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Unformatted text preview: All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 C HAPTER Understanding Windows 4 In this chapter, you will learn how to
• Relate the history of Microsoft Windows
• Explain the Windows interface
• Identify the operating system folders of Windows 2000, XP, and Vista
• Describe the utilities in Windows essential to techs As a tech, you need to understand Windows at a level beyond that of regular users.
This chapter introduces you to some of the more powerful aspects of Windows, such as
NTFS and the Registry. Not only must techs run through the standard Windows features
that everyone uses every day (Start button, Recycle Bin, and so on), they must also be
comfortable drilling down underneath that user-friendly surface to get their hands a
This chapter begins by introducing and organizing the many variations of Windows
on the market today and helping you appreciate the difference between, for example,
Windows XP Home and Windows Vista Ultimate. The chapter then takes you through
the Windows interface in detail. The third section looks more closely at the techie aspects of Windows, including the structure of the OS. The fourth section provides an
overview of the many utilities for techs available in Windows. The chapter closes in the
“Beyond A+” section with a discussion of the versions of Windows not on the current
CompTIA A+ exams, such as Windows 7 and non-desktop versions of Windows. Let’s
get started! Historical/Conceptual
A Brief History of Microsoft Windows
Many users think of Windows as a monolithic thing, as the operating system (OS) for
the PC (as opposed to the Macintosh), but as a tech you need to understand that Microsoft produces many varieties of the OS, each with specific tools, utilities, file structures,
and interfaces. And you need to be able to navigate through any modern version of
Windows fluidly. 73 ch04.indd 73 12/11/09 5:59:42 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 74
Microsoft currently supports seven families of Windows, of which three concern the
CompTIA A+ certified technician: Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Vista.
(I’ll cover the other four families of Windows in the “Beyond A+” section of this chapter.) Within each of these families—my word, not Microsoft’s—Windows comes in
multiple versions. Here’s the list for the top three:
Windows Family Versions (32-bit) Windows 2000 ●
● Windows XP ●
● Windows Vista 2 ●
2 Windows 2000 Professional
Windows 2000 Server
Windows XP Home
Windows XP Professional
Windows Media Center
Windows XP Tablet1
Windows Vista Home Basic
Windows Vista Home Premium
Windows Vista Business
Windows Vista Ultimate Versions (64-bit) Nothing widely available
● Windows XP 64-bit version
Windows XP Professional x64 Edition Windows Vista Home Basic
Windows Vista Home Premium
Windows Vista Business
Windows Vista Ultimate Windows XP Tablet edition is not covered on the CompTIA A+ exams but is included here for completeness.
Microsoft has released two other versions of Windows Vista: Starter Edition and Enterprise.Vista Starter Edition is a simplified
version of the operating system designed for the developing world and is not sold in developed countries.Vista Enterprise is a
version of Vista Business designed for large-volume customers and is only sold to Microsoft’s enterprise-level customers. Table 4-1 Versions of Windows on the CompTIA A+ exams The problem of variety is compounded the minute you start working with older
computers or talking with users or techs who’ve been in computers for a few years.
You’ll hear about Windows 95, for example, or Windows Me, or even Windows 3.x.
Huh? What are these versions (Figure 4-1)? How do they fit in the picture? Figure 4-1 ch04.indd 74 Lots of Windows! 12/11/09 5:59:44 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 75
This section outlines the history of Microsoft Windows and then takes an in-depth
look at the differences among the many versions of Microsoft’s flagship operating system. That way you can sort out the essentials for today’s techs from the many varieties
you’ll hear about.
Microsoft entered the operating system game in the early 1980s with a commandline OS called Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS. With a command-line
OS, you interacted with the computer to run programs and save files and all the other
computing functions by typing and then pressing the ENTER key on your keyboard. This
whole typing thing worked for people who could memorize commands and such, but
alternative operating systems, such as the Apple Macintosh, offered a visual interface,
where you could interact with the computer by clicking on pictures. The time came for
Microsoft to step up its game and produce a graphical user interface (GUI) where users
could use a mouse to point and click. Early Windows
The earliest version of Windows, Microsoft Windows 1.0, dates from 1985 and was
little more than a graphical overlay of the DOS command-line operating system. This
overlay version of Windows went through a number of updates, ending with the first
truly popular version of Windows, Windows for Workgroups version 3.1 (Figure 4-2). Figure 4-2 Windows for Workgroups ch04.indd 75 12/11/09 5:59:45 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 76
NOTE Microsoft released several versions of Windows 3.1, with minor
differences in name. Techs call the versions collectively Windows 3.x. In 1989, Microsoft offered a completely separate version of Windows called Windows NT. Windows NT was a true graphical operating system and was dramatically
more powerful then the Windows overlay versions. Windows NT also cost more than
other versions of Windows, however, and saw little adoption outside of servers and
systems where users needed a lot of power. Windows NT went through a number of
versions, culminating with Windows NT 4.0 in 1996 (Figure 4-3). Figure 4-3 Windows NT 4.0 Comparing Windows NT to the old overlay versions of Windows is akin to comparing the first computer game you ever played to the games we play today: technically
the same thing (a game), but that’s about it. Windows NT had so many features that
showing them all could take days, but one is important. NT came with a new way
to organize hard drives and files, called the NT File System (NTFS). Before NTFS, all
versions of Windows used an ancient file system called the file allocation table (FAT). ch04.indd 76 12/11/09 5:59:46 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 77
FAT was great when first invented in the late 1970s, but by the mid-80s it was showing
its age. NTFS took care of a number of problems, the biggest of which was security. FAT
had no security. There was no way to control what people did with your files. NTFS was
built from the ground up with security in mind. We’ll cover both FAT and NTFS later in
the book, but for now appreciate that only Windows NT had NTFS.
