Windows Vista Basics Training

Windows Vista is the next Microsoft operating system after Windows XP. Beginning with the Summer 2008 Faculty Roll, new PCs at Luther had Windows Vista installed on them. To effectively use these computers, it is important to have a working knowledge of how to use Windows Vista. This ITS training article helps you learn more about your computer and how to use it.


Upon completion of this 1-on-1 training, you will be able to:


Before your computer can do anything exciting, it should be turned on. If it’s not already on, press the Power button on your computer.

After Windows Vista starts up, you will be presented with a login window. You may need to press Ctrl + Alt + Delete to begin.

Log in

If your name already appears in the User Name field, type your Norse Key password in the Password field. Press the Enter key or click on the arrow to the right of the password, and you will be logged on to Windows Vista.

If your name does not appear in the user name field, click on the Switch User button and type your Luther user name in the User Name field. Then enter your Norse Key password in the Password field and press Enter.

Windows Vista demos

There are several demos on your Windows Vista computer in the Welcome Center, as mentioned above. If you have a computer with Windows Vista already on it, we highly recommend that you view these demos.

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Vista Basics - 1

If you do not yet have a computer with Windows Vista on it, you can watch the demos even before you receive your Vista computer by going to Windows Help and How-to Demos. Click on a topic on the left side of the window, such as Files and folders to view the list of demos. Then select one, for example Working with files and folders. You can either watch the demo or view the transcript of the demo.

The Desktop

If you have used the Windows XP desktop, the Windows Vista desktop will look very familiar. Your screen will look similar to the picture below. Study the picture, and look at the labels for some of the things on your screen, which are explained below the picture.

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Vista Basics - 2

  • Icons – an icon is a small picture on your screen that can represent a file, a program, a network share, or a shortcut to something. When you double-click on an icon on the desktop, the file/program/shortcut will open.
  • Task Bar – the task bar is typically at the bottom of your screen (although it can be moved) and it contains your Start menu, Quick Launch toolbar, buttons for open windows, and the system tray.
  • Start Menu – gives quick access to programs and common places in Windows. This will be discussed in greater detail below.
  • Quick Launch Toolbar – if there are things that you frequently use and want to be able to get to with one click, you can put these things in the Quick Launch toolbar.
  • System Tray – the system tray contains your clock, as well as a few other icons. Programs like Sophos Antivirus are always running in the background and they keep an icon there so that you know they’re running and you can access the program quickly. There is also a speaker icon which can be used to control the volume of sound on your computer. You may also see notifications for Windows updates and a variety of other things, depending on what software is installed on your computer.
  • Sidebar – this is new to Windows Vista and contains small programs called gadgets. You can decide whether or not to have a sidebar, and what programs you want to be included in your sidebar.

The Task Bar

One of Windows Vista’s most important features is the ability to “multitask”, or have many programs and windows open at once. At the heart of Windows Vista’s multitasking lies the task bar. Understanding how to effectively use the task bar will help you get more done on your computer, faster.

The task bar has some degree of customizability. To customize it, first right-click on it, and uncheck Lock the Taskbar. It is now unlocked. You can drag the task bar to any side of the screen, and you can also resize it by clicking and dragging it from its edge.

If you want your task bar to hide when you aren’t using it, right-click on the task bar and click Properties. Put a check mark on the Auto-hide the Taskbar setting.

When you open a program or something that needs a new window, a button appears in the task bar for that window. If you need to switch from one window to another (say, from Firefox to Thunderbird), you can click on the Thunderbird button in the task bar. You can also switch from one window to another by clicking on the other window, or by using the Alt+Tab keystroke (hold the Alt key, then hit Tab to toggle between windows).

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Vista Basics - 3

If you have a lot of windows open, Windows Vista will group task bar buttons so that your task bar isn’t as cluttered. When this happens, just click on the button for the program whose window you want to open, and you’ll get a menu of all the windows open in that program. You can then choose the one you want to switch to.

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Vista Basics - 4

The Start Menu

The Start menu is designed to give you quick access to almost anything on your computer, no matter what program you have open or what you’re doing. If you are more familiar with how the Start menu looked in previous versions of Windows, you’ll notice that Windows Vista’s Start menu has been redesigned to give you quicker access to things that you use a lot. On the left side of the Start menu you will find shortcuts to programs on your computer. The ones on the top are “pinned” to the Start menu, and the ones below the divider are ones that you frequently use or have used recently. If you want to run one of the programs or open one of the folders, just click on what you want. If there is a program that is in the list of frequently and recently used programs that you don’t want there, you can right-click it and choose Remove from this list.

