Customizing Windows 7’s Desktop (part 1) - Getting Around the Desktop

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The enhanced user interface in Windows 7 is visually stunning, and a key component in the interface is the desktop. As you’ll discover in this section, you can work with the desktop and its related features in many new and exciting ways. If you’re familiar with Windows XP and Windows Vista, you may be tempted to skip this section, but don’t—there are a lot of new features and new ways you can work with the desktop. As with Windows Vista, most editions of Windows 7 support Aero Glass to give your desktop special effects such as blending and transparency. However, the Windows 7 Starter and Home Basic editions do not support this feature.

2.1.1. Getting Around the Desktop

Figure 1 shows the Windows 7 desktop with the Aero Glass capabilities enabled. This desktop has standard features, but you can customize it with additional features as well. Standard desktop features include the Start menu, the taskbar, and the notification area.

Figure 1. Windows 7 desktop with Aero Glass

Programs or folders you open appear on the desktop in separate windows. You can arrange open program and folder windows on the desktop by right-clicking an empty area of the taskbar and then selecting one of the following viewing options:

Cascade Windows

Arranges the open windows on the screen so that they overlap, with the title bar remaining visible

Show Windows Stacked

Resizes the open windows and arranges them on top of each other, in one or more columns

Show Windows Side by Side

Resizes the open windows and stacks them side by side

If you right-click an empty area of the taskbar and then select Show the Desktop, Windows 7 minimizes all open windows and displays the desktop. If you later right-click an empty area of the taskbar and select Show Open Windows, Windows 7 restores the minimized windows to their previous states.

In addition to opening program and folder windows, you can store files, folders, and shortcuts on the desktop. Any file or folder you save on the desktop appears on the desktop. Any file or folder you drag from a Windows Explorer window to the desktop stays on the desktop. You can add a shortcut to a file or folder to the desktop by following these steps:

  1. Click Start and then click Computer.

  2. Use the Windows Explorer window to locate the file or folder you want to add to the desktop.

  3. Right-click the file or folder.

  4. On the shortcut menu, point to Send To and then select Desktop (Create Shortcut).

You can add system icons to the desktop, too. By default, the only system icon on the desktop is the Recycle Bin. You can add or remove system icons by completing the following steps:

  1. Right-click an empty area of the desktop and then select Personalize.

  2. In the left pane of the Personalization window, click Change Desktop Icons under the Tasks heading.

  3. Click Customize Desktop. This opens the Desktop Icon Settings dialog box, as shown in Figure 2.

  4. Add or remove the Computer, Control Panel, Recycle Bin, Network, and User’s Files icons by selecting or clearing the related checkboxes.

  5. Click OK.

Figure 2. Adding and removing desktop icons

Once you’ve added an icon to the desktop, you can work with it using the techniques summarized in Table 1. If you no longer want an icon or shortcut on the desktop, right-click it and select Delete. When prompted, confirm the action by clicking Yes.

Table 1. Working with desktop icons
Desktop iconUsage
ComputerDouble-clicking the Computer icon opens a window from which you can access hard disk drives and devices with removable storage. Right-clicking the Computer icon and selecting Manage opens the Computer Management console. Right-clicking the Computer icon and selecting Map Network Drive allows you to connect to shared network folders. Right-clicking the Computer icon and selecting Properties displays the System page in Control Panel.
Control PanelDouble-clicking the Control Panel icon opens the Control Panel, which provides access to system configuration and management tools.
NetworkDouble-clicking the Network icon opens a window where you can access the computers and devices on your network. Right-clicking the Network icon and selecting Map Network Drive allows you to connect to shared network folders.
Recycle BinDouble-clicking the Recycle Bin icon opens the Recycle Bin, which you can use to restore deleted items or permanently remove items. Right-clicking the Recycle Bin icon and selecting Empty Recycle Bin permanently removes all items in the Recycle Bin.
User’s FilesDouble-clicking the folder icon opens your user profile folder in Windows Explorer.