In the 80s and early 90s, it used to be that the only way one could use a computer would be via a command prompt and a lot of typing. The concept of a mouse was state of the art technology and was found to be quite novel. Nonetheless, the mouse fundamentally changed the way people interacted with computers.
Now, in 2012, we have seen 3 years of mainstream tablet interactivity use. Are touch screens the new paradigm for personal computing? Or will touch screens always be used on portable devices? Only time will tell.
This tutorial will be covering some hidden features and best practices when using a modern desktop, whether it be Linux1, Windows, or Mac.
The first thing to understand about the graphical desktop is that it is simply another folder on your computer’s hard disk (remember: a hard disk is where a computer stores information for long-term use). Every time you open a folder, window, or program, the computer will put information regarding that program (such as which pixels are currently being ‘lit up’ on the screen) into memory (memory refers to RAM, which is short-term storage for fast access by the machine for immediate use. Memory loses its data when the computer is shut off).
What does this mean for you, the average desktop user? It means that you should be careful with how many programs you launch, tabs you open, and folders you explore. Each open program takes up more system memory and will subsequently slow down your current computing session. Personally, I strive for having no more than 2 or 3 programs open at the same time. I only open a 3rd program if I’m temporarily switching context or reading documentation.
If you’ve used a computer in the past 20 years, you are probably familiar with a mouse, which is used to move the cursor (displayed on the screen) around the desktop. Mice usually have two buttons (with the exception of Mac mice), the Left Mouse Button (LMB) and the Right Mouse Button (RMB). Some mice also have a wheel in the centre for scrolling up and down pages. This scroll wheel can also be clicked, and is known as the Middle Mouse Button (MMB).
When you’re experimenting with a new program, or even a new operating system, you should try right clicking on various objects and reading the options available. Remember to take note of keyboard commands on menu items you find yourself using (see below). # The Keyboard
Although the keyboard now plays second fiddle to the mouse in modern desktops,
learning to use keyboard shortcuts can save immense amounts of time. For
example, copying and pasting are actions available by right clicking on a file,
copy then right clicking on a folder and clicking
paste. But these
steps can be simplified when one uses the keyboard into
Ctrl+C and pasting
into the folder with
There are a lot of shortcuts in a given operating system. Many shortcuts can be
found simply by looking next to a listed menu item for a shortcut. Try opening
up a text or word processor and click on
Edit notice now that the
option has a keyboard shortcut next to it (in this case
another trick for you to try in Windows or Linux: press and hold
how your toolbar will now have menu items with certain letters underline. While
Alt, try pressing one of these letters (for example, try pressing
Alt+F). The menu with the underlined letter should now open.
It is said that one of the most important keyboard commands for a Windows user
Win+E2. This command will open a file-explorer window so that you may
browse your files. Another handy command in Windows is
Win+D which will
minimize all windows to the desktop. Pressing
Win+D again will bring back all
of the windows to where they were positioned.
We will be focusing on Gnome 2 and 3 in particular, as Linux systems can be customized with a number of window managers. We focus on Gnome because it is what Linus Torvalds, the creater of Linux, uses.↩
Winrefers to the Windows key (known as the
super keyin Linux) and can be used much in the same way as other command keys (such as