Getting to know your computer's OS
The screen you see when your computer has finished starting up is called the desktop. Depending on what kind of operating system you have, the desktop will look different, but it generally consists of menus at the bottom, top, and/or sides of the screen, with the rest of the screen containing a desktop background (or wallpaper). The desktop background area can also contain any files, applications, or shortcuts you want to have quick access to.
Watch the video to learn the basics of using Windows.
Getting to know the desktop
Both PCs and Macs have desktops, but their desktops look a bit different. The interactives below will introduce you to the Windows and Mac desktops.
Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn more about the Windows desktop.
Date & Time and Settings
On the right side of the taskbar, you will see the date & time. There will also be shortcuts to different settings, such as internet settings and sound volume.
The taskbar contains shortcuts to applications, the date & time, and more. When you open a program or file, it will appear on the taskbar, and you can easily switch between different programs by selecting them on the taskbar.
Shortcuts on the taskbar
Some programs will have shortcuts on the taskbar for easy access. In this example, there are shortcuts to Internet Explorer, File Explorer, and Windows Media Player.
When you double-click a folder, it will open in a specialized program called File Explorer (also known as Windows Explorer). This allows you to navigate to the specific folder or file that you want.
The desktop background (or wallpaper) allows you to personalize your computer. You can choose a built-in background, or use one of your own images.
Folders on the desktop
You can keep folders, files, or shortcuts on the desktop so that they will be easily accessible.
When you delete a file, it is moved to the Recycle Bin. This allows you to recover the file if you change your mind. To permanently delete the file, you will need to empty the Recycle Bin.
In Windows 8, you'll click the Start button to return to the Start screen.
In Windows 7 and earlier versions, you'll click the Start button to open the Start menu.
Click the buttons in the interactive below to learn more about the OS X desktop.
The Notification Center displays an alert when you've received an update. It can be customized to let you know of upcoming appointments, tweets, news, and other real-time events. It remains hidden until you click its icon in the top-right corner.
The Notification Center was introduced in Mountain Lion and is not available in earlier versions of OS X.
When you click the magnifying glass icon, it will open Spotlight. Spotlight allows you to find a file or application by typing the name (or just part of the name).
Date & Time and Settings
On the right side of the menu bar, you will see the date & time, along with shortcuts that you can click to adjust settings such as sound volume.
The menu bar will contain different menu options depending on which program you're using. In this example, the active program is Finder.
In the top-left corner of the screen is the Apple icon, which you can click to access your System Preferences, recent documents, and more. You can also use it to shut down your computer.
The desktop background (or wallpaper) allows you to personalize your computer. You can either choose a built-in background, or use one of your own images.
Folders on the Desktop
You can keep folders, files, and shortcuts on the desktop so that they'll be easily accessible.
When you delete a file, it is moved to the Trash. This allows you to recover the file if you change your mind. To permanently delete a file, you'll need to empty the Trash.
The Dock can contain shortcuts to applications, files, or folders. If you have multiple programs open, you can use the Dock to quickly switch between them.
Launchpad allows you to see a list of all of your applications. It is designed to make it easier to find and organize your applications.
Launchpad was introduced in OS X Lion, and it is not available in earlier versions of OS X.
When you double-click a folder, it will open in a specialized program called Finder. This lets you navigate to the specific file or folder you want.
If you have difficulty seeing or hearing, or if you have trouble manipulating the mouse or keyboard, there are a number of settings that can help make your computer easier to use. To learn more, check out our lesson on Accessibility Features.