Skip to main content

Extract 1 from 'Windows 7 and Vista Explained: A guide for blind and partially sighted users'

Section 3.1.5. Menus, dialogs, toolbars and centers

By Dr Sarah Morley Wilkins and Steve Griffiths.
Published by Royal National Institute of Blind People, Peterborough, UK.
© Sarah Morley Wilkins 2009. All rights reserved.

Windows is designed to have a consistent look and feel, so that each program is designed using the same kinds of elements, even if they do completely different tasks. Here are some different methods for making use of the features Windows programs offer. Once you know how to work with these, you can start to use a new Windows program quite easily.

"Menus" work like restaurant menus - they give you a list of options from which you can choose. Each feature appears as a separate item on the menu. There are standard methods of navigating and using menus, and they are very accessible with the keyboard. Many programs have a menu system consisting of a horizontal main menu containing a number of options; each of which can be activated to open a vertical list of related items called submenus. The main menu of a program is usually on screen all the time, but the menus are only open when in use, and only one menu can be open at a time.

A very important menu in Windows is the "Start Menu", from which programs can be started or documents opened. Although this doesn't appear to be part of a program, because it is always available whatever other programs are open, it is in fact part of the Windows program itself. The Start Menu is so important that it has its own key on the keyboard (the WindowsKey, two to the left of the SpaceBar), and has features which other menus do not.

"Dialogs" (or dialog boxes) occur where you have started an action within a program and need to give the computer more information before it can complete your request. For instance, if you want to open a file, most programs have a shortcut or menu option that leads to a dialog called "Open" or "Open File"; this is where you specify the exact file to be opened. You do this by having a dialog with the computer; it asks you some questions to which you select answers (see glossary for the different uses of "selection" in Windows).

Each question in a dialog is called a "control". There are many types of control which you interact with in different ways. Examples of controls are an "editbox" into which you type something, a "list" from which you choose one entry, and a "checkbox" which can be selected (see glossary) or unselected. Dialogs may also contain "static text" which gives explanatory information.

A "toolbar" (also called a command bar) is an alternative to menus; it is usually a single line on the screen containing controls such as buttons, menus and comboboxes that are "dynamic", meaning they can change depending on what has focus. In earlier versions of Windows toolbars were not usually accessible with the keyboard, but in Windows Vista they became accessible, and more use is made of them. Although many of the controls that appear on a toolbar duplicate items in the menu system, this is not always the case. If there are too many controls to fit onto the toolbar, an overflow button appears at the right end of the toolbar; when activated the toolbar expands to show the remaining commands.

"Centers" are similar to dialogs but rather than being dedicated to a single feature, they contain information about a number of related features. They also contain much more text, and often have links to other options.

Chapter continues...