It wasn’t until 1995 that Microsoft dumped the overlay concept and introduced Windows 95, the first version of Windows for the standard user that was also a full-blown
operating system (Figure 4-4). Windows 95 offered many improvements over Windows
3.x, and eventually Microsoft released several upgraded versions as well, such as Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, and Windows Me. The upgraded versions continued to use
the FAT file system. Over the years, Windows has gone through massive changes and a
large number of improved versions. The later versions have nothing in common with
earlier versions other than the name “Windows.”
NOTE When we describe Windows 95, 98, 98 SE, and Me from a historical
standpoint, we lump them all together, using the term “Windows 9x.” Figure 4-4 Windows 95—The Windows of your forefathers ch04.indd 77 12/11/09 5:59:47 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 78
The vast majority of computers in the field today run one of the three modern families
of Windows, so the CompTIA A+ certification focuses on those as well: Windows 2000,
Windows XP, and Windows Vista. But as you know from Table 4-1 at the beginning of
this chapter, just saying the name of a Windows family doesn’t do the varieties within
that family justice. The trick is to organize these versions in such a way to discover their
similarities and differences. In this section, we’ll look at versions of Windows 2000, XP,
and Vista, as well as a few other versions of Windows, and see the differences in detail.
A great place to start is with the arrival of Windows 2000 in 2001. Throughout most
of the 1990s, before Windows 2000 came along (followed very quickly by Windows
XP), Windows was in a bit of a mess. Microsoft had two totally different operating
systemseach called Windowsthat it sold for two different markets. Microsoft sold
the Windows 9x series for the home user and small office, and the much more powerful
Windows NT series for corporate environments. Essentials
Windows 2000 was the first step toward changing this mess. It was based on the old
Windows NT (including support for NTFS), but for the first time it included a great interface, provided support for dang near any program, and was substantially easier to use
than the old Windows NT. Microsoft originally presented Windows 2000 as a replacement for Windows NT, but its stability and ease of use motivated many knowledgeable
Windows 9x users to upgrade to Windows 2000. Windows 2000 started to appear as
“the single Windows to replace all the other versions.”
Windows 2000 came in two versions: Professional and Server. The CompTIA A+ exams do not cover Windows Server versions, but a good tech should at least know that
these server versions exist. If you were to look at the Windows 2000 Server desktop,
you’d be hard pressed to see any obvious differences from the Windows 2000 Professional version. Don’t let Windows 2000 Server fool you (Figure 4-5). Windows Server
is a heavy-duty version, loaded with extra software and features that make it superb for
running an office server. Windows Server versions are also extremely expensive, costing
on average of around $200 per computer that accesses the server.
EXAM TIP Windows 2000 was the last version of Windows to come in both
Server and Professional versions. After the release of Windows XP, Microsoft
introduced the next version of Windows Server as Server 2003. Windows
Server 2008 is the latest version of Windows Server. Windows XP
Windows XP came hot on the heels of Windows 2000. Under the hood, XP was basically the same as Windows 2000, but added a dramatically improved interface and ch04.indd 78 12/11/09 5:59:48 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 79 Figure 4-5 Windows 2000 Server a number of new features, such as a built-in CD writer. Microsoft also broke with the
beauty of 2000’s “one OS for everyone” idea. Microsoft visualized three types of users—
professionals, home users, and media junkies—so Windows XP came in several versions,
such as Windows XP Professional, Windows XP Home, and Windows XP Media Center. Windows XP Professional
Microsoft Windows XP Professional is, in many people’s opinions, the most versatile
and, therefore, the most mainstream version of Windows XP. Microsoft tuned Windows
XP Professional for office environments with many users sharing lots of data and multiple users sharing single computers. Windows XP Professional provides full-blown data
security, and it is the only version of Windows XP with the capability of logging into a
special Windows Server-controlled network called a domain.
A Windows domain is a group of networked computers all under the control of
a single computer running some version of Windows Server. Users on a domain can
make a single login to their computer that defines everything they can do on every
other computer on the domain. (See Chapter 23, “Local Area Networking,” for all the
details of the amazing Windows domain.) Figure 4-6 shows a typical Windows XP Professional desktop. ch04.indd 79 12/11/09 5:59:49 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 80 Figure 4-6 Windows XP Professional Windows XP Home
As its name implies, Windows XP Home is designed for the home and small-office user.
Windows XP Home is a stripped-down version of XP Professional. The best way to describe Windows XP Home is to list the Windows XP Professional features that Windows
XP Home lacks. Windows XP Home does not have
● ● ● The ability to log on to a Windows domain A Windows Home PC may log
into any single Windows server, but you must have a user name and password
on every single server. With a domain, you can have one user name and password that works on all computers that are members of the domain.
Encrypting file system With Windows XP Professional, you can encrypt a file or
a folder so that only you can read it. Windows XP Home edition lacks this feature.
Support for multiple processors Windows XP Home does not support more
than one physical CPU. Windows XP Professional supports two separate CPUs.
NOTE CPU support is based on physical CPUs, not the number of cores in a
single CPU. See Chapter 5, “Microprocessors,” for details on multi-core CPUs. ch04.indd 80 12/11/09 5:59:49 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 81
● Support for Remote Desktop A Windows XP Professional PC may be remotely accessed from another computer by using the Remote Desktop (Figure 4-7).
