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Plain talk about computers, Part 2

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Plain talk about computers, Part 2

Technofile for May 4, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Last week I explained some of the jargon that gets in the way when you're trying to understand computers. This week I'll unravel the mystery of using a computer for the most common task—writing. I'll concentrate on how PCs work, since most of us use PCs.

Everyone who uses a modern computer has a word processor. Even if you didn't buy a word-processing program separately, you still have the one your computer came with. You might know your word processor as Write or Works or something else—maybe WordPerfect or Microsoft Word.

The idea of a word processor seems simple. You type something, and, when you're through, you save what you wrote. You might also print what you wrote.

But those steps aren't simple at all unless you've done them hundreds of times. Here are the basics:

Sometimes, before you can even start typing, you have to tell the word processor you want to write something. (This seems odd to me. What does the word processor think you want to do, make a ham sandwich? But that's how computers are—dumb as a lamp post.)

So you click your mouse on the word "File" at the top of the screen and then on the word "New." Your word processor should then show you a fresh area where you can type. (Cranky work processors might ask you what kind of document—what kind of writing thing—you want to create. If so, click on whatever choice seems right. You'll have time to worry about those different types some other time.)

By now, you've got an area on the screen that has stuff at the top and maybe at the sides and even at the bottom. Ignore all that junk. It doesn't do anything basic. Just type.

If you make a mistake, you can hit the Backspace key and get rid of it, or you can work like the pros and double-click on the word that's wrong. Doing that makes the word stand out. (It's "selected," in nerd talk.) Whatever you type automatically takes the place of the highlighted word.

When you've finished writing, you have to tell the computer to save what you wrote. Someone might tell you that word processors automatically save what you write, but don't believe what you hear. (They might, and they might not, and they especially might not when you really need to find that letter you wrote to the IRS.).

So you need to click your mouse on the word "File" again and then click on the word "Save." Then the fun starts. You'll see a small window with a lot of gibberish nearby. Ignore everything that doesn't make sense. Just type something that will remind you of what you just wrote. (If you have a new PC or one that was new within the last year, you can type something really long and strange. If you have an old PC, you'll have to type something short. But the main thing is to type something that will jog your memory six months from now.)

A quick tech note: Whatever you wrote is on your screen, right? But once you save it using the method I just told you about, it's also on your computer somewhere. (Don't worry about where it is—we'll get to that next week.) So that means you can stop what you're doing and get rid of the word processor without losing what you wrote.

You get rid of the word processor by clicking on that old familiar word, "File," and then clicking on "Exit." Hotshot users will tell you there are fancier ways to get the word processor to go away, but don't listen to them. They'll just confuse things.

Suppose you want to get the thing you wrote back up on your screen? That can be a chore. We'll see why next week.

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