Introduction to the Windows Desktop and How to Customize the Desktop

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The Windows desktop is the equivalent of your "real desktop", where you keep things you're working on right now. Program windows, applications, and games all can be opened on the desktop. Applications can be switched to, closed, or customized based on how you use them. When you want to change a desktop setting, you can hypothetically think of going into your filing cabinet to make the change and it would be reflected on your desktop. While there is no physical file cabinet, this analogy is being used to help you understand the important role the desktop plays when one is interacting with the desktop components.


 Figure 1.1 - In a computer, your hard disk plays the role of a filing cabinet. Everything that's "in your computer" is actually stored on the computer's hard disk.
Figure 1.1 - In a computer, your hard disk plays the role of a filing cabinet. Everything that's "in your computer" is actually stored on the computer's hard disk.


History Of The Windows Desktop

At the time, Windows XP Professional supported an entirely new look and feel as compared to earlier versions of Windows including those features found within Windows 98 and Windows 2000. Its icons, objects and other windows elements were more vibrant in Windows XP, and there was a higher level of flexibility when customizing how the desktop looked and felt. There were plenty of new desktop features and enhancements that made this version of windows easier to look at so I will briefly introduce you to some of the main components that made up the Windows XP desktop.

The Windows XP Desktop Dissected

Back in the day when Windows XP was running the show, you probably first turned on your computer and logged into Windows and probably saw only the Windows desktop and some desktop icons, the Start button, and other objects as illustrated in Figure 1.2A below.  Your desktop and icons probably wouldn't look exactly like those in the figure. But you'll learn to easily recognize your own desktop in a moment. From the illustration below you can see how my Windows XP desktop looked like. I have added annotations to help describe what each component does on the desktop.

Figure 1.2A - The Windows XP Desktop - Overview Of Windows XP Desktop Components - Full Size Image
Figure 1.2 - The Windows XP Desktop - Overview Of Windows XP Desktop Components - Full Size Image

Now, fast forwarding a bit, here's what the more modern Windows 10 desktop components look like to give you a general comparison. The design and colors may be different, but the principles remain the same. Both versions of Windows include a number of desktop components including the Start button, System Tray, Notification Area, Time & Date Area, and System Icons.

Introduction To The Modern Windows Desktop

So now I want to skip ahead a bit and look at the more modern Windows 10 desktop. A big design change was incorporated into the Windows 8.1 was the development of Live Tiles, where open Apps could be downloaded from the Microsoft Store and have them interactively displayed on the Start menu, while the Windows 10 desktop layout featured an even a bigger, more incorporated change by having a entirely new Action Center implemented where users could get vital information about software and hardware components running on the computer.

Here's a look at what a standard Windows 10 desktop looks like with explanations of each component found on the screen.

The Windows 10 Desktop Component Explanations.
Figure 1.3 - The Windows 10 Desktop Component Explanations.

The Windows 10 Desktop Dissected Even More

Going a bit further, I will describe exactly the main components found in a Windows 10 desktop. 

The Windows 10 Start Button
Figure 1.4 - The Windows 10 Start Button

There is a Start button referred to as the Start menu in the lower left hand corner of the desktop which links to documents, programs, shortcuts, and more system components. The Start menu provides quick access to programs, files, and shortcuts on your computer. You can access also access the Windows control panel via the Start menu configure devices such as printers, mice, and keyboards. Here is what the full Windows Start Menu looks like in Windows 10:

Start menu windows 10
Figure 1.5 - There rest of the Start menu provides quicker access to common program components, system files and shortcuts, and other programs. 

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The Cortana Search Box

Next to the Start button shows the The Cortana Search box which is your key to launching programs, and controlling Windows through voice activated instructions. According to a article, Microsoft has designed Cortana as part of the next generation of search, which is about getting personal results and giving you things based on knowing your patterns without you having to ask.1

In Windows 10, there are two ways to search using Cortana:

  1. You can use the search box in the task bar to enter your search query to find anything you need.
  2. Or you can start Cortana in listening mode using the "Hey Cortana" feature or the Windows key + Shift + C keyboard shortcut to ask the assistant to find anything you want.2

Figure 1.6 - The Cortana Search Box
Figure 1.6 - The Cortana Search Box

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The Task Bar

The Task Bar located to the right of the Start menu, allows easy access to frequently used shortcuts and documents that you customize based on how you use the computer. You can launch your favorite websites or start different applications without the hassle of going through the Windows Start menu to find the program you want to run.

Figure 1.7 - Quick Launch Menu Bar
Figure 1.7 - Quick Launch Menu Bar

The Task bar is the small application bar located near the bottom of the Windows desktop that shows all open programs in the system. You can minimize, maximize, and shut down any open program found within this area using mouse or keyboard commands.When you open new programs in Windows 10, an icon is created into the this area on the desktop. You can further manipulate the window by closing, or maximizing the window by clicking on particular icon.

Shortcuts can be easily created or "dragged and dropped" from Windows Explorer or My Computer to provide a more convenient way of accessing your favorite Windows programs and files. This is also referring to the process as pinning programs to the Start Menu or Taskbar.

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Pinning a Program To The Task bar

Pinning programs to the taskbar is a simple procedure. This section will outline the steps required to make programs more accessible on the Windows desktop. For the purpose of this tutorial, I will pin the Notepad (text editing program) to the Task bar. 

To pin a shortcut to the Start menu, go to Start (Windows orb) and go to All Apps. Scroll to find the program you want to pin, then right-click on it.

You’ll open a menu that includes Pin to Taskbar (the grey line along the bottom of the Desktop) and Pin to Start Menu (making a shortcut to the program appear when you click Start).

Figure 1.8 - Pinning a Program To the Taskbar
Figure 1.8 - Pinning a Program To the Taskbar

Click on whichever of the two you prefer (you can choose to do both) and you’ll then see the shortcut appear. Simply click it to open your program.

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The System Tray

The System Tray in the lower right hand corner of your screen gives you quick access to open programs. It also displays the current date and time. The
system tray provides an easy way to manage and close open programs. You can customize this system tray by right mouse clicking an area and then left clicking Properties menu item from the popup menu that appears.

Figure 1.9 - The System Tray in Windows 10 Desktop
Figure 1.9 - The System Tray in Windows 10 Desktop

Whenever a new program is loaded an icon representing its open state will appear in the Windows System Tray. From there, you can choose to work with the program by usually right clicking and selecting from a series of menu options to control program options.

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Introduction To The Action Center

New in Windows 10 is the Action Center, a unified place for all system notifications and quick access to various settings. It lives in a slide-out pane that appears at the press of an icon in the task bar. It's a nice addition to Windows, and it's very customizable.

In Windows 10, the new action center is where you'll find app notifications and quick actions. On the taskbar, look for the action center icon.

The old action center is still here; it's been renamed Security and Maintenance. And it's still where you go to change your security settings.

In the search box on the taskbar, enter security and maintenance and then select Security and Maintenance.

To add, disable, or enable notifications, begin by clicking the Action Center icon located on the right-hand side of the Windows taskbar. Then, click the All Settings button with the gear icon and select System in the top-left corner of the window. Afterward, click Notifications & Actions.

How to change your quick actions in Action Center In Windows 10

  1. Click on the Start menu button.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click on System.
  4. Click on Notifications and actions.
  5. Click on the quick action you want to change.
  6. Click on the option you want to be a quick action.
  7. Alternatively, you can open the Action Center by clicking the notification icon in the system tray.
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