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How to Use Windows 10 for Beginners
April 22, 2021
Windows 10 has proven itself one of the most versatile and resilient operating systems available. Microsoft engineer Jerry Nixon reportedly called it “the last version of Windows” at release and all signs point to years of continued service and updates from the company. But if you’re new to this edition of the OS or to Windows in general, you may have questions about how to use Windows 10.
In this article, we’ll provide a thorough Windows 10 user guide for beginners, with a focus on high-value features and basic concepts. You’ll find options and tools most of us use every day, so watch for tips that can boost your workflow or make computing easier.
Interacting with your desktop
As with previous versions, the desktop is the primary launchpad for your Windows 10 experience. The icons in the main window represent keyboard shortcuts to folders and key programs, allowing you to get started quickly and customize your desktop experience over time.
You can get started with your desktop by right-clicking to access these features:
Change your “View” settings to adjust icon sizes and how your desktop looks
Change your “Sort by” settings to manage how your desktop is organized. There is no preset here, so activating this setting removes whatever desktop organizations you’ve implemented. You can choose between sequencing that uses file name, file size, file type, and date of modification
Refresh your desktop, which is useful after new installs and updates
Cut/copy/paste shortcut options
Graphics card and hardware options
Create files and folders under the “New” option
Display and personalization options
You can left-click on icons to activate a program or right-click to access more options, which vary based on the software itself. System utilities like the Recycle Bin, where you drag and drop unused files to delete, only have a few options, including right-click to open, delete contents, pin to start (which we’ll cover below), create shortcut, rename, and properties.
These are common presets and you’ll see them in the right-click drop down menu for most icons. Others are more dynamic, with unique features and admin options to explore, but you should always do your research before experimenting and modifying any settings.
How to use the start menu
Below the main desktop window, you’ll see the Taskbar. This contains several key features, including the start menu. Marked by the Windows icon in the lower-left corner of your desktop, the start menu has been a key feature since the days of Windows 95.
The most visible portion of the start menu provides a quick summary of programs and services, with day-to-day utilities under the heading “Life at a Glance.” To the right, you’ll find entertainment options, with apps from your device manufacturer below. To the left is an alphabetical index of installed software and system utilities, like Microsoft Word and your Settings folder.
The start menu also allows you to access important functionality and legacy features. These options are available through the far-left sidebar, which should load 5 similar icons directly above the Windows icon. You’ll also notice a three-line icon that you can click to display icon names. Here’s a rundown of what you can do from here.
1. Lock, sign-out, or manage your account settings
The first icon, which should load just above the Windows icon when you click the start menu, controls your account settings. You’ll see a white icon with the silhouette of a person along with your Microsoft account name when you hover over it. Click it to manage your account settings (billing, passwords, etc.), lock your desktop (this takes you back to your main login page), or sign out.
2. Access your Documents folder
Originally introduced as “My Documents,” you can access the Documents folder via the page icon, which features a folded top-right corner. This is your default save point for documents, though you may choose to create and use a different folder. If you’re not sure where a file or program went, start your search with the Documents folder.
3. Access your Pictures folder
Similar to the Documents folder, the Pictures folder is your default save point for image files. You’ll find several premade folders here for basics like Scans, Saved Pictures, and Camera Roll. This is a simple, ready-made place for storing and organizing your graphics files.
4. Open the Settings window
The Settings window is one of the most critical components of your Windows toolkit because it helps you troubleshoot and manage your devices with a handy search bar and suite of tools. Settings allows you to customize the finer details of your user experience, manage hardware and internet settings, and fine-tune how you use your Windows device.
5. Shutdown options
Last but definitely not least, you’ll find several shutdown options under the Power icon: Sleep, Shutdown, and Restart. Sleep triggers a low-energy mode to conserve power when you’re away from your PC. And to wake it back up, simply move your mouse, hit an arrow on your keyboard, or start typing.
Shutdown is a deactivation, after which you’ll need to press the start button to turn your computer back on.
Restart turns off your device and takes it through the regular boot-up procedure.
More about your Settings options
So you have a firm grip of what’s possible, here’s a quick rundown of all the major headings available in the Settings area:
System: Manage your display, storage, audio, and power settings. This is where you can adjust your screen resolution or set up a Remote Display.
Devices: Manage Bluetooth settings and how your computer handles external accessories like printers, input devices, etc.
Phone: Link your phone to your computer for better sharing and accessibility.
