Windows Vista Tutorial

The Start Menu in Windows Vista

This tutorial introduces to the Windows Vista Start Menu, which has been re-designed since Windows XP. We will start with an overview of the new Start Menu, show you how to use its core functionality, including customization and computer searches. Unlike the Start Menu that shipped with previous versions of Windows, Vista brings its Start Menu to a whole new level of functionality which makes going back to the limited functionality of previous Start Menus very difficult.


Discover Vista's new Start Menu

The screenshot below shows you the Windows Vista Start Menu in its "default" state: throughout our series of tutorials on the Vista start menu, you will learn how to customize it to your preference.

Scroll down below the screenshot to see what each number corresponds to on the Start Menu.

Windows Vista's Start Menu

1 - The Start Button. The start button deploys the Start Menu, which is hidden by default. To show the Start Menu, you can either click the Start Menu with your mouse, or press the Windows logo on your keyboard (which is a lot faster). You can also right-click the Start button to show a menu that allows you to explore your computer, customize the Start Menu, and gives you access to third party programs that add an entry to this menu. A later tutorial will explain how to customize the Start Menu.

2 - The Search Box. Brand new in Windows Vista, the Start Menu's search box allows you to quickly find programs and files on your computer, or previously visited websites. Only typing the first few letters of the item you are looking for will often be enough. Learn how to search from the Start Menu.

3 - The "All Programs" menu. This sub-menu of the Start Menu corresponds to the sub-menu previous versions of Windows called "Programs". It contains programs and folders for most applications you have installed on your PC. (Most, because not all programs you install create their entry in the All Programs menu.) Find out more about the All Programs menu.

4 - The Frequently Used Programs. As you start using Vista, it will start knowing which programs you use most often, and will list them below the "pinned programs" (see number 5 below). This area is reserved for programs (or "applications"). We will see that Vista also gives you access to your recent documents from the Start Menu. Since recent files are not displayed on the default Start Menu, another tutorial shows you how to show recent files on the Start Menu.

5 - The Pinned Programs. These programs are used often enough to warrant a permanent entry in the Start Menu (you can "un-pin" these programs later on). By default, Windows Vista displays as pinned programs your default web browser and email program. Before installing alternate browsers or email clients, these would be Internet Explorer and Windows Mail, the free email program that ships with Vista. (The screenshot above tells us that Internet Explorer is the default browser and Outlook 2007 is the default email program.) Learn how to pin or unpin programs from the Start Menu.

6 - The User Icon. This icon shows by default the picture you chose for your user profile, or the one Windows Vista assigned automatically to your profile. This icon changes as you move your mouse cursor over items on the right (the dark side) of the Start Menu. Tip: clicking the Start Menu's user icon opens your user profile settings in the Control Panel!

7 - Common Folders. These buttons give you access to common folders in Windows Vista, including Documents, Music, and Pictures. Documents is the default folder used to save, for example, Microsoft Office documents (Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations…); Music is by default used by Windows Media Player to store music files (and iTunes creates a subfolder inside Music to store the music, audiobooks, movies, etc. you purchased through the iTunes store); and Pictures is the default location for saving pictures, for example when right-clicking on a photo in Internet Explorer and choosing "Save As". Show or hide common items from the Vista Start Menu.

8 - Common Places. Windows Vista uses this section of the Start Menu to show common places and functions; by default, these include "Computer" (the listing of all your PC's content), "Network" (all places and shared computers on your Windows network), and "Connect To" (the listing of available network connections, wireless networks to connect to the internet for example). Windows Vista lets you easily customize the behavior of common items in the Start Menu.

9 - Resources. The three items Windows Vista displays by default in this section of the Start Menu are "Control Panel" (used to customize everything on your PC), "Default Programs" (an easy way to decide which program should handle what by default), and "Help and Support" (the starting point of Windows Vista help and online resources). These Start Menu items can also be customized.

10 - Shutting down, Locking, Sleeping, etc. With this series of buttons, the Start Menu gives you access to the various functions useful when you are either done working with your computer, or about to step away from your computer.

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