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Part C: What are icons?

An icon is a small picture that represents some task or operation, file or program. Icons are designed to be manipulated with the mouse, but almost every operation can also be executed with keyboard commands. Icons in some applications can be moved around the screen, and in some cases, this means that you are moving or copying a file or a directory from one place to another. For example, dragging a file icon from one directory and dropping it in another in the application File Manager will move the file. This would perform the same function as the DOS command:

copy c:\olddir\text.doc c:\newdir\

More specific details about icons can be found in the following sections, (which follow on from each other in this page, as well as being individual links within this page).

C1: Icon Identification

Many icons have names underneath them, which make them easy to identify, and for screen-readers to tell you what the icon is. Other icons which appear on the visual toolbar in Word for Windows, are alternatives to using keyboard commands to execute a command. For example, a little picture of a printer, instead of choosing Print from the menu bar. It is unclear how screenreaders will cope with icons such as these, but since the information that this icon refers to the print menu is somewhere in the program code, presumably, this information can be made accessible to access software. At the moment however, this is not a big problem, since the toolbar is usually an option, with keyboard and menu alternatives.

C2: Selecting vs Activating an Icon

There is a subtle, but important difference between selecting an icon and activating it. When you select an icon, (eg by using the arrow cursor keys), you move a highlight onto it, and it becomes ready to move or to activate, or to access its control menu (see Section D 5). When you activate an icon on the other hand, you open the application, and the application window appears (see Section D 6). See Section F on Program Manager for more details on these operations.

C3: Types of Icon

There are 3 types of icon you can use from the keyboard in Windows, although the distinction may not be totally clear until you have also read the section on types of windows (Section D).

Application Icons represent applications which are currently running, but which have no open windows and have been minimised. They are usually displayed at the bottom of the screen, on the desktop, as minimised icons. These are not to be confused with program-item icons.

Program-Item Icons represent applications you can start from Windows from Program Manager. These icons appear in groups, and can be activated (started) with Return, after highlighting them with the arrow cursor keys.

Document Icons are document windows that are minimised, and may indicate an iconised document from a word processor for example. The labels that appear below the icons will indicate which type of icon it is, and which application created it. The document icons appear in the application window they belong to.

The fourth type of icon does not represent a window, or a program, but may represent a file, for example, in the application File Manager, which can be selected with the keyboard, and then the menu is used to execute tasks which otherwise might be done with the mouse. Or it might represent a task, on a toolbar in an application, for example, a picture of a printer in Word for Windows represents the command to print. These are the icons which you may not be able to access and directly operate with the keyboard from within Windows.

C4: Minimising a Window to an Icon

Minimising / iconising a window to an icon is done from the Control Menu of the window, (see Section D 5) (accessed with Alt+Spacebar for an application window, and Alt+Hyphen for a document window). The minimise button is shown as a downwards pointing arrow-head on the right hand side of the window's title bar.

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