Network & Internet: Manage everything about your internet connection, both WiFi and Ethernet.
Apps: Uninstall apps and programs, set defaults, and choose which apps run on startup.
Accounts: Your full account settings. This is the same panel that loads when you click on your account icon in the start menu.
Time & Language: Manage your time, location, and language settings.
Gaming: Customize your Game Bar hotkeys (more about this feature below), manage Xbox networking, customize your screen capture settings, and manage game mode to optimize your device performance for gaming.
Ease of Access: This area features customization options to help make your device more accessible. Here you can boost audio output, activate narrator for easy screen reading, or set alternative controls.
Search: Customize how the Search function works on your computer, including the scope of search and content settings for online.
Privacy: Comprehensive portal for privacy management, where you can manage permissions and how your device interacts with other devices or services.
Update & Security: Manage your update settings, including frequency and advanced controls. You can also access your Windows Security manager, as well as backup and recovery options.
Remember some headings are more complex than others, and it’s easy to lose track of where to access a particular option or setting. There’s so much you can do from Settings that no single Windows 10 tutorial can cover everything. To have yourself headaches, avoid changing settings until you have a clear sense of what they do.
How to use the search bar
You can use the search bar to find files and programs on your computer and online. But there’s actually quite a bit of additional functionality packed in here. Click the search box and the prompt “Type here to search” to load more options. You can still enter a query, but you should also see extended options in the new menu.
At the top of the menu, there are several tabs to help you narrow your search – to apps or documents, for example – plus your Microsoft rewards balance and a feedback button. Below these, a “Top apps” feature collects links to your most used programs. There are also quick search options: Weather, Top News, and Today in history (for a bit of extracurricular reading), among others.
How to use the taskbar
Both the start menu and search bar occupy the left side of the larger taskbar at the bottom of your screen. The taskbar helps users stay organized when using multiple files or programs, providing unique icons for each application and a useful multi-window preview so you can choose between separate windows in the same program.
It also features a Cortana shortcut and a Task View, which provides an interactive timeline of recent activities. You can access your Documents folder using the manila folder icon, too. At the far right side, you have several options:
Access power and media options using the up arrow
Adjust volume using the speaker icon
Manage your internet connection using the signal icon
Time and date display, which you can click to manage your calendar
Click the speech bubble at the very edge to manage notification settings
How to use the Xbox Game Bar
The Xbox Game Bar is a newer feature, and it’s extremely useful for gamers. Activate by pressing the Windows key + G to open a heads-up display with information about your computer’s performance, plus audio, graphics options, and screen capture options. It’s a great way to access numerous useful tools and information while you’re playing, too.
To improve access for all users, Windows 10 features extensive Ease of Access settings. These controls make the Windows interface more robust and customizable. Here are the three areas you can control from the Ease of Access menu in your Settings folder:
Vision: Manage display settings like the size of text and icons, as well as brightness and cursor settings. This is also where you’ll manage Narrator, color and contrast settings, and magnification settings.
Hearing: Adjust volume, manage audio alerts, and control your device’s closed captioning settings.
Interaction: Toggle speech recognition and dictation, manage input devices, and set up a tracking device to facilitate eye control of on-screen functions.
Adding new hardware may require a visit to the Devices menu, but otherwise, this is your go-to spot for accessibility. You can also check out Microsoft’s guide to accessibility in Windows 10, which includes resources and info related to vision, hearing, neurodiversity, learning, mobility, and mental health. It’s full of useful background on all the features Windows owners can use to maximize functionality.
More helpful reading from Tech Takes
Windows 10 is full of features and unique ways to tailor your experience. Here are some additional Tech Takes articles to help you master Windows 10.
How to Speed Up Windows 10: A guide to troubleshooting and addressing slow speeds. This may apply more to older devices, but you can still find useful Windows 10 tips for beginners, especially if you want to maintain performance over time.
15 Best Windows 10 Themes: Themes help you to customize the appearance of your interface. Check out our collection of 15 favorites for Windows 10.
This may seem like a lot to absorb, but don’t be overwhelmed! There’s also no pressure to learn everything at once. And we’ve given you some ways to make sure you get a quick start on your Windows 10 journey. Most of us learn tips and tricks for Windows 10 over time as new needs arise. But if you’re ever in a pinch and need a little extra Windows 10 help, you can always click over to Microsoft Store support for additional resources and help from the experts.
About the Author: Dwight Pavlovic is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Dwight is a music and technology writer based out of West Virginia.
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