You cannot access a Windows XP Home system in this fashion. Figure 4-7
● ● ch04.indd 81 Remote Desktop Support for NTFS Access Control The NTFS file system is capable of powerful
controls on what users may do to a file or folder. Windows XP Home doesn’t give
you the ability to control these NTFS permissions individually. When you look at
the properties of a file or folder in Windows XP Home, you’ll notice that there is
no Security tab. Instead, Windows XP Home’s Sharing tab (Figure 4-8) shows that
only one folder, the Shared Documents folder, is open for sharingvery different
from XP Professional.
Support for group policies Do you need to keep users from using a certain
program? Do you want to prevent them from changing the screensaver? What
do you want to do if they try to log in three times unsuccessfully? That’s the job
of group polices. Well, if you want this level of control on your system, get Windows XP Professional, because XP Home doesn’t support them. Group policies
are discussed in Chapter 26, “Securing Computers.” 12/11/09 5:59:50 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 82
Home Sharing tab A few more differences exist between Windows XP Professional and XP Home, but
these are the ones you’re most likely to run into. Basically, if you want serious control
of the folders, files, users, and network, you need XP Professional. Windows XP Media Center
Microsoft Media Center is a specialized XP version that includes the very handy Windows Media Center program (Figure 4-9). Media Center is a Personal Video Recorder
(PVR) program that enables you to watch and record television (you’ll need a TV tuner
card) and organize all of your media, from photos to music.
On the Microsoft Media Center Web site, Microsoft declares that the Windows XP
Microsoft Media Center edition is based on Windows XP Professional; however, other
than the Media Center program, Windows XP Media Center’s capabilities are identical
to those of Windows XP Home. Windows Vista
Even though Windows 7 is available, Windows Vista is the latest version of Windows
on the current CompTIA A+ exams. It’s important to recognize Vista and know what
choices you have when deciding which version of Vista you need for a particular PC.
Windows has a number of versions of Vista, each geared toward a particular market
segment. Let’s look at the most common versions of Vista. Windows Vista Home Basic
Windows Vista Home Basic is roughly equivalent to Windows XP Home. Microsoft
gears it to home users not needing more advanced multimedia support. ch04.indd 82 12/11/09 5:59:50 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 83 Figure 4-9 Microsoft Media Center Windows Vista Home Premium
Windows Vista Home Premium (Figure 4-10) is the same as Windows Vista Home Basic, but it adds an upgraded Windows Media Center PVR application, similar to the one
found in Windows XP Media Center. Windows Vista Business
Windows Vista Business is the basic business version and has all the security, filesharing, and access controls seen in Windows XP Professional. Windows Vista Ultimate
Windows Vista Ultimate combines all of the features of every other Vista version and
includes some other features, such as a game performance tweaker and DVD ripping
capability (Figure 4-11).
EXAM TIP You can determine your Windows version by right-clicking My
Computer in Windows 2000 or XP, or Computer in Vista and Windows 7, and
selecting Properties. ch04.indd 83 12/11/09 5:59:51 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 84 Figure 4-10 Vista Home Premium Media Center Figure 4-11 Vista Ultimate ch04.indd 84 12/11/09 5:59:51 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 85
Enter 64-bit Windows
From roughly 1986 to around 2001, all CPUs were 32-bit. While we will save the big
discussion of what 32-bit means for Chapter 5, “Microprocessors,” for now let’s keep it
simple: a 32-bit CPU can only use a maximum of 4 gigabytes of RAM (232 = 4,294,967,296).
Starting in 2001 we began to see 64-bit CPUs that could accept more than 4 gigabytes.
64-bit CPUs are now extremely common.
NOTE CPUs and 32- and 64-bit processing are covered in much greater
detail in Chapter 5, “Microprocessors.”
The leap from 32-bit to 64-bit processing has a number of advantages. The really
big compelling reason to go from 32- to 64-bit is that 64-bit CPUs support more than
4 gigabytes of RAM. The more RAM you have, the more programs—and the bigger the
programs—your system will run. Until fairly recently, not too many of us cared to go
above 4 gigabytes of RAM. We didn’t need the RAM and we didn’t have a CPU that
could run at 64-bits. My, how things have changed over the past few years!
EXAM TIP Remember for the exams that 32-bit CPUs can support up
to 4 GB of RAM. In concept, 64-bit CPUs can support up to 16 terabytes
of memory, although you certainly won’t find that much memory in the
The 64-bit CPUs first showed up with the Intel Itanium back in 2001. At that time
the only folks interested in 64-bit processing were large data centers and a few organizations that needed to crunch big numbers. To run a computer with an Itanium, you
needed an operating system that worked with a 64-bit processor. Up to this point, every
version of Windows only ran at 32-bit. Microsoft answered the call by creating special
64-bit versions of Windows 2000 and XP, but these 64-bit versions of Windows 2000
were very rare.
In 2003, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) started to ship the popular Athlon 64 CPU.
This CPU could run in either 32-bit or 64-bit mode, making 64-bit a realistic option
for most of us. Intel followed AMD around 2004 with Pentium 4 CPUs also capable
of 32-bit or 64-bit processing. Since then, almost every CPU sold by Intel or AMD has
the ability to run in either 32-bit or 64-bit mode. Moving from the 32-bit to the 64-bit
world is easy, but only if you have a version of Windows to support 64-bit. Microsoft
has multiple versions of Windows designed to support 64-bit CPUs.
