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Part E: Menus in more detail

Most Windows applications have not only a menu bar, a control menu, and pull-down menus, but may also have further menus called cascading menus. These are all described in detail in the following sections, (which follow on from each other in this page, as well as being individual links within this page).

E1: Menu Bar (main menu)

All Windows applications are driven from a menu bar, which is accessed in a standard way. The menu bar (or main menu) is a line of high level command options in a row across the top of the application window, from which all operations are initiated (eg File, Edit, View, Format, Help). As Windows applications are written to guidelines, most menu bars will look fairly similar in terms of the sorts of options on it, and their order, but the options will obviously be highly specific to the application.

E2: Short-Cut Keys

Many options in menus have short-cut keys, which allow you to choose an item quickly from a menu with a single key press, for example, Alt+H for Help. These short-cut keys are indicated by underlined characters, so H on the item Help would be underlined, and would open the pull-down menu from the Help option. In addition, some commands can be accessed with single key-presses - for example Alt+F4 will close the active application directly, bypassing the File menu (by choosing File, then Exit). In pull-down menus, options usually have an underlined character, but these are used without the Alt key. In dialogue boxes, each element has an underlined character but requires the Alt key to be pressed at the same time.

E3: Accessing the Menu Bar

Windows applications are written to the same guidelines, so, (in principle) most applications should behave like others in terms of executing commands. Therefore, the menu bar itself is always activated with the Alt key, which puts a highlight on the first menu item, and then the direction cursor keys, can be used to move the highlight along the menu bar options (including the control menu of the application and of any document windows it has open).

But each option also has its own short-cut key, which not only accesses the menu bar item, but also opens its pull-down menu. For example, File is usually Alt+F, and Help is usually Alt+H. If the Alt key was pressed alone, putting a highlight on the first menu bar item, at this point you can then access the file menu simply with F, which opens the pull-down menu from File.

E4: Pull-Down Menus

Most options on the menu bar of applications have pull-down menus, which give a list of further choices specific to the menu bar option chosen. Pull-down menus quite literally are pulled down from the menu bar option, so appear on the screen directly under the menu bar option you selected. (For example, File on the menu bar usually leads to a pull-down menu containing at least: Open, Save, Print, Exit).

By default, when the pull-down menu is opened, the first item on it is highlighted. Items are chosen from pull-down menus by using the up and down direction cursor keys to move the highlight up and down the list of options, and then pressing Return. But they also have short-cut keys, and these are also underlined: however, in contrast to the menu bar, in pull-down menus, you do not need to press the Alt key, just press the underlined letter. In fact, pressing the Alt key when in pull-down menus cancels all menu activation, so take care!

Sometimes, an item on a pull-down menu can simply be on or off, and this will be indicated by a tick to the left of the item on the menu. It's short-cut key can be used to turn this tick on and off. (For example, in Program Manager you have an item under "Options" called "Save Settings On Exit" and if this is ticked, it will save the layout of the application, and if not, it defaults back to the original layout next time you start Windows).

Selection of an option from a pull-down menu option usually leads to one of three things: 1. execution of the selected function, (eg Exit), 2. a dialogue box requesting more information or confirmation, or 3. another sub-menu.

If you are in a pull-down menu, and you press the left or right direction cursor keys, you will move into the next pull-down menu from the menu bar. The only occasion when this action will take you into another pull-down menu is if the item has 3 dots after it indicating that there are more options leading from this. These are cascading menus, see Section E 5.

E5: Cascading Menus

Sub-menus that are invoked from pull-down menus are known as cascading menus. Options on pull-down menus which lead to cascading menus are indicated by 3 dots after the option name. For example: "Save...." Pressing return at this point, or pressing the right arrow key, to follow this link opens a cascading menu which appears to the right of the selection option, offering a vertical list of further options.

A simple word processor like Notepad might only have a menu bar, one level of pull-down menus, and then an execution level or a dialogue box, but a complex application like Word for Windows may have several levels of menus and a dialogue box, before reaching the execution level.

E6: Canceling Menu Activation

To cancel activation of the current level of menu, press the Esc key. This action returns you to the previous level of menu, or will cancel the menu bar activation, if no other menus are currently displayed. Pressing Alt at any level of menu activation closes all menu activation.

E7: Disabled Menu Items

Sometimes, some items in pull-down menus are not available at the current time. These items are termed "disabled", and are in grey type, rather than in black. This is to prevent us from trying to perform inappropriate operations on our data.

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