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Simple Windows 3.1 tips

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


Simple tips for office-based users of Windows 3.1
 

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1996, Al Fasoldt and the Syracuse Newspapers


The most powerful part of Windows 3.1 

The power in Windows 3.1 hides behind the file-cabinet icon. It's called File Manager. The name says it all. File Manager gives you a way to copy, move and delete anything on a floppy disk or on your PC's hard disk. It lets you protect files so they can't be deleted or changed, allows you to create new folders for better organization of file storage, and gives you a foolproof way to prepare a floppy disk for new files. And it provides a simple way to run any program.

Great stuff, right? Yes and no. File Manager's functions are powerful and thorough, but File Manager itself can be an enigma-frustrating, mysterious, cantankerous. It doesn't have to be. Here are some ways you can keep it under control.

First, make sure File Manager won't mess itself up as you use it. Do this by opening the Options menu and making sure Save Settings on Exit is not checked off. (If it has a checkmark next to it, uncheck it with your mouse.) With this turned off, File Manager will always open up with the settings you have chosen; it will ignore any changes you've intentionally or accidentally made while using File Manager. Note well: This is the most important part of getting File Manager to behave. Knowing that you can always return to the settings you had before is a great relief whenever File Manager's windows get out of whack.

How, then, do you save the way File Manager is set up? If you arrange File Manager's windows a certain way, how do you get them to come up that way each time? It's easy, and yet it's nowhere to be found in the official Windows manual. After you've got File Manager looking the way you want it, hold down one of the Shift keys and double-click the Close button at the upper left. (It's the button that looks like a button hole.)

One more tip from a long list of undocumented features: To force File Manager's windows to fill out the overall space within File Manager properly, open the Window menu, hold down the Shift key and choose Tile. (Some PCs have a slightly different version of File Manager that include Tile Vertically in the choices. If yours is like that, choose Tile Vertically.) Be sure to save this new setting using the technique above.

File Manager makes copying, moving and deleting items very easy.

File operations work in a simple way. To copy an item (a file or a folder) from one location to another, select the item with your mouse and drag it to another folder or to one of the drive buttons at the top of the window. This deceptively easy method hides a big danger, however. File Manager's notion of copying may not be the same as yours, and you will sometimes find that File Manager actually moves items instead of copying them.

What happens is this: If you drag an item from one location to another within the same disk (from a folder on C: to another folder on C:, for example), File Manager moves the item; if you drag an item to another disk (from C: to A:, for example), File Manager copies the item.

To make sure File Manager is doing what you want it to do, use these helper keys:

  • To force File Manager to move an item, hold down the Alt key while dragging.
  • To force File Manager to copy an item, hold down the Control key while dragging.
Deleting files and folders is simple. Highlight the file or folder you want to delete, then press the Delete key. File Manager usually will ask you to confirm the deletion, but you can turn off this confirmation step from the Confirmation selection under the Options menu. If you delete a file by mistake, ask us right away to help you get it back. We can usually restore it at that point. If you delete a folder (a directory, in other words) by mistake, we'll try our best to restore it and all of its files, but can't give you any assurance we'll succeed.

You can make a new folder or directory from the File menu's Create Directory selection. Give it a name no longer than eight characters. The new folder will be created at the location that's highlighted in the foreground File Manager window. (A highlighted location shows a small open folder at the left.)

The File menu also lets you rename a file or folder from the Rename option. Highlight a file or folder first, then choose Rename. File Manager shows two text-entry lines, with the first one filled out. Tip: Double-click the first text line to highlight it, press Control-C to copy it, press Tab to go to the next line and press Control-V to paste it. Then change it.

To protect a file or folder so that it can't be accidentally deleted or to keep something out of sight, highlight the item and choose Properties from the File menu. You'll see four possible changes. The only two you should ever change are Read Only and Hidden. The Read Only option does not prevent deletion; instead, it forces anyone who is trying to delete the item to go through an extra step. The Hidden option hides the file or folder unless File Manager is set up to show hidden items. (That option is in the View menu under By File Type.)

Floppy-disk operations are listed under the Disk menu. They are all simple. Use Format Disk to wipe all files from a floppy or to make a new, unformatted floppy ready for use.


When all is lost, it may not be 

File Manager provides an easy way to delete old files from your PC's hard drive. You click once on a file and press the Delete key. But File Manager holds a hidden danger. It will let you delete an entire directory the same way. And if that directory contains other directories within it, you can lose hundreds of files in a few seconds.

This sounds like a disaster in search of a victim, and you should always be careful to check the message Windows gives you when it is about to delete anything; make sure it shows exactly what you want to delete. But Windows also has its own disaster recovery method. It's not foolproof, and it can take a lot of effort sometimes, but you can usually get back anything you've deleted-if you follow this important rule:

If you've accidentally deleted something, stop what you're doing and immediately run the Windows Undelete program. Don't do anything else.

