The Windows Desktop
By: Michael J. Casimir, February 15th, 2016
Although using any Windows desktop is not an overly complicated procedure, it is helpful that you understand what components make up the screen that you see each and every time your computer is powered on.
The main area or background image is called The Desktop, the working area where you can create and access new shortcuts and icons. The other elements appear in all flavours of Windows, but the graphical representation of each element may be a little different. For example, the Start button in Windows XP is green with the word Start clearly spelled out, while the Start button is a smaller object in Windows Vista and Windows 7, freeing up much needed space at the bottom left hand of your screen. While the Start button is more circular in shape in Windows Vista and 7, Microsoft designed the Start button to be square and colors can be customized based on the desktop theme being used.
The taskbar looks different in Windows XP compared to what it looks like in other versions of Windows but the concepts behind what it does remain the same. It is there to group your open applications together. As Windows had become more intuitive with future releases, so did the taskbar. For example, in Windows XP it would not automatically group related programs together, whereas in Windows 7, multiple copies of the same program could be grouped logically within each block on the taskbar. Additionally, applications, shortcuts, and documents can be pinned to the taskbar for easier access.
As you start learning about the various desktops within each Windows operating system, you will start to realize that there are more customization features apparent in newer Windows releases.
From the illustration below you can see what the Windows XP desktop looks like in a virtual environment with captions highlighting the main areas on the screen.
In the next sections, you will understand the various changes in the desktop design as more modern Windows operating systems were released by Microsoft.
The Windows Vista Desktop
For your reference I have included what the desktop looks like in Windows Vista Home Premium and also how it looks in Windows 7 Professional so that you can get an idea of what’s changed and what’s different between the operating systems. There are only minor differences in the desktop’s look and feel.
The main difference between the Windows XP Desktop and the Windows Vista Home Premium desktop is the ability to use Windows Desktop Gadgets. This is a side bar (a vertical bar running up the right side of the desktop). You could equip it with widgets to access key information about the computer including a clock and wallpapers. Gadgets can also be used to display information from online sources such as weather forecasts or sports scores.
In Windows Vista the widgets were restricted to being moved within the side bar on the right of the desktop, but in Windows 7, they could be moved anywhere on the desktop. With the introduction of Windows 8, Microsoft discontinued the use of the Windows Desktop Gadgets since the Windows 8 Live Tiles function can perform a similar function, but are only visible when the Start menu is accessed.
The Windows Vista desktop introduced two shortcut buttons right beside the Start button. These buttons allowed easy access to the desktop by minimizing all windows and returning the mouse cursor to the desktop, and the second button made it easy to switch between open applications. On a Windows 7 desktop, these buttons are not installed by default.
Everything else appears the same with the same Start menu, Windows Task Bar, and System Tray functionalities. The clock also appears in all versions of Windows on the lower right hand corner on the desktop.
The Windows 7 Desktop
The Windows 7 desktop is not much different than previous versions featuring some minor improvements. For example, Windows 7 has preinstalled shortcuts to Internet Explorer, Windows Explorer, and Windows Media Player
You can make new shortcuts to any program, file, or folder and customize the icon based on what you need it to look like.
The Windows 8 / 8.1 Desktop
The desktop found within Windows 8 and 8.1 was completely redesigned by Microsoft adding a new Metro style interface to the Windows Start Menu while maintaining the familiar desktop look and feel.
The Windows 10 Desktop
The desktop found within Windows 10 can be controlled by voice through the Cortana feature. With a microphone or headset, you can say commands to the operating system and Cortana, the human like robot works in the background displaying information you requested. For example, you can say, “OK Cortana. Tell me how many eggs are in a bakers dozen,” and Cortana will open a web page and display results related to what you just said.
Congratulations! You now know how the different desktops look in all versions of Windows. You should understand by now, that the concepts remain the same such as how to customize the desktop, but the principles behind any version of Windows are the same.