. Go ahead and try it -- you can't do any harm. If some other window appears or disappears, you're just not clicking the taskbar button for your Web browser.

When you have a lot of open windows on your desktop, you can make them all invisible by clicking on the Show Desktop button in the Quick Launch toolbar, shown in the left side of Figure 3. Or, if you don't see that button, you can right-click the clock in the lower right corner of your screen, then click on Show the Desktop. Either way, you'll see the Windows desktop, then you can click on any taskbar button to make the program window it represents visible again.

Figure 3

Personalizing your Desktop

The picture you see on your Windows desktop can be just about anything. As a beginner, it's a good idea to choose a picture you like, so it's easy for you to recognize the desktop when you see it.  Just follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and choose Control Panel.
  2. Click on the Appearance the Themes option.

Tip: If you don't see "Appearance and Themes" in Control Panel, click on "Switch to Category View" at the left side of Control Panel. Then click on Appearance and Themes.

  1. Click on Change the desktop background shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4

  1. A dialog box titled Display Properties opens, with the Desktop tab selected as  in Figure 5. Under Background, click on each named picture to see how that picture would look on your desktop. Note that there's a scroll bar at the right side of the list, which you can use to view the names of other pictures to choose from. When you find a picture you like, just leave its name highlighted in the list.


Figure 5

  1. To make your selected picture fill the entire screen, make sure "Stretch" is selected under "Position" in that same dialog box.
  2. While you're in the neighborhood, you can also pick some icons to display on your desktop. Click on the Customize Desktop button under the list of picture names. A new dialog box titled Desktop Items opens.
  3. In the Desktop Items dialog box, choose (check) whichever icons you'd like to display. My Documents and My Computer are good choices.

Figure 6

  1. Click the OK button at the bottom of the Desktop Items dialog box to save your changes.
  2. Click the OK button at the bottom of the Desktop Properties dialog box to close that dialog box as well.

Arranging Desktop Icons

Once you're able to recognize your Windows desktop, you can right-click it to do other things with it. For example, to neatly arrange all the icons on your desktop, right-click the desktop and choose Arrange Icons By Name, as in Figure 7..

Figure 7

If you ever want to return to the Display Properties dialog box and make other changes to your desktop, it's not necessary to go through Control Panel. You can, instead, take a shortcut by right-clicking your Windows desktop and choosing Properties.

Alan Simpson