If you do something else at this point—saving the file you are worried about, for example —you could wipe out the information that Windows needs to recover your deleted files.

The Windows Undelete program is called MWUNDEL.EXE. It's probably located in the DOS directory on the C: drive. If you know how to do a File Search in Windows, type in "MWUNDEL.EXE" and Windows will list the program in a window; double-click on it and the Undelete program will run. If you are comfortable with File Manager, navigate into the C:\DOS directory and run it from there. When Windows Undelete starts up, it may try to show you a list of deleted files in the DOS directory. Ignore such a list and click on the Directory button to change to the directory that held the files you accidentally deleted.

Tip: If you deleted an entire directory, use the Directory button to enter the parent directory of the one you deleted.

Once you've located the deleted directory or the deleted files within Windows Undelete, click on the Undelete button. In some cases, Windows may ask you to type in the first character of the name of the item you want to recover. (It does this when it's lost track of the beginning of the name.) If you are recovering a directory full of files, you'll need to use Undelete to recover the directory first, then use it again to recover each file separately.


Fixing a slow keyboard 

Is your keyboard sluggish? Does it take forever for your PC to respond when you press a key? If you've been putting up with a slowpoke keyboard, you can get back the speed you're missing through the Windows Control Panel. It's the icon at the right (on most screens) that shows a computer with a clock at the left. Click once on that icon and then double-click on the Keyboard icon. You'll see a menu that lets you set the Keyboard Speed and the Repeat Rate for your keyboard. In many cases you'll want to drag the two sliders all the way over to the right. (Try it that way first. The makers of Windows weren't accomplished writers, and their idea of "very fast" may be your idea of "just right.")


Making Windows windows behave 

If you are trying to make a window full-size and can't easily get at the little up-pointing arrowhead at the upper right (the one that opens the window the size of the screen) you can use this shortcut: Double-click on the title bar at the top of the window. It's a toggle, so you can make the window revert to its previous size by the same method.


How to make sure floppies are safe 

Floppy disks are easily erased by magnetic fields. So you shouldn't put floppies on top of your monitor or near a TV. But the most common source of magnetism in the home and office is is the ordinary desktop telephone. Don't put the base of the phone down on top of a floppy disk. Each little ringy-dingy will eat away at the magnetic underpinning of your files.


Screen-saver passwords offer little security 

Many PC users have taken advantage of the password feature in the Windows screen saver. When anyone tries to use the PC, Windows asks for a password. This can give you a false sense of security if an intruder knows how to bypass the password, which is a very simple matter. You can probably guess how this is done, but we won't describe it here. If you have something you must keep private, move it (don't just copy it) onto a floppy disk and take the disk home with you. To move files within File Manager, hold down the Alt key while dragging them to the other location. (Tip: If the mouse pointer shows a box with a plus sign, you're copying something; if it shows a box without a plus sign, you're moving something.)


How to get accented characters in Windows 

Any time you're using Write, the word processor that's included with Windows (when you write a fax to be sent over the network, for example), you can make your text more appealing with various effects-boldface, italics, underlining, large and small characters, and selections from any of the fonts built into Windows. What you may not realize is that you can insert non-keyboard characters, too.

The easiest way to do this is to run the Windows character map, called CHARMAP.EXE. You can find it in one of your Program Manager groups, and you can get at it from File Manager, too; look in the Windows directory for CHARMAP.EXE and double-click on the name. When you see the CHARMAP window open, you'll find 224 little boxes, each holding a different character.

Double-click on any character-or type its key, if it's a normal letter or number-and it will be placed in the Characters to Copy field. (The field can hold thousands of characters, so you can select as many as you want, one at a time.) Press the Copy button to put your selected character(s) into the Windows clipboard. Back in Write, press Control-V to copy the clipboard into your text.

  1. The characters in boxes can be quite small. Holding down the left mouse button makes them large enough to see easily.
  2. At the lower right corner you'll see a little window where the key code is shown for all characters. Alphanumeric characters (letters and numbers) show the letter or number, of course. But for other ones, Windows shows the Alt-key combination you can press to get the character at any time-not just when the Character Map window is open. Alt-Key combinations use the keypad at the lower right.
  3. Character mapping works in every Windows program, not just Write.

A site for sore eyes? Your screen could be the culprit 

Windows lets you choose your own colors for everything you see on the screen. You even have many pre-arranged color schemes to choose from, in case you don't want to rig up your own. That's good-and it's also bad. The good news is obvious. You can make your PC look unique. You can fit it to your mood. Things looking up? Use bright colors. Feeling down? Try beige and tan.

The bad news is that none of the built-in color schemes were designed to combat a minor irritant in the way many modern computers display text. This problem shows up as a background flickering when you are reading dark letters against a white background.

