All about Windows

Estimated read time 7 min read

Windows is an operating system designed by Microsoft. The operating system is what allows you to use a computer. Windows comes preloaded on most new personal computers (PCs), which helps to make it the most popular operating system in the world.

Windows makes it possible to complete all types of everyday tasks on your computer. For example, you can use Windows to browse the Internet, check your email, edit digital photos, listen to music, play games, and do much more.

Windows 10 desktop interface

Windows is also used in many offices because it gives you access to productivity tools such as calendars, word processors, and spreadsheets.

Microsoft Word

Microsoft released the first version of Windows in the mid-1980s. There have been many versions of Windows since then, but the most recent ones include Windows 10 (released in 2015), Windows 8 (2012), Windows 7 (2009), Windows Vista (2007), and Windows XP (2001).

About this tutorial

This tutorial is designed to show you the absolute basics of using a Windows computer, including how to use the desktop, how to open different files and applications, and how to move and resize windows. The information in this tutorial will apply to more recent versions of Windows, including the ones mentioned above. However, once you’ve learned the basics, you may also want to review one of our version-specific Windows tutorials. Just select the version of Windows that’s installed on your computer:

  • Windows 10
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 7
  • Windows XP

Windows 8 vs. other versions

While most versions of Windows are relatively similar, Windows 8 works very differently from other versions. However, if you have Windows 8 on your computer, you should now be able to upgrade to Windows 10, which is more similar to earlier versions, including Windows 7. We recommend upgrading your computer to Windows 10 if you can. Review our Windows 10 tutorial to learn how.

However, we’ll still point out any major differences between Windows 8 and other versions, which means you’ll see some Windows 8-specific information from time to time. If your computer uses Windows 8, you’ll want to review both this tutorial and our Windows 8 tutorial to learn more about the differences.

Lesson 2: Navigating Windows

Navigating Windows

Whether you’re new to computers or just Windows, it’s important to learn the basics of using your computer. If it all seems a little overwhelming right now, don’t worry! We’ll take you through it step by step and show you some of the most fundamental things you’ll need to know, including how to work with the desktopopen and close windows, and turn off your computer.

Watch the video below to learn the basics of navigating Windows.

The desktop

Once your computer has finished starting up, the first thing you’ll see is the desktop. You can think of the desktop as the main workspace for your computer. From here, you can view and manage your files, open applications, access the Internet, and much more.

Click the buttons in the interactive below to become more familiar with the desktop.

Windows 10 desktop interface

In Windows 8, you will usually see the Start screen before the desktop. To learn more, review our lesson on Getting Started with Windows 8.

Working with applications

An application—also known as a program—is a type of software that allows you to complete tasks on your computer. Windows comes with many built-in applications you can use. For example, if you want to browse the Internet, you can use Microsoft Edge (or Internet Explorer if you’re using Windows 8 or earlier).

To open an application:

  1. Using your mouse, click the Start button, then select the desired application. If you don’t see the one you want, click All Programs to see a complete list of applications. In our example, we’ll open Microsoft Edge.
    start button in Windows 10
  2. The application will appear in a new window.
    Microsoft Edge new window

There is no Start menu in Windows 8, so you’ll usually open applications from the Start screen. Click the Start button to go to the Start screen, then click an app to open it.

screenshot of Windows 8

Working with windows

Whenever you open a file, folder, or application, it will appear in a new window. You can have multiple items open at the same time in different windows. You’ll use windows all the time, so it’s important to know how to switch between open windows, how to move and resize windows, and how to close windows when you’re done using them.

In Windows 8, some programs will open on the Start screen, not the desktop. If you’re using Windows 8, note that the information below applies only to windows you have opened on the desktop.

Parts of a window

You’ll see the same three buttons in the upper-right corner of almost every window. These buttons allow you to perform several functions, including these below.

  • Click the Minimize button to hide the window. The window will be minimized to the taskbar. You can then click the icon for that window on the taskbar to make it reappear.
    Minimize button
  • Click the Maximize button to make the window fill the entire screen.
    Maximize button
  • If the screen is maximized, the Maximize button will be temporarily replaced by the Restore button. Just click it to return the window to its original size.
    Restore button
  • Click the Close button to close the window.
    Close button

To move a window:

  1. Click and drag the top of the window to move it to the desired location on the screen. When you’re done, release the mouse.
    moving a window
  2. The window will appear in the new location.

To resize a window:

  1. Hover the mouse over any corner of the window, then click and drag the mouse to make the window larger or smaller. When you’re done, release the mouse.
    resizing the window
  2. The window will be resized.
    window resized smaller

Switching between windows

If you have more than one window open at the same time, you can quickly switch between them by clicking the icon for that window on the taskbar.

Shutting down your computer

When you’re done using your computer, it’s important to shut it down properly. The procedure will vary slightly depending on which version of Windows you’re using.

To shut down your computer:

  • If you’re using Windows 10, click the Start button, then the Power icon, then click Shut down.
    Shut down in Windows 10
  • If you’re using Windows 8, click the Start button to access the Start screen, click the Power icon near the upper-right corner, and select Shut down. If you don’t see this option, it means you’ll need to upgrade to Windows 8.1. Review this page from our Windows 8 tutorial to learn how.
Shut down in Windows 8.1
  • If you’re using Windows 7 or earlier, Click the Start button, then select Shut down.
    Shut down in Windows 7 or earlier

Restarting and Sleep mode

You can also click the power button button for more options. For example, if your computer has become unresponsive, you can choose Restart to quickly turn it off and on again.

You can also choose to put your computer into Sleep mode. This turns off most of your computer’s processes, but it remembers which applications and files are open. It allows the computer to start up more quickly because you won’t have to wait for the operating system and applications to load. Note that your computer may go into Sleep mode automatically if you haven’t used it for more than a few minutes.

Sleep mode in Windows 10

If you have a laptop, you can simply close the lid to put it into Sleep mode.

Waking your computer from Sleep mode

If your computer is in Sleep mode, you’ll need to wake it to use it. To wake the computer from Sleep mode, click the mouse or press any key on the keyboard.

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