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Part B: Introducing Windows

There are two main reasons for working in the Windows environment: firstly, to reduce memory load and make working easier, and secondly, to run multiple applications at the same time. These aspects are discussed in the following sections, (which follow on from each other in this page, as well as being individual links within this page).

B1: The Desktop Metaphor

Windows is based on the "Desktop Metaphor" to make accessing your computer feel easier. The principle is based on real-life: that you are sitting at your desk (your screen), which has a filing system in drawers (your hard disk). You can arrange both your desktop and your hard disk however you choose.

On some areas on your desk you have a variety of things relating to report writing - a typewriter, a dictionary, other documents you are referencing. In another area on your desk there might be things to do with numerical analysis and storage - data sheets, a calculator, financial reports, a statistics manual. In another area on your desk, you might have your appointments diary, and an address book. In a single work session, you might want access to all this information, and so you have spread it all out on your desk, some of it is overlapping, and you can see little bits of all of them, and all of some of them. You might just leave some room by your hands, for your notetaker, for example. Windows allows you to have all of these activities immediately available to you at the same time, without having to put one activity away before starting the next one.

The entire surface of your desk is known as the "desktop" in the Windows environment, and each activity (typewriting, statistics, clock) has its own enclosed area on the desktop called application windows. These are described in more detail in Section D 6. Examples would be having a wordprocessor, a statistics package and a clock application each having their own application windows open on the desktop. The desktop is the area on which all windows appear, and if there are no windows open, only the desktop would be visible.

The desktop can be full of many open windows, overlapping, of different sizes and shapes, but it could be fairly neat and clear, and does not have to be completely filled by these application windows. The desktop can be organised how you wish; it might be covered in various sheets of paper, or these papers might be orderly and stacked up in one corner, or they might all be filed neatly in your filing cabinet. Windows allows you to arrange your desktop how you like at any time.

It is used to remind you of applications which are still currently running, but which have no windows open. For example, you have moved your typewriter to the edge of your desk, out of the way, and it has no paper in it. It is still accessible for immediate use, you did not put it back in the cupboard - and to use it again, you simply put it within hand's reach, and insert a piece of paper. This event is represented by pictures on the desktop, indicating your word processor application, for example. This application icon sits on your desktop, still running, but without any open windows, and to use the application again, you must open a window in which to work. Application icons are described in more detail in Section C 3. If you don't want to work with your typewriter any more, you simply put it back in the cupboard.

There are a number of advantages to being able to run and to have lots of applications on the screen at the same time. The main advantage is to be able to work quickly between applications. You can see the data in each application at the same time, and keyboard commands are minimised, since you don't have to close one application, then start the other to work in another application. Windows allows you to use data from one application in another, by copying, cutting and pasting to the clipboard.

The clipboard is a useful facility that Windows provides for temporary storage of data. A cut or copy command stores selected data in memory on the clipboard until either another cut or copy command is issued, or until you exit Windows. The paste command will insert the contents of the clipboard where you request. This could be to a new location in the same document, or in another document, or even in another application. The application Clipboard Viewer can be used to view the current contents of the clipboard.

B2: Standards and Similarity Between Applications

All Windows applications have to survive in the Windows environment, which requires designers to build all applications to certain standards. Hence, different applications tend to behave in the same way, so unlike different DOS applications which each have their own set of possibly complex keyboard commands, most Windows applications can be driven using the same keyboard commands. This general consistency means that it will be easier for users to understand new applications.

So, to initiate saving a file, Word for Windows uses the same keyboard commands as Excel. Although not all applications do use exactly the same commands or layout, once you learn the basics of operating Windows applications, you won't have to search through manuals for daily task commands every time you use a new application.

One of these standards is that every application is driven from a single line of high-level options, a menu bar (or main menu) containing between 3 and 10 options depending on the complexity of the application, and is used in the same way in every application. This is described in more detail in Section E 1.

Another standard Windows function is the method of data selection, in order to, for example, cut, copy, delete, move, a piece of text. Holding the Shift key down while using the keyboard movement keys (eg cursors, Tab, PgUp etc) puts a highlight on the data. When you release the shift key, the highlighted text is 'selected'. This applies in most word processors, spreadsheets, and so on.

