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Part D: What are windows?

This section starts with an introduction, and continues with the following sub-sections (which follow on from each other in this page, as well as being links within this page).


Windows are rectangular bordered areas on the screen which represent a means of communication between you and a task. Every application that you run has its own corresponding window on the desktop, and so multiple applications will result in multiple windows on the screen. These can overlap, or be arranged neatly on the screen, as you wish.

Windows uses three types of window: Application, Document and window-like boxes called dialogue boxes and message boxes. Application windows are the most important windows of all, so these will be described here, and a description of the differences between these, Document and Dialogue box windows will be given in Section D 6.

Windows uses the simple "parent and child" metaphor to organise windows into logical groups. A child window is contained within its parent window. A parent window is usually an application, and only parent / application windows have menu bars. Some applications can have more than one child window. These child windows can be arranged in any way - but within the parent window. For example, a word processor (with a menu bar) could have more than one document open at a time, and each document appears in its own window (without a menu bar), and these child / document windows can overlap, or cover each other entirely, or be neatly arranged, or be small icons representing the document, but they all appear inside the application window they belong to.

An Application window consists of four main components:

  • A frame
  • A title bar
  • A menu bar (also called main menu)
  • A control menu

These components will be discussed in sections D 1 - D 5.

D1: The Frame

The frame defines the edges of the window. The frame restricts the amount of information you can see at any time, and this frame can usually be resized if you wish to see more or less information in the window.

For example, imagine you have a piece of A4 card, with a rectangular hole cut out of the middle, which is about 3 inches square. If this card is placed on top of a braille page for example, you can only read 3 by 3 inches of braille, which is not always meaningful if the text is on a line 6 inches long, but might be enough as a memory aid. To see more information on our braille page, we must cut out a bigger hole in our card, so that we can almost see all of the A4 braille page. This is also true of windows. To see more information in a window we must enlarge the frame. This is described in the following sections.

D2: Accessing Information Beyond the Frame

To see more and more information in a window, or to reveal information in a window currently obscured, there are three things we can do. One method of changing the size of a window is to change the size of the window frame, either by maximising or by changing one edge at a time, another is to move a window, and a third is to scroll through the information in the window.

D2a: Maximising and Resizing the Window

To see as much as possible, we could make the frame as big as currently possible - known as maximising the window. Maximising is done from the control menu of the window, (Alt+Spacebar, for an application window, or Alt+Hyphen for a document window, then X for maximise). Maximise has its own button, shown on the very right hand side of the window's title bar, as a box with an upwards pointing arrow-head in it, and clicking on this with the mouse will maximise the window. You can maximise the size of any application or document window, but dialogue boxes cannot be resized. and therefore do not have a maximise button. A window can only be maximised to fill its parent window - so if the parent is maximised to fill the whole screen, then the document window can also be maximised to fill the whole screen. If a document window is maximised, the title bar of the parent window changes to include the title of the document window.

To simply change the size of the window slightly, you can move one edge of the frame at a time, using the Control menu, choosing Size, and then selecting and moving one of the window's frames with the direction cursor keys on the keyboard. You cannot resize a dialogue box at all.

D2b: Moving the Window

You might want to move a window around on the scr een, for example, to be able to see two documents at the same time, arranged side-by-side. To move a window, you must access its control menu, and select Move (Alt+Spacebar for an application window, Alt+Hyphen for a document window or dialogue box, then, M for Move). Then use the direction cursor keys to move the window around the screen to its new position, and press Return to drop it.

D2c: Scrolling the Window

The other way to see more information in a window is to scroll around the information, without moving the position of your text insertion cursor, like scrolling through text in a DOS editor, for example. Often a window has room to display only a small portion of its total contents. So, in a word processor document, maybe the address and first line of a letter might be visible on the screen, but to see another part of the document, you must scroll through the document.

Any window that contains information which cannot all be displayed with the window that size, displays scroll bars vertically and horizontally around the window (much like the EDIT program supplied with MS-DOS from V5). These scroll bars have an arrow-head at each end, and clicking on these with the mouse changes the position of the view to a new portion of the information. (Like moving the cut-out portion of our card to a new position on the braille page). The insertion point is not moved in this way (see Section G 6 on Editfields for how to move the insertion point) - only the view changes. If your access technology permits you may be able to do this.

If not, then scrolling through the text from the keyboard is different - in that you move your text insertion cursor around in the window instead, so changing the view of the information. The direction cursor keys and other combinations like PgUp / Dn, Ctrl+PgUp / Dn, and Ctrl+Home / End, move the insertion cursor through the text in discrete larger jumps.

D3: The Title Bar

The title bar is at the very top of every window and it displays the window's title. Active and inactive windows are usually differentiated by different colours (for more on active / inactive windows, see Section D 7). By default, Windows uses blue for active windows, and white for inactive ones. Note, these colours can be changed by the user. This Guide refers to blue and white title bars throughout.

If the window has the system focus, and is therefore active, the title bar is blue on the screen. If it does not have the system focus, and is therefore inactive, the title bar is white. This also applies to dialogue box title bars, and document window title bars. If you have opened a document, the title bar of the document window will contain the name of the open file. If you have maximised the document window to fill its parent window, the title bar of the parent window will display both its application name, and the name of the document window.

