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These days, the graphic user interface (the colorful world of icons, windows, and menus) is standard. Mac, Windows, Chrome OS, Linux—every operating system is fundamentally the same, which is to say a very long way from the lines of typed commands that defined the earliest computers.

Windows 10 restores the desktop to its traditional importance, following a weird three-year detour into “what the heck” land known as Windows 8. The desktop is once again your only home base, your single starting point. It’s the view that greets you when the computer turns on, and it offers all the tools you need to manage and organize your files.

Herewith: a grand tour of the state of the art in computer desktops—the one in Windows 10.

The Lock Screen

When you turn on a Windows 10 machine, you know right away that you’re not in Kansas anymore. The first thing you see is a colorful curtain that’s been drawn over the computer’s world. It’s the Lock screen (Figure 1-1).

The Lock screen serves the same purpose it does on a phone: It gives a quick glance at the time, the date, your WiFi signal strength, the weather, and (on laptops and tablets) your battery charge. As you download and install new apps, they can add informational tidbits to this Lock screen, too.

The point is that sometimes you don’t really need to wake the machine up. You just want to know what time it is.

The Lock screen can also give you instant access to your Camera and Skype apps (Camera and Skype). You might want to take a picture or answer a call without having to go through the red tape of fully logging in.


Figure 1-1. You can control which apps are allowed to add information to the Lock screen in Settings (like the weather report shown here). You’re not stuck with the Lock screen photo as Mother Microsoft has installed it, either. You can change the picture, if you like, or you can eliminate it altogether. Chapter 4 has the details.

When you do want to go past the Lock screen to log in, there’s nothing to it. Almost anything you do that says, “I’m here!” works:

Touchscreen: Swipe a finger upward. (Swipe downward to jump into Camera mode.)

Mouse: Click anywhere. Or turn the mouse wheel.

Keyboard: Press any key.

The Lock screen slides up and out of the way, revealing the Login screen (Figure 1-2, top).


You can change the photo background of the Lock screen, make it a slideshow, or fiddle with which information appears here; see Customizing the Lock Screen. You can even eliminate the Lock screen altogether—after all, it’s an extra click every time you log in. For step-by-step instructions, see “Eliminating the Windows 10 Lock Screen,” a free downloadable PDF appendix on this book’s “Missing CD” page at www.missingmanuals.com.

The Login Screen

As in any modern operating system, you have your own account in Windows. It’s your world of files, settings, and preferences. So the second thing you encounter in Windows 10 is the Login screen. Here, at lower left, you see the name and photo for each person who has an account on this machine (Figure 1-2). Choose yours.

This is also where you’re supposed to log in—to prove that you’re you. But logging in no longer has to mean typing a password. One of Windows 10’s primary goals is to embrace touchscreens, and typing is a pain on tablets.


Figure 1-2. Lower left: If your machine has more than one account set up, tap or click your icon to sign in. Top right: Typing is so 2009! In Windows 10, you can log into your account using any of several more touchscreen-friendly methods, like drawing three predetermined lines on a photograph.

Therefore, you can log in using any of these techniques:

Just look at your screen. On laptops or tablets with Intel’s RealSense infrared cameras, facial recognition logs you in.

Swipe your finger across the fingerprint reader, if your computer has one.

Put your eye up to the iris reader, if your machine is so equipped.

Type in a PIN you’ve memorized.

Type a traditional password.

Skip the security altogether. Jump directly to the desktop when you turn on the machine.

See Chapter 19 for instructions on setting each of these up.

The Desktop

Once you’ve gotten past the security barrier, you finally wind up at the home base of Windows: the desktop. See Figure 1-3 for a refresher course.

You can, and should, make the desktop look like whatever you want. You can change its background picture or color scheme; you can make the text larger; you can clutter up the whole thing with icons you use a lot. Chapter 4 is a crash course in desktop interior decoration.


Figure 1-3. The desktop returns in Windows 10 as everybody’s starting place. It’s once again the first thing you see after you log in. It has a shiny, clean, new look, but the time-honored landmarks—Start menu, taskbar, system tray—are just where they’ve always been.

Meet the Start Menu

Windows is composed of 50 million lines of computer code, scattered across your hard drive in thousands of files. The vast majority of them are not for you; they’re support files, there for behind-the-scenes use by Windows and your applications. They may as well bear a sticker reading, “No user-serviceable parts inside.”

That’s why the Start menu is so important (Figure 1-4). It lists every useful piece of software on your computer, including commands, programs, and files. Just about everything you do on your PC begins—or can begin—with your Start menu.

In Windows 10, as you’ve probably noticed, the word “Start” doesn’t actually appear on the Start menu, as it did for years; now the Start menu is just a square button in the lower-left corner of your screen, bearing the Windows logo (). But it’s still called the Start menu, and it’s still the gateway to everything on the PC.

If you’re the type who bills by the hour, you can open the Start menu (Figure 1-3, lower left) by clicking it with the mouse. If you feel that life’s too short, however, tap the key on the keyboard instead, or the button if it’s a tablet.

Really, truly: Learn this. Tap to open the Start menu (or to close it!).

The Start menu (Figure 1-4) is split into two columns. For convenience, let’s call them the left side and the right side.



If your computer is a tablet, and it has no physical keyboard at all, then it may start up in Windows 10’s new Tablet mode. In this mode, the right side of the Start menu fills the entire screen, and the left side doesn’t appear unless you tap the

in the top-left corner. For details on Tablet mode, see Chapter 13.

The most amazing thing about the Windows 10 Start menu is that Windows 10 has a Start menu—something that’s been missing since Windows 7. The left side, or something like it, has been with Windows from the beginning. The right side is a pared-back version of the Start screen that distinguished Windows 8.

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The left side may look like the Start menu that’s been in Windows from the beginning (except during that one unfortunate three-year Windows 8 phase). But there’s a big difference: In Windows 10, you can’t use it to list your own favorite programs, folders, and files. (That’s what the right side is for.) The left side is meant to be managed and run entirely by Windows itself.