B3: Graphical User Interface and Direct Manipulation

The Graphical User Interface affords more visually aesthetic and often visually practical means of interaction than DOS applications usually do. As outlined in the Introduction, because the screen can be divided into an infinite number of sections, and objects are simply dots, called pixels, not text, many objects can be displayed on the screen at any time, in any position, in any order. In many applications you can create and display graphics in text documents, you can use and display different styles and sizes of font, rather like a newspaper, with WYSIWYG presentation (What You See Is What You Get): formatting like bold and underlined are shown on the screen as they will appear when printed, and so on.

Sighted users often have overlapping windows on their screen, (just like overlapping pieces of paper on your desk) to enable them to see some of the content of each application window, as memory joggers, or for browsing data in one while working in the other. This arrangement may be useful in some situations for non-sighted users too, but you may prefer to arrange them in a more orderly manner. Tiling the windows can be useful, so that they fill the screen like wall-tiles, with no spaces between them and no overlapping windows. Alternatively you could cascade the windows, so that they look like a deck of cards spread towards you, so you can see the top edge of each card, and the whole of the front card. Maximising the window to fill the whole screen can sometimes be the easiest way to avoid clutter on the screen.

Direct manipulation is the term used for executing tasks by handling objects themselves with a pointing device. For example, to open an application from an icon, the mouse pointer is moved onto the icon, and the mouse button is double-clicked. This launches the application. To move an icon representing a file from one directory to another, a drag-and-drop operation is performed by pointing at the file icon with the mouse, holding down the mouse button and moving the mouse pointer to the new directory, and then dropping the file icon into this directory by releasing the mouse button.

Almost all Windows direct manipulation capabilities can also be executed by keyboard commands. Some of these keyboard commands can be tailored (more or less easily) by the user to their own preferences. (The book "Windows from the Keyboard" by Baran might be a useful reference book).

B4: Multiple Applications

Windows enables us to run several applications at the same time, and to have them all on the screen at once. For example, if you were producing a report, you would have your word processor open, maybe also a spreadsheet to perform calculations, and to study data while you are working in the wordprocessor. You might also have a database open, to examine which companies you should reference in your report, for example. In addition, you might have a clock running, with its alarm set, and a Print Manager application running, to keep a check on your printing. This is all based on the Desktop Metaphor (see Section B1).

Another way in which Windows relieves memory load for users is to start an application called "Program Manager" as soon as Windows loads. This presents icons for programs that you can start from Windows, organised into user-defined groups. This application is usually the first application users experience in Windows, and is therefore described in detail in Section F.

B4a: Object Linking and Embedding (OLE)

Windows 3.1 allows documents to contain information created in different applications by a process known as OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). Although it is not suitable to discuss OLE in detail here, it is mentioned briefly as it is a powerful feature of Windows. Even if your access technology cannot view graphics, if it can tell you that a document contains an embedded or linked object, it is important to know what these are, and how they work, or you could find yourself unexpectedly opening applications.

Put simply, Object Embedding inserts a copy of a source document, eg, an audio file or a graphic, into a destination document, eg, a word-processing document. This is similar in concept to copying and pasting (using the clipboard area in memory) from the source into the destination. Thus, the embedded object is independent of the source object, so if you edit the embedded (copied) version, the source (original) document is not affected.

Object Linking is a similar process, however, the destination document does not contain an actual copy of the source document, but rather an interactive Link to the source document. This means that any future changes made to the source document will be reflected in the destination document.

Windows also allow you to access, and to edit the embedded or linked document from within the destination document. It does this by automatically launching the application required to edit this embedded or linked document. Here, the difference between Embedding and Linking is particularly important. Changes made to embedded files will only affect the copy stored in the destination document; whereas, changes made to linked documents will actually be made to the original source document.

It is important to note here that if you are working on a network, and you launch the application from the linked object, any changes you save to this object will be updated in all documents which have a link to this object - important if you are working with other people using the same source files!

Precise details of how to perform OLE operations (which may use the Object Packager program, as well as the usual copy and paste techniques) cannot be described here, as they are a relatively advanced feature of Windows. Users are encouraged to re-read the menu bar when they are investigating an OLE object, since the menu options may change, depending on the object concerned.

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