Windows XP Tips
DISCLAIMER: I have been using Windows for awhile and generally consider myself an intermediate-to-advanced user; however, I am not a Windows programmer / guru.  These tips will help a beginning-to-intermediate user navigate around in Windows, but they are certainly not exhaustive.  If you want more depth or breadth, go buy a book such as "Windows for dummies". 
This page was originally written for Windows 95/98 but then updated for XP.  If something got missed in the update, email our webmaster.

Windows Explorer
(Note: The rest of this document will use the term Explorer to refer to Windows Explorer.  Internet Explorer will be referred to as IE.)
Explorer lets you view entire directory/folder "trees".   You can create new folders/directories, view/arrange files in different orders, and search for files.
Explorer lets you see everything on your Desktop.  Note what disks you have and other info like Printers, Dialup Networking, Recycle Bin, etc.

Recycle Bin:
  You can restore deleted files from here.  Did you think you were recovering disk space when you deleted files?  That is not true.  Files in the Recycle bin are still taking up space on your disk!  Empty the recycle bin occasionally, esp. if running out of disk space.

  <Left Mouse Click> to select a file.
  CTRL+<Click> - add to previous selection.
  Shift+<Click> - Select everything from previous selection to this one.
  CTRL+A - Select All.
  F2 to rename files
  <DELETE> to delete files (send to Recycle Bin)
  Shift+<DELETE> to delete without going to Recycle Bin

Can click on file to select it, drag to another location.  Tip: Use Right-mouse-click.  Gives more control in dragging files, can open files directly, etc.

Also, can use "Send To" (either off File menu, or from Right-clicking) to go to some locations like Floppy drive, desktop (for shortcuts), etc.

If want to see files by filetype or by date (e.g. for backup purposes) instead of by name, do this in Explorer via View / Arrange Icons by.

The Windows Clipboard
CTRL-X, CTRL-C, CTRL-V - Cut, Copy, Paste to/from Windows Clipboard.
  <PrintScreen> in Windows copies screen contents to Clipboard.  Can get in a word processor (Word or WordPerfect, for instance) and CTRL-V to Paste - will show up as a picture in a file, which can then be saved or printed.

Can also, e.g., paste a shortcut to the desktop for easier access.

The Windows Clipboard is also useful between programs.  E.g., can Cut (or Copy) text from a Genealogy program, then paste it into a Word Processor.  Almost all programs support the Clipboard, within the limits of what can be pasted.  E.g., you can't paste a picture into a text field of a genealogy program.

Are you unhappy with the Clipboard only remembering the last thing you cut/copied?  Try this:
You can download this free program called the Yankee Clipper Plus.  It basically keeps track of the last 100+ things you put on the Clipboard.

Directories tips
Each program tends to have a different directory for storing data files.  MS Word, Family Tree Maker, Adobe PhotoDeluxe, and your email program (Outlook, Juno, Firefox, Eudora, or whatever) will store files in different places.  Make sure you know where all your data is! 

Try putting all your files into subdirectories off <My Documents>.  This can be a very useful way of managing Backups - e.g. may backup only <My Documents> instead of having to backup entire hard disk.  When you are inside a program and click on 'Save', most programs will popup with the last directory you saved into.  Some, like MS Office applications, have a menu (e.g. Tools / Options / File Locations) which will save the default directory for documents.  A few simple programs like Notepad & Wordpad, always default to the same directory.  In the case of Notepad/Wordpad, the default is C:\Windows, which is a really bad place to store files since they would tend to get confused with Windows system files!  With these programs, be careful to choose a directory each time you run the program.

Can't remember where you put a file?  In Explorer, click on Search, then "all files or folders", then type in the name of the file.  For "Look in", the default is generally "My Documents".  If that doesn't work, do another search and select "Local Hard Drives".

Tip: Recover disk space by occasionally deleting things out of the folder C:\Windows\Temp.  In this folder, files with the current date (or with a date since the last time you Restarted Windows) may still be active; but files older than this can safely be deleted.  These files got here generally from applications that did not clean up when they were exited, or from files that were open at the time of a Windows crash.  (Don't forget to empty the recycled bin if you *really* want to recover the space on your disk.)

Viewing Options

(In Windows Explorer under Tools / Folder options / View)

Personally, I prefer "Show All Types", "Display full path", "Include description bar".  Some people may prefer other settings.  Try playing with each and decide what you like best.