The title bar houses a button for the control menu of all windows, shown on the very left hand side, as a box with a hyphen in it. For windows which are sizeable, the title bar also displays maximise and minimise buttons on the right hand side, as boxes with upwards, and downwards pointing arrow heads respectively. If the window is already maximised, the maximise symbol is replaced by a double headed arrow, which restores the window to its previous size.

D4: The Menu Bar

The menu bar provides a horizontal list of options for controlling the application and is accessed with the Alt key, or individual options with their short-cut keys. The menu bar is described in more detail in Section E 1. Menu bars are only found in application windows.

D5: The Control Menu

The control menu (also called a system menu) provides a pull-down menu list of options for manipulating a window. This is typically used to perform tasks such as changing the size of a window, moving and closing it without the use of the mouse. It is accessed by the short-cut command Alt+Spacebar, but can also be accessed from the menu bar, by pressing Alt, then the left direction cursor key, (because it is a button on the left hand side of the title bar, shown as a box with a hyphen in it). All applications, document windows, dialogue boxes, and application and document icons have control menus. The control menus of applications have their own short-cut key Alt+Spacebar (a possible memory aid: "a" for application, spacebar has an "a" in it), but the control menus of document windows, like a word-processing file, document icons, and dialogue boxes are accessed by Alt+Hyphen.

D6: The Three Types of Window

Windows uses 3 types of window: Application, Document, and window-like boxes called dialogue boxes (for interactive tasks) and message boxes (for messages and warnings). Application windows and the parent / child concept were described in detail earlier in this section, and the following description outlines the main differences between the other types of windows. An example of document windows is given in Section F 2, where group windows in Program Manager are described as an example, and Dialogue boxes are described in the Dialogue box Section G.

D6a: Application Windows

Application windows contain any task or program that is running. The name of the application, (together with the name and directory path of any maximised document window it has open) appears on the window's title bar. The control menu of an application window is accessed by Alt+Spacebar ("a" for application, spacebar has an "a" in it), or from the menu bar by pressing Alt followed by the left direction cursor key.

Application windows contain anything associated with the application, for example multiple document windows, or document windows that have been minimised / iconised are all found within the application window.

D6b: Document Windows

A document window appears only with an application that can open more than one document at a time. It looks similar to an application window, but does not have a menu bar, only a control menu. For example, a word processor may have more than one document open, and each document is in its own window, within the boundaries of its application window. Another example of document windows are the group windows found in Program Manager, described in Section F. The control menu of each document window is accessed by Alt+Hyphen. A document window can be maximised to fill its parent window, so if the parent window is maximised to fill the whole screen, the maximising the document window will also mean filling the whole screen.

D6c: Dialogue Boxes and Message Windows

Smaller window-like boxes are also used, called dialogue boxes, and message boxes. Message and warning boxes simply display a message that you can read and acknowledge by pressing Return, and require no other dialogue. Usually, when a message box is displayed on the screen, Windows will not respond to any input until you acknowledge the message. Dialogue boxes require more interaction, and will be described in more detail in Section G. Message and Dialogue boxes cannot be resized, only moved or closed. These options are found in the control menu of the dialogue box using Alt+Hyphen.

D7: Active and Inactive Windows

Although there might be multiple windows on your screen, in general, only one can accept keyboard input at a time. This window is in front of, or on top of, all the other windows, (for example, remember the example of papers on top of each other), and this front window is known as the active window, indicated by the blue title bar (described in Section D 3). Inactive windows may continue to run as "background tasks", for example, the Print Manager application might monitor your printing while minimised, without any windows open. Inactive windows may not necessarily stop all processing, they merely do not accept input while inactive.

D8: Moving Window to Window

If you want to work in another window, you must tell Windows to look at it, by moving the focus of the system to the desired window. Since everything on the screen is a window, and inside these are other windows, each with different properties, you need different commands depending on the nature of the window. Instead of using the mouse, Windows provides you with both a Window listing from the menu bar for all windows open within an application (including minimised / iconised windows), and a Task listing for all the currently running applications. In addition, there are short-cut commands for each type of window. See Sections D 8a, and D 8b.

D8a: Document Window Listing

To change to a new document window, (windows within one particular application) you need to access the (document) Window listing. Choose the option "Window" from the menu bar of the relevant application. Choosing a new window from the pull-down menu makes this the new active window, accepting keyboard input. Alternatively, use the short-cut command Ctrl+Tab to move from document window to document window, or to go backwards, use Shift+Ctrl+Tab.

D8b: Task Listing and Switch-To Function

To work in another (currently running) application, you can access the Task Listing, using the short-cut keys Ctrl+Esc. Then select the desired application from the list. Alternatively, you can use the control menu of the active application (Alt+Spacebar) and choose "Switch To". Then choose the application you wish to switch to from the resultant list. Another method is to use the short-cut command Alt+Tab, which moves you application window to application window.

Once you move into a new window, the original window moves into the background, and becomes inactive, (although it is still open) and the title bar becomes white. Some applications can multi-task within Windows, others cannot. Print Manager and Clock are examples of those which can run in the background, while their windows are inactive (see Section D 7).

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