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WIMPS - Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers
WIMPs - Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers
If you've ever wondered why everyone knows a 7-year old who can operate their computer better than you can, it may be because 7 year olds are fidgets, and will point and click at anything on a computer waiting for a random reward. 

Adults, on the other hand, fear they may accidentally start a nuclear war or vote Conservative by one click in the wrong place.  Rest assured, unless you are the president of a Superpower or live in Florida, neither of these things are likely to happen, how ever hard or randomly you click.

On the contrary, computers (or most of them anyway) are designed using a WIMPS system - Windows, Icons, Menus & Pointers.  They won't do a lot until you point and click at the screen.  

As with many things in IT, it helps to start backwards - with pointers. 

Pointer refers to the arrow (the mouse-pointer) which moves around the screen when you move the mouse.  

Menus are lists of things that your computer can do.  A pull-down menu is one where you have to click on a menu-title in the menu bar in order to pull down the menu. 

A drop-down menu is one which drops down when your mouse-pointer merely moves over the name of the menu.  

Icons are supposed to be helpful - they offer you something graphic to point at, rather like a pictorial menu in a Hungarian restaurant (unless you speak Hungarian of course).  They are called icons because they are supposed to be pictures which directly represent whatever it is they relate to.  Unfortunately, this is not often the case, and you have to learn what the icons mean.  This icon, for example,  means "minimize all windows" or "return to desktop", and is extremely useful, but why a spade in some mashed potato should mean that is beyond me. 

If an icon is on the toolbar, you click it once to make the computer do something, if it's on your desktop (or in explorer) you click on it twice.  Behind every icon is a hidden command, and on a rainy day you can change many of the options offered by icons.

Windows.  Computer manufacturers have a habit of naming things for very good reasons, and not telling you what those good reasons are.  That's why thousands (if not millions) of people whose computers use Windows operating systems and  Windows software don't know what a window is, or what it can do for them.  

To understand why windows on computers are a Good Thing, you have to take yourself back to the days when computers could only do one thing at a time. Just as you might find it difficult to write an essay and talk to someone at the same time, so computers didn't have the 'brain power' to do more than one task. You opened a programme, used it, and shut it down. Then you opened another one.

Computers nowadays have so much power that you can have many programs all open at once, and switch between them without closing one down before you open another. To do this, you hold the programmes open in 'windows'. When you move from one to the other, the others stay in little boxes in the task bar along the bottom of the screen. To access another one, you point and click in the relevant box in the task bar (you'll see the first few words of the programme and an icon which represents it).

So what? Well, it means that you can copy and paste things from one programme to another in lightning quick time - particularly, for example, between the Internet and Word, where you might want to paste stuff from something you've found on the web into a Word document. Or keep your email program open while you do other things, so that if a new email comes in, you see it immediately.

Before you get too excited, don't let this tempt you to keep everything open all the time. Computers do have limits, and the more you have open at once, the more risk you run of your computer running slowly or crashing. But it's normally quite OK to keep three or four open without any problems, depending on how intensely those programmes use your computer's memory.

If you are only using one programme at a time, you're probably not getting as much out of your computer as you could.

Updated Sunday November 11, 2001 4:29 PM


© Jonathan Still 2001 You may quote from these pages, but if your selection includes a reference I have made to someone else's work, please make sure that the attribution is clear. By not doing so, you may implicate me in plagiarism.