File Types
Whenever you install some applications, they may ask you "do you want this to be the default application to open <some specific type of file>?  Examples include your default Web Browser, or the applications that open picture files or text files.
You can actually change which application opens a given file type manually.  For example, suppose you would rather edit text files using MS Word instead of NOTEPAD by default.  Look at the entry for "Microsoft Word Document", then compare with the entry for "text Document".  Change the latter properties to match that of the former, and then double-click on a text file.  Voila: You're now editing with Word instead of NOTEPAD.
(Note: I believe that "Use DDE" is only used for MS Office Applications.)
You could do the same type of thing if, for example, you wanted to change the application which opens .jpg (picture) files or .html files.

Windows Start Menu
Be adventurous.  Some programs came with Windows itself, or were installed before you bought your computers.  Try running each program just to see what it does.  E.g., did you know (under Accessories) that Windows has its own Calculator?  Its own Phone Dialer?

Want to edit a document you recently edited?  Try Start / Documents to see a list of recently accessed documents.  Want to clear out this list?  Do so from Start / Settings / Taskbar - Start Menu Programs - under "Documents Menu", click on Clear.

Try right-clicking on this instead of left-clicking on the Start menu.  Select "Open" or "Explore".  These 2 options have a slightly different look, but both of them let you manipulate the Start menu similar to Windows Explorer interface.  E.g., can create shortcuts directly off the Start menu instead of having to go several levels down in the "Programs" menu.  (You can also do this from Start/Settings/Taskbar - Start Menu Programs.)  Can create shortcuts in the "Startup" menu to open every time Windows boots up.

Start / Programs / Startup menu
These programs get run every time you start Windows.  Some programs may install themselves here.  If you want to change something, you can do so by right-clicking and "Open".

Note: There are some other tools that are opened upon startup which aren't shown in the Startup menu.  To see them, do Start / Run, and type in msconfig.

This brings up the Windows Task Manager.  It shows, among other things, a list of programs currently running.  If a particular program is not responding, you can highlight it and "End task" here. 

If your whole computer is locked up, sometimes ending 1 application is not enough, or may cause problems if it is a low-level system application.  You can in that case choose "Shutdown" from the menu.

If even that doesn't work, try pressing <CTRL-ALT-DEL> a 2nd time.  This causes a restart.  It is more severe than selecting "Shutdown", but less severe than pressing the "Reset" or "Power" button on your computer.

Start / Settings / Taskbar menu
Don't like the Windows taskbar taking up space on your screen?  Select AutoHide.  You can also uncheck "Always on top" if you would rather have open applications superseed the taskbar on the screen.

Do you not like the Taskbar at the bottom of the screen?  You can move it to the top, left, or right - just click on any blank part of the taskbar, and drag it where you want it.  (To be able to do this, make sure "Lock the taskbar" is not checked on the Taskbar menu.)

The Control Panel (i.e. Start / Settings / Control Panel):
- Want your Mouse to move faster or slower?  Change this from the Mouse item.
- Want to stop your modem from making noise when it dials?  Change this from the Modem item.  (Note however that each Dialup connection may override this.)  Can also change "dialing properties" here - some dialup connections have difficulty with Atlanta's 10-digit local calling.
- Want to get rid of a program you no longer use, if it didn't come with an "Uninstall" program?  Try the Add/Remove programs item.
- Having trouble with particular hardware on your computer, such as a modem or sound card?  Look under the System item.  Select Device Manager.  If an item has an Exclamation point next to it, it may have a hardware resource conflict.
- Under Network, is Print and File Sharing selected?  This can be a good way to network computers in the same house, but it can also give hackers access to your machine when you are online, especially if you have a Cable Modem or DSL service.

About your Windows installation options
Some components of Windows may not have been installed when you bought your computer.  Within the Control Panel, double-click on Add/Remove programs, then select the "Windows Setup" tab.  Some components such as "Accessories" may have subcomponents - click Details to see these.  If you find something that looks interesting but is not checked, install it!  YOU MAY NEED YOUR WINDOWS INSTALLATION CD to do this.

