Common Terminology

Learning Objectives

  • Manage multiple windows.

There are several terms that are commonly used in discussions about and instructions for computer use. This guide will define these common terms to help you read instructions.

Desktop

Desktop refers to the main screen of the computer. It is the first screen you see after logging in. The desktop’s appearance can vary widely because it is highly customizable, but generally desktops will feature a large image, icons, and a taskbar (covered later on this page).

A blank Windows 10 desktop.

The Windows 10 desktop.

A blank Windows 7 desktop.

The Windows 7 desktop.

Note that the word desktop is also used to refer to a desktop computer. A desktop computer is not portable (it stays on the desk) while a laptop computer is portable.

Window

A window is a viewing area that graphically displays a program so that the user can interact with it. A window is adjustable, so it can take up the entire screen  or just part of the screen. Note that this is a different term from the Windows operating system—Macs also have windows.

A window is open displaying a text box. The text box has options such as File, Edit, Format, View, and Help. In the text box itself is a sentence saying, "This is an example of a window."

A Windows 7 window.

A window displaying a coding source with a sentence in the middle saying, "This is an example of a window."

A Mac window.

The look of windows varies by operating system and program. Not every program’s window will function the same. For example, many programs open in full screen by default, so you will not see any of the window’s toolbars or buttons. Most windows have the same features, which we will cover here.

A window in the Windows 10 desktop is open. On it there is a sentence saying, "This is an example of a window." There are 6 green numbers (1,2,3,4,5,6) plotted carefully on the image. The 1 is next to a green box with the options to go to File, Edit, Fomat, View, and Help all inside of it. The 2 is next to the title of the window (Untitled-Notepad). The 3 is above a minimize button. The 4 is above a full-screen option. The 5 is above the close option and the 6 is to the right of the expand feature.

Diagram of a Windows 10 window.

  1. Menu bar. This toolbar contains various commands that often lead to dialog menus (covered later on this page). Windows computers have this bar at the top of windows; Macs have this bar at the top of the screen instead. The options contained in this toolbar vary greatly from program to program.
  2. Title bar. This shows the title of the program (in this case, Notepad) and has the minimize, maximize/resize, and close buttons. If the window is not maximized, you can click and drag the title bar to move the window.
  3. Minimize. Minimizing a program means making the program “collapse” into the taskbar. A minimized window is no longer visible but still running.
  4. Maximize/resize. Clicking this button will maximize the window so it takes up the whole screen. If the window is already maximized, clicking this button will resize the window to be smaller.
  5. Close. This button closes the window.
  6. Resize corner. Clicking and dragging this button will change the size of the window.

Working with Multiple Windows: Resizing

Resizing windows can help you see multiple windows at once, as shown below.

There are two Microsoft Word documents open each taking up one half of the scree. Each document has it's own specific text. The file finder for the operating system has been opened and is being displayed over the majority of the document on the right side of the screen. It is only partially covering the document on the left side of the screen.

PRactice Question

Menu Bar and Dialog Menus

Clicking an option on the menu bar, such as File, opens a dialog menu that gives you more options to interact with the program.

A window displaying a blank textbook. The file option has been selected and under that there are 7 new choices. New, Open, Save, Save As, Page Setup, Print, and Exit. The Save option has been shaded blue signifying it has been selected.

A window with a dialog menu.

Instructions in this course—and elsewhere—will often use shorthand to indicate how to get to a particular command through dialog menus. This shorthand separates phrases that should be clicked with a > symbol. For example, the instructions for the screenshot above would be “File>Save.”

Taskbar

The taskbar runs at one edge of the screen, almost always the bottom. The taskbar is used to access the Start menu and currently running programs. Like the desktop, it is very customizable.

The tool bar is shown with 4 green numbers highlighting 4 different points on the tool bar. The first is the Start menu button. The second highlights the pinned programs, such as Files, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Word. The third number highlights the open programs by underlining the program with a small blue line. The fourth is showing the system tray which includes items such as the time, the date, sound control, and more.

Windows 10 taskbar

  1. Start menu button. The appearance of the Start button varies between versions, but it is always the left-most button of the taskbar. The Start menu can also be opened by pressing the Windows key () on the keyboard.
  2. Pinned programs. Programs can be pinned to the taskbar so that they are quicker to get to: you can open a pinned program simply by clicking on it. You can customize which programs are pinned to the taskbar by opening a program, then right-clicking on the program’s taskbar icon and selecting “Pin to Taskbar.” You can also unpin pinned programs by right-clicking the program’s icon and selecting “Unpin from Taskbar.”
  3. Open (minimized) program. The icons of open programs will appear to the right of the pinned programs. In Windows 10, the blue line beneath the icon indicates the program is minimized.
  4. System tray. The system tray is on the right side of the taskbar. It displays the date and time and has icons that show helpful information related to computer and program functions. The icons in the system tray vary widely from computer to computer depending on what programs are installed and what version of Windows you have, so do not worry if your system tray does not match the screenshots in this course or your classmates’ system trays. In the screenshot above, from left to right in the system tray:
    • Arrow. When clicked expands to show more system tray icons
    • Battery. This is a feature of laptop computers. Hover over the battery icon to see how much charge is left.
    • Network. This icon shows the status of your internet connection. In the screenshot above, the computer is connected to the internet with a cable; wireless connection icons often look like a fan or a bar chart.
    • Sound. Clicking on the sound icon in the system tray allows you to change the volume or mute your computer.
    • Date/time.
    • Notification center. When your computer needs updates or has security notifications, those messages can be accessed here.
    • Show desktop. At the very far right side of the taskbar is a thin line. Clicking the sliver of the taskbar between that line and the edge of your screen will minimize all programs. Hovering the mouse over that sliver of screen will allow you to “peek” at the desktop.

Note that Macs do not have a taskbar, but they do have a similar feature called the Dock.

Working with Multiple Windows: Taskbar

The taskbar can be very useful for multitasking. By clicking between the icons of two open windows on the taskbar, you can work in two different documents or programs at once. Move your mouse over an icon to have a preview of the other window, then click on it to switch.

A blank Microsoft Word document. On the bottom in the tool bar an Excel Sheet is being hovered over making it expand into a miniature window. There is a massive green arrow pointing to the small excel sheet coming coming from the top right corner and pointing downwards and to the left.

Hover to preview the program.

A blank Microsoft Excel sheet is open.

Click the icon on the taskbar to switch.

Check Your Understanding

Answer the question(s) below to see how well you understand the topics covered in the previous section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade in the class, and you can retake it an unlimited number of times.

Use this quiz to check your understanding and decide whether to (1) study the previous section further or (2) move on to the next section.