NOTE All 32-bit versions of Windows support a maximum of 4 gigabytes of
RAM. If your PC has more than 4 gigabytes and you’re not running 64-bit
Windows, you might as well remove any RAM above 4 gigabytes.You’re
wasting it! ch04.indd 85 12/11/09 5:59:52 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 86
Windows XP 64-bit Versions
The 64-bit-only version of Windows XP was called Windows XP 64-bit Edition (apparently Microsoft decided not to get cute when naming that one). Given that it only
worked on Intel Itanium processors, the chance of your seeing this operating system is
pretty small unless you decide to work in a place with powerful server needs. The Windows XP Professional x64 Edition is much more common, as it runs on any AMD or
Intel processor that supports both 32 and 64 bits (Figure 4-12). Figure 4-12 Windows XP Professional x64 Edition Windows XP 64-bit versions have had some impact, as they were the first stable
Windows versions that truly supported 64-bit processing, but it was the introduction of
Microsoft Vista that really started the move into the 64-bit world. Windows Vista 64-bit Versions
Every one of the earlier listed Vista versions comes in both a 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
As we move into PCs with more than 4 gigabytes of RAM, it’s important to make sure
your version of Windows is a 64-bit version (Figure 4-13). ch04.indd 86 12/11/09 5:59:52 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 87 Figure 4-13 64-bit Vista NOTE Windows 7 is not on the CompTIA A+ exams, but you should still
know it. Every version of Windows 7 comes in 32-bit and 64-bit on the same
install disc. Transitioning to 64-bit Windows
Techs use the x# terminology to describe a particular computer architecture, implying
that there is some compatibility within that architecture. This matters because people
need some comfort that the software they purchase will work properly with the computer they have. The transition from 32-bit versions of Windows to 64-bit versions of
Windows requires a certain update in terminology. ch04.indd 87 12/11/09 5:59:53 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 88
x86 versus x64 Intel originally used numbers to name its CPUs, such as 8086,
80286, 80386, and so on. To talk about them collectively, the industry replaced the
leading numbers with an x and kept the numbers that stayed consistent for all the processors, thus x86 describes the Intel CPU architecture for PCs. All the 32-bit versions of
Windows were designed to run on x86 architecture.
The move to 64-bit CPUs and, equally importantly, to 64-bit versions of Windows
required some sort of change in terminology. Microsoft and others picked up the x# terminology and changed it to market 64-bit-only versions of their software, branding the
64-bit software as x64. A consumer, therefore, could look at a product such as Windows
XP Professional x64 Edition and very quickly know that the software was designed for
64-bit CPUs rather than 32-bit CPUs.
The two x# uses—x86 and x64—don’t really compare, but that’s okay. Computer
people love the letter X almost as much as car manufacturers do.
Software Compatibility Transitions to updated architecture, such as the change
from x86 to x64, creates concern among users, because they fear that their old programs
won’t run or will run poorly, or that they’ll have problems with compatibility down the
road. Techs need to allay those fears by educating users properly. Here’s the scoop in a
Most of the 64-bit processors run either 32-bit or 64-bit versions of Windows without missing a beat. The 64-bit versions of Windows require a 64-bit CPU; they snicker
at 32-bit (or x86) processors and refuse to play. Many companies have produced 64-bit
versions of application software that only works with 64-bit Windows running with a
64-bit CPU. Great, right? But what about all those 32-bit applications out there working for a living? It gets interesting.
Windows Vista 64-bit versions support most 32-bit applications, sometimes without
any user intervention and sometimes through explicit use of the Windows compatibility mode options. (Just for the record, you sometimes need to use Windows compatibility mode options to run older programs on Windows Vista 32-bit versions, so
it’s not just a function of 64-bit support for 32-bit apps.) Windows can try to emulate
previous versions of Windows if an application balks at loading.
To run a program in an emulated version of Windows, you need to access the primary
executable file that, when double-clicked, makes the program run. We’ll go through
where to find your program files in the various versions of Windows later in this chapter,
but a quick example should suffice here. A user has a custom program—called “Widgets
for XP”—designed to take advantage of particular features in Windows XP Professional
with Service Pack 2 installed and it doesn’t work in Windows Vista. Open Computer and
go to C:\Program Files\Widgets for XP and look for a file with the type listed as Application, such as WidgetsXP.exe (Figure 4-14). Right-click and select Properties.
On the Compatibility tab, you can select the checkbox next to Run this program in
compatibility mode for: and select the OS of choice (Figure 4-15). In this case, we would
select Windows XP (Service Pack 2) to provide optimal compatibility for the application. Windows saves the configuration change and tries to open the program in compatibility mode each time the program loads. ch04.indd 88 12/11/09 5:59:53 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 89 Figure 4-14 Figure 4-15 ch04.indd 89 Finding an executable file Compatibility mode options 12/11/09 5:59:54 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 90 The Windows Interface
All versions of Windows share certain characteristics, configuration files, and general
look and feel. Here’s some good news: You’ll find the same, or nearly the same, utilities
in almost all versions of Windows, and once you master one version—both GUI and
command-line interface—you’ll pretty much have them all covered. This section covers the essentials: where to find things, how to maneuver, and what common utilities
are available. Where versions of Windows differ in concept or detail, I’ll point that out
along the way. You’ll get to the underlying structure of Windows in the subsequent two
sections of this chapter. For now, let’s look at the common user interface. User Interface
Windows offers a set of utilities, or interfaces, that every user should know about—both
how and why to access them. And since every user should know about them, certainly
every CompTIA A+ certified tech should as well! Let’s take a quick tour of the typical
EXAM TIP Odds are pretty good you already know the Windows
Interface—but do you know what the CompTIA A+ calls all these parts?