Display (monitor) settings

On the desktop, right-click and choose "Properties".  (Or on the Control Panel, choose "Display".)  Don't like your Windows Background?  Select the "Background" tab to change it.
Another tab is "Screen saver".  On very old monitors, the monitor used to suffer from "screen burn" if a particular color (like whatever Windows Background you use) was on the screen for many, many hours over a long period of time.  Monitors bought in the last several years are made better and don't have this problem.  What I am more concerned with, especially for a 17 inch (or larger) monitor, is the power it uses.  Leaving your monitor on, even if it is a screen saver, can be like leaving on a 100 watt light bulb.  Most monitors have a low-power standby or shutoff capability.  If possible, pick this option instead of using a normal Screen saver. LCD monitors use less power than CRT monitors, so this is not as much of a concern, but it could still help preserve the life of the monitor to have it go to standby instead of being on 24 hours a day.
Under "Settings", you can change things like the desktop area, # of colors, and font size.  Under Advanced properties, you may be able to change the refresh rate.  Generally you want to select the highest possible rate.  In many cases the setting "Optimal" may work, but consult your Monitor's documentation to be sure of this.

Safe Mode
Sometimes Windows will boot into Safe Mode by itself, or you can press F8 on start up to manually make this happen.  Safe Mode is used to fix problems which prevent Window from booting.
Most device drivers are disabled in safe mode, and display settings are at a minimum resolution.  You can still edit the Control Panel settings and make changes to fix a problem, then reboot in normal mode.  For example, if you accidentally set your Display resolution to something that doesn't work (so your monitor doesn't operate and you can't see anything when booting normally), this is generally the simplest way to fix it.
In the case of something failing during Windows initialization, an approach to narrow down the problem is to select the choice for booting step by step with confirmation and use this to figure out where Windows is going wrong.

What is the Windows Registry?
It consists of system files which store info about software settings for Windows - either for the computer as a whole, or for individual users.  Many of the settings discussed here are actually stored in the Registry.  Many programs make Registry changes when installed or uninstalled.
It is advisable to backup your Registry in case it gets corrupted, e.g. by a bad Install program.  You can do this by going to the C:\WINDOWS folder and copying the files SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT to a backup location.

Unlike older Windows versions, Windows XP has a System Restore tool - Programs / Accessories / System Tools / System Restore.  Some programs automatically create a system restore point when they install, but just in case you may want to manually create a restore point occasionally, especially before installing new drivers and such.  If your system won't boot into Windows, boot into Safe mode and use the System Restore tool to restore to a date when the system worked.

Zip files
First, this subject is NOT about the "Zip" drives/cartridges made by the Iomega company where a cartridge holds 100MB, 250MB, etc.
This refers to files with a .zip extension.

Zip files are used for file management and compression.  You can take a file, a group of files, even entire directory/folder structures, and create a "zip archive".  A zip archive is simply a single file with the extension ".zip".  Its purpose is to replace the original group of files.  E.g., if you have a bunch of files that you want to send a friend in an email: instead of having to attach all the files separately, you can "zip" the files (i.e. build them into a .zip file), then attach the single zip file to the email, then your friend can "unzip" the files.  Zip files are implicitly in a compressed format, so you can save space by zipping any large, seldom-used files you have.

Windows has limited native support for zip files.  To get a better zip interface, install a 3rd party program.  The "zip" format is so standard that there are dozens of programs that can be downloaded off the Internet to handle zip files.
Probably the most popular "zip" program is Winzip.  You can download a copy of the program from their website at:
Winzip is shareware - you may use it for a 30 (or 45?) day evaluation period, after which you are supposed to pay a $29 fee if you want to keep using it.

If you want a truly free "zip" program, I personally like Power Archiver.  Its interface is similar to Winzip, and in some ways it has even more features.  You can download it from their website at: 

To find other free zip file programs, just type "zip file software" in a web search engine. 

Dialup Connections
Get to these a couple of ways - easiest is on desktop - MyComputer / Dialup Networking.  Each connection has its own properties - select the connection, then choose File / Properties.  (Note that a separate set of options shows up under Connections / Settings.  E.g., if you want Windows to try a connection several times if it gets a busy signal, you can change that here.)

On the connection properties menu, under "Server Types", see if NetBEUI is checked for each connection.  If it is, you should probably uncheck it.  This is the Net BIOS Enhanced User Interface, and it can give a hacker too much access to your computer.  Unless you are on a private network and specifically want to control multiple computers over the network, you probably want this off.

