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Home > Windows > Basic Concepts > Windows Customization Technology World's Official Guide To Customizing Windows XP
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On This Page:
Introduction To The Windows XP Desktop
Overview of the Windows XP Desktop Layout
Overview Of Desktop Components
Description of System Icons Available On The Windows XP Desktop
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Article Title: Introduction To The Windows XP Desktop
Author: Michael J. Casimir
Creation Date: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:13 PM
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:24 PM
Applies To:
Windows XP Media Centre Edition
Windows XP Home Edition
Windows 7
Windows Vista

This demonstration will outline basic concepts associated with how the XP desktop looks and works.

1.2A - Introduction To The Windows XP Desktop:

Two major components of any "real" office are its filing cabinet and desktop. The filing cabinet is where you store and organize things you may need access to at some point. The desktop is where you do your work.











In a computer, your hard disk plays the role of a filing cabinet. Everything that's "in your computer" is actually stored on the computer's hard disk.

The Windows desktop is the equivalent of your "real desktop", where you keep things you're working on right now.

Overview of Windows XP Professional Desktop

Windows XP Professional supports an entirely new look and feel as compared to earlier versions of Windows. Its icons, objects and other windows elements are more vibrant and there is a higher level of flexibility when customizing how the desktop looks and feels.

There are a plenty of new desktop features and enhancements that make this version of windows easier to look at. This page will give you a brief overview of the main components that make up the standard Windows XP desktop.

1.2B - The Windows XP Desktop Dissected

When you first turn on your computer and log into Windows, you probably see only the Windows desktop and some desktop icons, the Start button, and other objects as illustrated in Figure 1.2A.  Your desktop and icons won't look exactly like those in the figure. But you'll learn to easily recognize your own desktop in a moment. From the illustration below you can see how my Windows XP desktop looks. I have added annotations to help describe what each component does on the desktop.

The Windows XP Desktop
Figure 1.2A - The Windows XP Desktop

The Windows XP desktop provides a number of components that can be fully customized based on how you use the computer.

There are several different system icons available on the Windows XP desktop that can be customized to enable quicker access to programs, files, and folders and your computer.

These icons are described in section Description Of System Icons On A Windows XP Desktop.

Overview Of Desktop Components

There is a Start bar referred to as the Start menu in the lower left hand corner of the desktop which provides easy access to documents, programs, shortcuts, and basic system components. The Start menu provides quick access to programs, files, and shortcuts on your computer. You can access also access the Windows control panel via the Start menu configure devices such as printers, mice, and keyboards.

There rest of the Start menu provides quick access to common program components, system files and shortcuts, and other programs.

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The Quick Launch Menu Bar

The Quick launch menu bar located to the right of the Start menu allows easy access to frequently used shortcuts and documents that you customize based on how you use the computer. You can launch your favorite websites or start different applications without the hassle of going through the Windows Start menu to find the program you want to run.

Shortcuts can be easily created or "dragged and dropped" from Windows Explorer to provide a more convenient way of accessing your favorite Windows programs and files.

The Task Bar

The taskbarThe Task bar is the small blue application bar located near the bottom of the Windows desktop that shows all open programs in the system. You can minimize, maximize, and shut down any open program found within this area using mouse or keyboard commands.

The System Tray

The System Tray in the lower right hand corner of your screen gives you quick access to open programs. It also displays the current date and time. You can customize this system tray by right mouse clicking an area and then left clicking Properties menu item from the popup menu that appears. The system tray provides an easy way to manage and close open programs. Windows XP has a built in feature that automatically hides your inactive icons. You can easily choose which icons to hide or unhide by right clicking anywhere in this area and selecting properties from the drop down menu.

1.2C - Description of System Icons Available On The Windows XP Desktop

There are several system shortcuts that Microsoft decided to incorporate into the desktop. These shortcuts are worth talking about because they can perform so many diverse tasks. You can remove them and add them again later by configuring their properties. This section will show you what each system icon looks like and will explain their functions. This section will described the system icons found on the desktop.

The My Computer shortcut provides quick access to system files, programs, and accessories. You can use My Computer to access the Windows control panel as well as manage files and folders on the computer.

To view information about your computer right click this icon and select properties from the drop down menu.

When you first open the My Computer shortcut you will notice that it looks like basically any other folder. However, it is there to provide access to all storage media installed in a system and that includes hard drives, floppy disk drives, CD-ROM, and CD-RW drives.

Using My Computer, you can copy, delete, rename, and browse files with ease, although Windows Explorer is a more for advanced file editing tool. You can also load web pages without having to run a separate web browser because it uses built in Internet Explorer technology. It’s also an easy way to gain access to the Windows Control Panel to configure devices and configure installed software. You can also access any digital imaging device attached to the system including scanners and digital cameras.

The My Documents shortcut provides quick access to your personal documents on a system. You can store any number of pictures, music files, and other documents within this folder. To change the default location for this shortcut right click the icon and select properties from the drop-down menu.

This shortcut is useful for accessing your documents and personal files. You can have the shortcut point to any folder you wish but typically documents and other personal files are stored in the My Documents folder on your main hard drive.

The My Network Places shortcut provides quick access to network drives and resources. You can also connect to any available network place and the Internet using this icon. To configure network properties right click this object and select properties from the drop-down menu.

The My Network Places icon is useful for browsing Local Area Network resources. This folder also contains links to files and locations on the system. When you connect to a network resource you can perform basic file operations on files and folders stored within that resource.

Internet Explorer is a program developed by the Microsoft Corporation and normally bundled in all versions of Windows. The latest version is 9.0. A link to the shortcut can normally be found on the Windows desktop.

The Recycle Bin is a temporary storage unit for recently deleted files. You can choose to empty the recycle bin to permanently erase the files as well as use it to recover deleted files.

To summarize:

  • A shortcut is a type of file containing a link to a document, program, or file located on the computer.

  • There are several different system shortcuts available on the Windows XP desktop.

  • Each system shortcut can be customized to enable quicker access to programs, files, and folders on your computer.

  • These system shortcuts are labeled My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, and Recycle Bin.
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