Don’t skip this section! Login
Logging into a Windows computer is something we all do, but few of us take time to appreciate. Your user name and password define what you can do on your computer. Every
version of Windows supports multiple users on a single machine, so the starting point
for any tour of the Windows user interface starts with the login screen. Figure 4-16 shows
the old, ugly, but very functional Windows 2000 login screen.
login screen ch04.indd 90 12/11/09 5:59:54 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 91 Figure 4-17 Windows XP Welcome screen Microsoft improved the login screen in XP, creating a new type of login called the
Welcome screen (Figure 4-17). If you’re using Windows XP Home or Media Center, this
is the only login screen you will see. Windows XP Professional also has the Welcome
screen. If you’re running a Windows XP Professional system that connects to a Windows domain, however, you go right back to the classic login screen (Figure 4-18).
screen ch04.indd 91 12/11/09 5:59:55 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 92
Windows Vista dumped the old login screen entirely. All versions of Windows Vista
use an improved version of XP’s Welcome screen (Figure 4-19). Figure 4-19 Windows Vista Welcome screen Desktop
The Windows desktop is your primary interface to the computer. The desktop is always
there, underneath whatever applications you have open. The desktop analogy appeals
to most people—we’re used to sitting down at a desk to get work done. Figure 4-20
shows a nice, clean Windows XP desktop; note the icons on the left and the various
graphical elements across the bottom. You can add folders and files to the desktop
and customize the background to change its color or add a picture. Most people like to
do so—certainly, I do! As an example, Figure 4-21 shows the desktop from my home
system—a Windows Vista Ultimate PC.
NOTE Your desktop is actually a folder in your computer. Whatever is in that
folder shows up on your desktop. It’s critical that you know how to get to that
folder in every version of Windows covered on the CompTIA A+. Read on. ch04.indd 92 12/11/09 5:59:56 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 93 Figure 4-20 Windows XP desktop Clearly the Vista desktop differs a lot compared to the Windows XP desktop. What
you’re seeing is something called the Aero desktop. Aero desktop adds a number of
impressive aesthetic features to your desktop that Microsoft claims makes the user
experience more enjoyable and productive. I’m not going to get into an argument on
the value of the Aero desktop, but it is an important part of the Windows Vista (and
Windows 7) interface. Most of the Aero features are overly technical—even for the
CompTIA A+ exams—but the end result is a faster, smoother desktop with two interesting features: transparency and Flip 3D. Transparency, as the name implies, gives an
adjustable amount of transparency to the edges of your windowed programs, as you
can see in Figure 4-22.
EXAM TIP Vista Home Basic does not support Aero desktop. ch04.indd 93 12/11/09 5:59:57 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 94 Figure 4-21 Mike’s messy desktop Figure 4-22
Transparency Flip 3D enables you to view and select all of your open Windows in a 3-D format as
shown in Figure 4-23. It’s actually very handy once you start using it. ch04.indd 94 12/11/09 5:59:58 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 95 Figure 4-23 Flip 3D Flip 3D is fun to use. Press the WINDOWS KEY-TAB key combination to start it. Keep
pressing the key combination to cycle through the windows. When the window you
want is in the forefront, release the keys, and that window will be the active window on
your screen. Try WINDOWS KEY-TAB-SHIFT to scroll through your windows in the opposite
To use the Aero desktop, you must have a video card that supports Aero. We’ll save
the in-depth discussion for Chapter 19, “Video,” but for now here’s what Microsoft says
your video needs:
● DirectX 9 capability or better ● At least 128 megabytes of video RAM ● Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver ● Pixel Shader version 2.0 Now that you know what you need (again, these will be covered in detail in Chapter 19, “Video”), here’s the easy way. When you install Vista, the installer checks your
video to determine if it can support Aero. If your video card is capable, Aero is turned
on automatically. ch04.indd 95 12/11/09 5:59:58 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 96
On an installed system, press the WINDOWS KEY-TAB combination. If the Flip 3D appears, you have Aero. If it doesn’t, Aero is not active.
To turn on Aero, right-click on your desktop and then select the Personalize menu
option. Next, select Window Color and Appearance. If you see a screen that looks
like Figure 4-24, you already have Aero running. If you see a screen that looks like
Figure 4-25, select the Windows Aero color scheme to activate the Aero desktop. Figure 4-24 You’ve got Aero! NOTE If you can’t run on Aero desktop, you need to upgrade your system
to meet the minimum requirements. This usually means a new video card or
updated video card drivers. See Chapter 19, “Video,” for details.
If you’re running Aero, note that the Window Color and Appearance screen shown
in Figure 4-24 has a slider to adjust the transparency settings and a checkbox to turn
transparency off completely.
There are a number of other features that, although not on the CompTIA A+ certification exams, you really should try. The WINDOWS KEY-T combination gives a preview of ch04.indd 96 12/11/09 5:59:59 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 97 Figure 4-25 The lack of transparency and the flat window with no drop shadow shows that Aero is
not activated. all minimized windows. ALT-TAB gives a preview of all running windows. Try Aero. It may
not be the productivity tool Microsoft promises it to be, but it sure is fun. Taskbar and Start Menu
The taskbar runs along the bottom of all Windows desktops and includes up to four sections (depending on the version of Windows and your configuration). Starting at the
left side, these are the Start button, the Quick Launch toolbar, the running programs
area, and the notification area. Although the taskbar by default sits at the bottom of the
desktop, you can move it to either side or to the top of the screen.