If you setup a new Internet service and it doesn't connect, one thing to try is to pick up the phone and listen while it dials.  Did it dial 10 digits for a local Atlanta number?  You may be able to fix it here - uncheck "Use area code and dialing properties", then put the area code as part of the phone number itself instead of being separate.
Use the "Configure" button on this screen to change the modem speaker volume.
Having trouble connecting at a decent speed for a 56K modem?  Having clicked on "Configure" to bring up the modem configuration screen, go to the "Connection" tab, then choose "Port settings".  Change the Tx & Rx Buffer settings towards "Low".  Note that if this does not help, remember to go back and change them back to the Defaults value later to avoid making things even slower.

Browsing Basics
I use Firefox, but just about everything has an equivalent in Internet Explorer (IE).

Look under Tools / Options (in IE, Tools / Internet Options is roughly equivalent).

Under Main
Want to change which page first loads when you access the Web?  Change the "Home Page".

Under Privacy:
- Don't like Cookies?  Can change this option to accept all/some/no cookies, and/or to warn you beforehand.  Warning: some pages on the web will not work /load correctly without cookies.
Under Content:
- Does your browser hang when you load a certain page?  Uncheck Java / Javascript and see if it helps.  Warning: some pages on the web will not work / load correctly without java.

Most people know that they exist, but did you know that under the Bookmarks item, you can "Organize Bookmarks"?  This brings up a window with a Windows Explorer-like interface, where you can create folders (directories) to better organize your bookmarks.

Other tips for browsing:
To re-visit pages you just accessed, use the Forward / Back buttons, or look under the Go menu.  Or, if you are getting tired of using forward/back a lot, try this: when you click on a Link, instead of using the Left mouse button, use the Right mouse button, and select "Open in new window".

Did you visit a page yesterday, and now you want to visit it again but you can't remember the address (and you didn't bookmark it)?  Type <CTRL-H> or under the History menu select "Show in sidebar".

Downloading files
Often, beginners on the internet get confused about how to download files.  This can be explained with a specific example.

The key thing in the download is to make sure you aware of the directory path and the filename that is being downloaded.  When the download has completed, you will want to know where the file is.

Suppose you want to download the "Yankee Clipper Plus" that was discussed in the earlier section of this document about the Windows Clipboard.  The web page for this is:
On this web page, you'll see a "Download" button.  If you click on this button, it will bring up some sort of window.  The exact form of this window depends on your web browser.

In Firefox, to see what will happen when you download, go to Tools / Options / Main.  Look at the "Downloads" section in the middle.  

This can be set either to "Save files to" <directory>, or else "Always ask me where to save files".  The former option will put all downloads in the given directory.  The latter option will bring up a dialog window where you can tell it where to put each file you are downloading.  There will still be a default <directory>, but you can change it each time.

You may also optionally check the option that says, "Show the downloads window when downloading a file".  When the download actually starts, you will see a progress window showing the file being downloaded.  This window will also show the name of the file.  E.g., in the case of Yankee Clipper Plus, you should see the pathname followed by the filename "YCPSetup.exe".

Tip: Create a 'download' root directory off C:\ (can use Windows Explorer, or can actually do this right from the 'Save' dialog window in your browser).  In the browser download settings, change the "Save files to" to be this directory..  Your browser will remember this directory from then on, and you'll always know where your browser is putting downloaded files.

What to do when a program has finished downloading? In some cases your browser may simply ask you if you now want to Open or Execute the file you just downloaded.  If not, then in general you should bring up Windows Explorer, go to the folder & file you just downloaded, and double-click to open/execute it.

Tip: Don't be paranoid, but do be cautious, about viruses when downloading files from the web.  Try to download from sites that you trust, and make sure your Virus definitions are current.

Other topics:
The above certainly does not exhaust everything that could be covered about using Windows.  Other things that might be of interest include:
- Useful utilities, like Norton Utilities - Disk Defragmenting, Disk Doctor, Windows Doctor, etc.  When/why use them?
- What is a "Rescue disk"?

Other Internet related topics:
- "Internet" under Windows Control Panel - some of this is IE specific, but other parts aren't.
- Aspects of Internet such as Newsgroups, Chat Rooms, Message Boards.
- What is an IP address?  What is a domain name?  What is a URL?  What is a DNS?
- Sites to get free software, such as Tucows.
- Using Search Engines - not specifically for Genealogy, but in general.