We're all used to a lifetime of reading black words on white paper, so it probably seems natural to use the same color combination for text on computer screens. But paper is reflective-light bounces off a sheet of paper and spreads out evenly before it reaches your eyes-while computer screens are actually glowing objects, sending out tiny flashlight beams of colored light. The glare from the screen isn't all that hard to take-after all, we watch TV that way-but it's compounded by the way many screens flicker. Our eyes are most sensitive to flicker when it comes from a white object.

To cut down the potential for both glare and flicker, open the Control Panel (the icon of a computer with a clock at its left) and double-click the Color icon, then click once on Color Palette. Click inside the rectangle labeled Window Text. Windows should highlight Window Background in the Screen Element scroll-down box. (Click the Screen Element arrow to show all choices if Windows doesn't switch to Window Background.) Now click on one of the colors at the right. Choose a soft shade; light gray is ideal. If you can't find a color you like, you can create one by clicking on Define Custom Colors. Of course, you can change any other screen elements, too. When you're done, click on Save Scheme and give your creation a name. You MUST give it a name and save it if you want to save your unique setup. If you don't save it, it will disappear the next time you make any change in the color settings.


Floppy disks are not reliable—so don't rely on them 

The hard disk built into your PC is much more reliable than a floppy disk. We can't emphasize this enough. When you are doing word processing or any other activity, don't save your files to a floppy disk; save them to your hard disk. If you have to use floppies (to cart files to and from another location, maybe), trust them only long enough to get the files back and forth. Copy everything to the hard disk before you do any more work.


A tisket, a tasket, this disk heads for the basket 

At the first sign of trouble with a floppy disk, don't trust it. If you have important files on it, copy them to your PC's hard drive, then toss the disk out. You can copy files using the Windows File Manager or from DOS.


Technical stuff: Why aren't floppies very reliable? Two reasons stand out:  


PC floppies work on Macs, and vice versa, if you follow these tips 

If you sometimes need to find a way to get a file from your PC onto a Mac, look no farther than your floppy disk. Although old Macintoshes went into spasms when they encountered a PC floppy disk-and PCs have always sputtered and choked on a Mac floppy-Macs made during the last six or seven years can use PC floppies without a problem. Mac veterans may not be aware of this, so don't be surprised if someone tells you in can't be done; it can.

This means you can get a PC file (story, notes or anything else) onto a Mac by copying the file to a floppy disk on your PC and then popping the disk into the Mac. When the Mac finds a PC floppy in its drive, it puts a "PC" icon on its screen. Clicking that icon opens a window that shows what's on the disk. Files can be dragged to or from the desktop or other windows on the Mac screen if you want to copy them.

If you need to find a way to get a file from a Mac to a PC, you can use the floppy route-as long as you start out with a PC floppy. DON'T USE A MAC FLOPPY. Take a floppy disk that you know works OK on a PC, put it in the Mac, copy the file, then put the disk into the PC. If you are dealing with someone over the phone, trying to explain this procedure, emphasize that any current Mac can handle a PC disk, and that PC-formatted disks can be found in stores of all kinds. Mac users should look for a box of PC-formatted floppy disks that says "preformatted" on it.


How to clear off a floppy for reuse 

When your floppy disks fill up and you don't need the files on them any more, you can clear out all the old files quickly from the Windows File Manager. You have a choice of two methods.
Fast method: Click on the Disk menu (the second choice from the left in the menu bar) and then choose Format Disk. You'll see a dialog box like the one shown above. Click in the Quick Format box and then click on OK. You'll probably see a message that warns you that the contents of the disk will be erased and asking if you're sure you want to format the disk; choose Yes or No.

Safe method: Do it the same way without clicking on Quick Format. The standard format checks each part of the disk. The Quick Format method does not do any checking.


Why some PCs choke on a floppy disk 

Some PCs seem to have an annoying fault. They sometimes refuse to acknowledge that you've put a floppy disk in the slot. You might see an error message when this happens, or the computer might just grind away forever.

A flaw in the PCs? Hardly. It's just a sign of the times. Older PCs weren't designed to use the same floppy disks regular PCs use, even though the disks look the same. These older PCs can only work with 720-kilobyte disks (also called double-density disks), not with high-density, 1.44-megabyte floppies that all modern PCs have built in. Both versions look the same, except for two minor details: The 720K disks have only one square hole at the bottom, while the 1.44M disks have two; and the 1.44M disks have an HD label at the upper right. Both types can be used on current PCs, but only the 720K disks work old PCs designed for the lower-density disks.


Diskovery Center 

If you have a home PC and you've received free disks with signup offers from America Online, CompuServe or any other online service and haven't fallen for the sales pitch—or if you're already a member—save the disks for use at home. Open the Windows File Manager to format the floppies under the Disk menu, using Quick Format, and they will be ready to store your files.


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