One of the main jobs of the taskbar is to show the Start button, probably the most
clicked button on all Windows systems. You can find the Start button on the far left
end of the taskbar. Figure 4-26 shows the Start buttons for Windows 2000, Windows
XP, and Windows Vista (in order).
Click the Start button to bring up
the Start menu, where you can
see the applications installed on
the system and start them. Now, ch04.indd 97 12/11/09 5:59:59 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 98
move your mouse cursor onto the All Programs (Windows XP) or Programs (all other
versions) menu item. When the All Programs/Programs menu appears, move the cursor
to the Accessories menu. Locate the Notepad program and click it. By default, Windows
hides lesser-used menu options, so if you don’t see Notepad, click the double downarrows at the bottom of the Accessories menu to make Notepad appear.
NOTE You have a lot of clicking to do in this chapter, so take a moment to
reflect on what I call the General Rules of Clicking. With a few exceptions,
these rules always apply, and they really help in manipulating the Windows
interface to do whatever you need done:
● Click menu items once to use them.
● Click icons once to select them.
● Click icons twice to use them.
● Right-click anything and select Properties to see its properties.
Great! If you opened Notepad properly, you should see something like Figure 4-27,
with Notepad displaying an untitled text page. Notice how Notepad shows up on the
taskbar at the bottom of your screen. Most running programs appear on the taskbar in
this way. Close the Notepad program by clicking on the button with the X in the upperright corner of the Notepad window. Look again at the taskbar to see that Notepad no
longer appears there.
Notepad application (note the
buttons in the
corner) Now look all the way to the right end of the taskbar. This part of the taskbar is known
officially as the notification area, though many techs and the CompTIA A+ certification
exams call it the system tray. You will at a minimum see the current time displayed
in the system tray, and on most
Windows systems you’ll also see
System tray showa number of small icons there.
ing several icons
Figure 4-28 shows the system tray
and the time
on my PC. ch04.indd 98 12/11/09 6:00:00 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 99
EXAM TIP Microsoft calls the area at the far right of the taskbar the
notification area, but you might see it referred to on the CompTIA A+
certification exams as the system tray.
These icons show programs running in the background. Most programs run in a
window. Background programs function like any other program except they do not use
a window, simply because the nature of their particular jobs makes a window unnecessary. Thousands of programs like to run in the system tray: network status, volume controls, battery state (on laptops), and removable device status are just a few examples.
What shows up on yours depends on your version of Windows, what hardware you use,
and what background programs you have installed. Some of the icons in Figure 4-28,
for example, include my antivirus program, a handy notification program for incoming
Facebook and Twitter messages, and my UPS program.
Near the left end of the taskbar, next to the Start button, you will find the Quick
Launch toolbar (Figure 4-29), a handy extra where you can select often-used programs
with a single click. On Windows XP systems, the Quick Launch toolbar is not displayed on the taskbar by default, so before you can use this convenient feature, you
must right-click the taskbar, select Properties,
and check Show Quick Launch. To change the
contents of the Quick Launch toolbar, simply
drag icons onto or off of it. The Many Faces of Windows Explorer
Windows Explorer enables you to manipulate files and folders stored on all the drives
in or connected to your computer. Microsoft presents the tool in a variety of ways to
help you focus quickly on what you want to accomplish. If you want to see the contents
of an optical disc, for example, you can open My Computer (Windows 2000/XP) or
Computer (Windows Vista/7) by double-clicking the icon on the desktop or selecting
the icon from the Start menu to have Windows Explorer open with the drives displayed
(Figure 4-30). To display the contents of a drive or folder, double-click it.
Windows Explorer in Windows 2000 has a fairly Spartan interface, whereas Windows XP offers a series of common tasks in a bar along the left side of the screen, as you
can see in Figure 4-30. Windows Vista also offers tasks, but the options display in a bar
below the location bar, near the top of the window (Figure 4-31).
When you access My Documents (Windows 2000/XP) or Documents (Windows
Vista/7) by double-clicking the icon on the desktop or selecting from the Start menu,
Windows opens Windows Explorer with your user folders displayed. Because your My
Documents/Documents folder is stored (by default) on the C: hard drive, Windows
Explorer shows the contents of that drive, drilled down specifically to your folders.
The fact that one way to open Windows Explorer is to double-click My Computer
or Computer, and another way to open Windows Explorer is to double-click My Documents or Documents—and the two methods show different contents initially—leads
many users to assume that they have two distinct tools. That’s simply not the case. ch04.indd 99 12/11/09 6:00:00 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 100 Figure 4-30 Windows Explorer in Windows XP displaying the drives installed, as well as common
tasks on the left Windows Explorer changes what’s displayed to suit specific tasks preset by Microsoft,
but it’s a single tool that can point to different locations on your computer.
Even better, you can change the look of Windows Explorer by clicking a button. The
Folders button in Windows 2000 and Windows XP toggles the Folders list on or off on
the left (Figure 4-32). The Folders list is a tree menu that enables you to move the focus
of Windows Explorer to different folders or drives. The Folders list replaces the common tasks bar in Windows XP. Note that the Folders list is enabled by default in Windows Vista no matter whether you open the tool through Computer or Documents.
In Windows Vista, you can alter the view of Windows Explorer in several ways. On
the task bar, you can click the down arrow next to Views to change the size of the icons,
the details displayed, and more. You can turn off the Folders list if desired by clicking the
down arrow next to Organize and then selecting Layout from the menu options.
