The underlying mechanics behind contraptions like a wine press, a stapler, and the hula hoop haven't changed much through the years . In contrast, PC manufacturers, and a certain operating system developer in Redmond, Washington, never stop tinkering with what a computer can do. As a result, your PC is a ragtag assemblage of new parts, old parts, and obsolete parts left in to keep last month's software still working.
Yet one feature has grown consistently worse with each new computer model: documentation. Most PCs arrive with a single page of printed setup instructions, usually with lots of large arrows pointing, Twister-style, in geometrically confusing directions. To learn about the hundreds of features on your PC, you're stuck with trial and error. Some PCs come with built-in help menus , but they suddenly disappear when you need them the most: when your PC won't start.
The purpose of this book, then, is to serve as the manual that should have been in the box. In this book's pages, you'll find step-by-step instructions for using every part of your PC, letting you fine-tune the tasks you're familiar with, figure out the ones you'd only heard of, and learn about the ones you didn't know you neededuntil now.
PCs: The Missing Manual is designed to accommodate readers at every technical level. The primary discussions are written for advanced-beginner or intermediate computer users. But if you're a first-timer, special sidebar articles called "Up to Speed" provide the introductory information you need to understand the topic at hand. If you're a seasoned veteran, on the other hand, keep your eye out for similar shaded boxes called "Power Users' Clinic." They offer more technical tips, tricks, and shortcuts for the experienced computer fan.
This book makes three basic assumptions about you.
First, it assumes you've got Windows XP installed on an IBM-compatible PC (meaning a computer not named "Apple" or "Macintosh"). The book tosses in a morsel or two of information about Linux, a competing operating system, but only as a last resort to resuscitate a PC when Windows XP has grown too faint to revive. (To confirm you've got Windows XP, rather than some earlier Windows variant, click the Start menu, right-click My Computer, and then choose Properties. Your Windows version appears in the System area of the Properties window.)
Tip: Still on the fence about which PC to buy? Or thinking about trading up for a new machine? Check out the handy, semi-annual PC buying guide, written by the Wall Street Journal's tech expert, Walter Mossberg. You can find the latest one online at http://ptech.wsj.com/archive/ptech-20051013.html.
Next, you should be reasonably familiar with Windows XP's very basics: how to open and close windows, for instance, and how to navigate to folders and open them. Here's a very quick primer on a few terms and concepts that you'll frequently bump up against in your computing life:
Note: In order to cut down on the number of clicks you have to endure when adjusting various settings on your PC, do yourself a favor and switch your Control Panel window from Category View to Classic View. Choose Start Control Panel and then click "Switch to Classic View from the task pane along the Control Panel's left side. That displays all the Control Panel icons whenever you visit this all-important command center.
Finally, this book assumes you're not going to try to absorb all the information it contains. It's a manual you can reach for on the bookshelf or in the glove compartment during your time of need, and then close back up when the engine starts, the flat's repaired, or you've found the place to pour the windshield wiper fluid.
About These Arrows
Throughout this book, and throughout the Missing Manual series, you'll find sentences like this one: "Click Start All Programs Accessories Calculator." Thats shorthand for a much longer instruction that directs you to click the Start button to open the Start menu. Then choose All Programs. From there, click Accessories and then click the Calculator icon.
Similarly, this kind of arrow shorthand helps to simplify the business of choosing commands in menus, as shown in Figure I-1.
Figure I-1. In this book, arrow notations help simplify folder and menu instructions. For example, "Right-click the selected files and choose Send To CD Drive is a more compact way of saying: "Right-click the selected items. When the shortcut menu appears, click Send To, and then slide to the right and choose CD Drive."