Basic computer competence

Of course you know how to use the mouse, to select, and act on an icon (click and double click). And you can click and drag objects, or the highlighter to select them?

This is all very well, but using the mouse is actually a bit of a pain. You have to move your hand quite a long way from the keyboard. It's nice to know how to do the things you do frequently using only the keyboard.

Most GUIs (graphical user interfaces) make it easy for you to learn keyboard shortcuts: in Windows the character that is underlined in a menu e.g. View gives a clue to its shortcut. To drop down the View menu itself you'd type ALT-i. Once the menu is active, you can just type the underlined character. So saving in an application might be something like ALT-f (to pop down the File menu) then s (for Save. On the Mac it would just be CMMD-S (in all Mac applications, ever, which is why the Mac is better, but never mind).

It's also vital that you're confident copying, cutting, and pasting. As a general rule, it's better to copy and paste any text that is more than a few characters if you can: it saves the fingers and wrists, and it avoids errors. Copying puts a copy of the highlighted text or object(s) in a special part of the computer's memory called the clipboard. Once it's there you can paste it anywhere you like. These commands are generally on the edit menu, and usually take the form of CTRL-X (cut), CTRL-C (copy), CTRL-V (paste). While we're using those keys handily down there at the bottom left, note that the most useful command of all, undo, lives down there too (often CTRL-Z).

With these shortcuts, you can experiment and play with much more ease, which after all is the key to learning. It's a bit like playing a musical instrument: you need to practice the basics regularly, and add in more complex stuff little by little. Eventually, the complex becomes unconscious, and therefore seems easy, and you can attempt even more ambitious things.

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Copyright Douglas Carnall 2001. You may reproduce this text in any medium provided this copyright notice is maintained. You may reproduce derivative versions of this text provided that a link to the original version is also maintained.