The Folders list view makes copying and moving files and folders from one location
to another very easy. The steps differ slightly when you copy to a folder on the same
drive versus when you copy to a folder on a different drive, although the first step is the
same: Select a folder in the Folders list, and the contents of that folder appear in the
main pane on the right. ch04.indd 100 12/11/09 6:00:01 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 101 Figure 4-31 Windows Explorer in Windows Vista displaying the drives installed and showing tasks
Explorer in Windows XP with
the Folders list
toggled on ch04.indd 101 12/11/09 6:00:02 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 102
To move or copy a file from one folder to another folder on the same drive, click
and hold a file or folder in the main pane and then drag the cursor over to any folder
in the Folders list. A → symbol will appear in Windows Vista and 7, although not in
Windows 2000 or XP. Release the mouse button, and you move that file or folder to the
new folder. If you want to copy a file or folder rather than move it, press the CTRL key on
your keyboard and then click and drag into the desired folder. The → symbol (if any)
changes to a +; release the mouse button to copy the file or folder.
To copy or move a file from one folder to another folder on a different drive, click
and hold a file or folder in the main pane and then drag the cursor over to any folder in
the Folders list, and a + symbol will appear. Release the mouse button, and you’ll make
a copy of that file or folder in the new folder. If you want to move a file or folder rather
than just copy it, press the SHIFT key on your keyboard and then click and drag into the
desired folder. The + symbol changes to a → in Windows Vista/7 or just goes away in
Windows 2000/XP; release the mouse button to move the file or folder.
Notice the differences in the icons displayed in Windows Explorer? Windows assigns
different icons to different types of files, based on their extensions, the set of characters
at the end of a filename, such as .EXE, .TXT, or .JPG. The oldest extensions, starting
from back in the DOS era, are usually three characters, but current programs may use
extensions, such as the ubiquitous .HTML for Web pages. In rare cases, a filename might
actually have no extension.
As you look at these icons on your own screen, some of you might say, “But I don’t
see any extensions!” That’s because Windows hides them by default. To see the extensions in 2000/XP, select Tools | Folder Options to open the Folder Options dialog box
(Figure 4-33). Click the View tab and uncheck Hide extensions for known file types. In Vista,
click on Organize | Folder and Search Options | View tab to see the same dialog box.
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All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 103
There are two other very handy settings under the View tab, but to see the results
well, you need to be in the C: drive of My Computer, as shown in Figure 4-34. Figure 4-34 Default My Computer view where many things are hidden Go back into the View tab under Folder Options, click the Show hidden files and folders radio button, and then uncheck Hide protected operating system files. Click the Apply
to folders button in Windows Vista, the Apply to all folders button in Windows XP, or the
Apply button in Windows 2000. Your C: drive should look like Figure 4-35 (it shows Figure 4-35 ch04.indd 103 My Computer displaying hidden files and folders 12/11/09 6:00:03 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 104
the Windows XP version) when you are finished. As before, when you return to examining the folder contents, you will see the file extensions, and possibly some previously
Now that those files are visible, you have the awesome responsibility of keeping them
safe. In general, the less you handle your vital system files, the better. You’ll learn some
ways to do useful things with files that were previously hidden, but unless you really
know what you’re doing, it’s best to leave them alone. Before you turn a PC over to someone who isn’t a trained PC tech, you’ll probably want to hide those system files again.
Microsoft has tried to help users organize their files and folders through various user
folders and subfolders that you access through Windows Explorer. The different operating systems offer different choices, so let’s look at My Documents and the User’s Files.
My Documents, My [Whatever] All versions of Windows provide a special
folder structure for each user account so users have their own places to store personal
data. This folder grouping is called My Documents in Windows 2000 and XP. Many Windows programs take advantage of My Documents and by default store their files in the
folder or in a subfolder.
Windows XP installations do not show My Documents on the desktop by default.
On Windows XP, you can access it readily through the Start menu, or you can add it to
your desktop. Right-click the desktop and select Properties to open the Display Properties dialog box. Select the Desktop tab, and then click on the Customize Desktop button to open the Desktop Items dialog box (Figure 4-36). On the General tab, select the
checkbox next to My Documents, My Computer, or both, and then click OK to close the
dialog box and make any selected icons appear on the desktop. Figure 4-36
Items dialog box ch04.indd 104 12/11/09 6:00:03 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 105
NOTE As with most tools in Windows, Microsoft gives you more than one
way to accomplish tasks. In XP and Vista, try right-clicking the Start menu icon,
selecting Properties, and choosing the Classic Start Menu radio button.
Windows XP adds a number of subfolders to My Documents: My Pictures (which
offers filmstrip and thumbnail views of pictures you store there), My Music (which will
fire up Media Player to play any file), My Videos (which, again, starts Media Player),
and more. Figure 4-37 shows My Pictures, using the thumbnail view. Many applications
have since jumped on the bandwagon and added their own My [Whatever] folders
in My Documents. Before I retired my Windows XP machine, for example, I had My
eBooks, My Web Sites, My Received Files, My Virtual Machines…My Goodness! Figure 4-37 My Pictures subfolder in My Documents User’s Files Windows Vista takes the equivalent of My Documents to a whole new
level with the User’s Files option. (Although a Documents folder is available, it’s designed literally for documents, such as text files.) Click on the Start menu and you’ll
see a folder option with the user name of the account that’s currently logged into the ch04.indd 105 12/11/09 6:00:04 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 106
computer. With that option, not only do you get all of the folders you get in Windows
2000/XP, but Vista also adds a number of other folders as well as interesting but important data such as your Internet Explorer favorites and copies of recent searches.
Just as with Windows XP, the user’s folder does not show on the desktop by default.