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Vista Basics - 5

Moving your mouse onto All Programs will change the display on the left side of the Start menu to include the programs and folders in your Start menu. From here, you can select a program, or click on a folder to view the programs within that folder. Clicking on the folder a second time will collapse the list of options. Notice there is a scroll bar if the list becomes too long and there is also a Back button for navigation.

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Vista Basics - 6

The Quick Launch Toolbar

If there are some applications or files that you use so often that you need one-click access to them from anywhere, use the Quick Launch toolbar. If it’s enabled in your system tray, you will see some icons right next to the Start menu. If you don’t see them, right-click on the task bar, and choose Toolbars > Quick Launch.

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Vista Basics - 7

The Quick Launch toolbar comes with a few shortcuts installed by default. The one on the far left is called the Show desktop button, which, when clicked, hides all of your open windows so you can see your desktop. The one beside it is called the Window switcher button that brings up a window showing all of your open windows and allows you to tab or arrow between them to select the one you want to have the focus.

To add a shortcut to the Quick Launch toolbar, drag the file or program or shortcut onto it. If you want to rearrange the icons in the toolbar, just click and drag what you want to rearrange.

To remove a shortcut from the Quick Launch toolbar, right-click it, and click Delete.

The System Tray

The system tray is designed for applications that run in the background. These applications can be for notification (for example, a program to monitor your computer’s temperature), for background protecting your computer (like Sophos Antivirus) or for other things.

By default, Windows Vista hides icons that it considers to be inactive. You can click the arrow to briefly show all of your system tray icons.

In some cases, you might have a system tray icon that you don’t want there. A common example is the QuickTime system tray icon that you get when you install the iTunes software. The procedure for disabling these system tray icons varies widely from application to application, but you can often right-click the icon in question and click Disable or enter the application’s preferences to disable the system tray icon.

The system tray also contains your clock. You can hover the mouse over the clock to see today’s date. If you need to change the system date and time, simply click on the clock and then select Change date and time settings. You shouldn’t need to do this on Luther machines because they are synchronized with Luther’s time server.

Working With Windows

When you open a program or folder in Windows Vista, it will open in a window. Although no two programs are exactly the same, windows have a lot of things in common, so once you have learned how to use these elements once, you will understand how to use them in any program.

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Vista Basics - 8

  • Title Bar – the title bar is found at the top of any window. It contains the name of the program you are using and/or the name of the file/folder open in the window.
  • Menu Bar – the menu bar contains menus which contain commands that you can use to do things in the program.
  • Minimize Button – if you need to hide a window to get it out of the way, click the minimize button. To see a minimized window, just click its corresponding button in the task bar.
  • Maximize/Restore Button – if you would like the window to take up the entire screen, click the maximize button. Once a window is maximized, the maximize button will turn into a restore button which, when clicked, will restore the window to its previous size and position on your screen.
  • Close Button – clicking this button will close the window and whatever file was open in that window. If you have a program open and you close its last window, the program will quit.
  • Window Resizing Handles – to change a window’s size, just move your cursor to one of the window resizing handles, click, and drag.

To move a window, just click on the title bar of the window, and drag.

Locking Your Computer

If you need to leave your desk briefly, just hit WinKey+L (WinKey is the key with the Windows logo on it). You could also press Ctrl + Alt + Delete and then click the Lock Computer button. Another way to lock your computer is to press the Start button and then click on the padlock icon in the lower right corner. You will then be presented with a window that instructs you how to unlock your computer which consists of pressing Ctrl + Alt + Delete and then logging back in.

Shutting Down

When you are done with your computer for the day, it’s time to shut it down. Click on the Start button and then select the arrow in the lower right hand corner. From the menu that appears, select Shut Down.

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Vista Basics - 9

Additional Resources

Review the Help within Windows Vista

Most, if not all, of the screens within Windows Vista contain a question mark icon that you can click to receive help related to the topic at hand. In addition, you can click on the Start button and then select Help and Support to receive assistance on a variety of topics.

Review Online Microsoft Resources

Microsoft has many resources available online to help new Vista users. A good place to start would be Windows Vista Help and How-to.

Consult is a provider of web-based software training videos and resources. If you are interested in access to please contact the Technology Help Desk at or 563-387-1000.

Review the Technology Help Desk web site

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