To see this folder, right-click on the desktop, select Personalize, and then click Change
desktop icons on the left of the Personalization window. You’ll see a Desktop Icon Setting
dialog box where you can select the User’s File option to display the personal files of the
logged-in user account. Figure 4-38 shows the User’s Files folder for my editor, with the
Desktop Icon Settings dialog box in the background. Figure 4-38 Typical user accounts folder in Windows Vista No matter what your version of Windows decides to call it, My Documents/User’s Files
is an incredibly critical part of your computer’s directory structure. Not only does this store
your most personal (and important) documents, it also stores most of the personalization
settings for each user. You’ll see more of My Documents/User’s Files in the next section. ch04.indd 106 12/11/09 6:00:04 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 107
In Windows, a file is not erased when you delete it. Windows adds a level of protection in the form of a special folder called the Recycle Bin. When you delete a file in
Windows, the file moves into the Recycle Bin. It stays there until you empty the Recycle
Bin or restore the file, or until the Recycle Bin reaches a preset size and starts erasing its
To access the Recycle Bin’s properties, right-click the icon and select Properties. The
Recycle Bin’s properties look different in different versions of Windows, but they all
work basically the same. Figure 4-39 shows the properties of a typical Windows XP
Recycle Bin. Note that you set the amount of drive space to use for the Recycle Bin,
10 percent being the default amount. If a hard drive starts to run low on space, this is
one of the first places to check.
Recycle Bin Properties My Network Places/Network
Systems tied to a network, either via a network cable or by a modem, have a folder
called My Network Places in XP or simply Network in Vista (see Figure 4-40). This
shows all the current network connections available to you. You’ll learn about My Network Places in Chapter 23, “Local Area Networking.” Windows Sidebar
Windows Vista comes with a UI feature called the Windows Sidebar, a tool that sits on
the desktop and enables small helper applications—called Microsoft Gadgets—to run.
You can display a clock, for example, or a dynamic weather update. Vista comes with a ch04.indd 107 12/11/09 6:00:05 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 108 Figure 4-40 Network in Windows Vista Figure 4-41
in action handful of Gadgets, but developers have gone crazy
with them, enabling you to add all sorts of useful
tools, such as the Twitter feed and World of Warcraft
search and realm status Gadgets in Figure 4-41. Hot Keys
In Windows, you can use key combinations to go
directly to various programs and places. Here’s a
fairly extensive list of general-purpose commands
for Windows. Be aware that some applications may
change the use of these commands. Function Keys
● Help F2 Rename ● F3 Search menu ● F5 Refresh the current window ● ch04.indd 108 F1 ● F6 Move among selections in current
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All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 109
Popular Hot Keys
● CTRL-ESC ● ALT-TAB ● ALT-F4 Quit program ● CTRL-Z Undo the last command ● CTRL-A Select all the items in the current window ● SHIFT-DELETE ● SHIFT-F10 ● SHIFT ● ALT-SPACE ● ALT-ENTER Open Start menu
Switch between open programs Delete item permanently Open a shortcut menu for the selected item (this is the same as rightclicking an object)
Bypass the automatic-run feature for optical media (by pressing and
holding down the SHIFT key while you insert optical media)
Display the main window’s System menu (from this menu you can
restore, move, resize, minimize, maximize, or close the window)
Open the properties for the selected object Working with Text
● CTRL-C Copy ● CTRL-X Cut ● CTRL-V Paste ● CTRL-Z Undo Windows Key Shortcuts
These shortcuts use the special Windows key:
Start menu ● WINDOWS KEY ● WINDOWS KEY-D Show desktop ● WINDOWS KEY-E Windows Explorer ● WINDOWS KEY-L Locks the computer ● WINDOWS KEY-TAB Cycle through taskbar buttons (or Flip 3D with Windows Aero in Vista)
● WINDOWS KEY-BREAK Open the System Properties dialog box NOTE I’ve covered only the most basic parts of the Windows desktop in this
chapter. The typical Windows desktop includes many other parts, but for techs
and for the CompTIA A+ certification exams, what you’ve learned here about
the desktop is more than enough. ch04.indd 109 12/11/09 6:00:07 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 110 Practical Application
Operating System Folders
The modern versions of Windows organize essential files and folders in a relatively similar fashion. All have a primary system folder for storing most Windows internal tools
and files. All have a set of folders for programs and user files. All use a special grouping
of files called the Registry to keep track of all the hardware loaded and the drivers that
enable you to use that hardware. Finally, every version has a RAM cache file, enabling
more robust access to programs and utilities. Yet once you start to get into details, you’ll
find some very large differences. It’s very important for you to know in some detail the
location and function of many common folders and their contents.
EXAM TIP The CompTIA A+ exams love to ask detailed questions about the
locations of certain folders. Make sure you know this section! System Folder
SystemRoot is the tech name given to the folder in which Windows has been installed.
SystemRoot by default is C:\WINNT in Windows 2000, while Windows XP and
Vista’s SystemRoot defaults to C:\WINDOWS. Be warned, these are defaults but not always
the case; during the installation process, you can change where Windows is installed.
It’s handy to know about SystemRoot. You’ll find it cropping up in many other tech
publications, and you can specify it when adjusting certain Windows settings to make
sure they work under all circumstances. When used as part of a Windows configuration
setting, add percent signs (%) to the beginning and end like so: %SystemRoot%.
If you don’t know where Windows is installed on a particular system, here’s a handy
trick. Get to a command prompt, type cd %systemroot%, and press ENTER. The prompt
changes to the directory in which the Windows OS files are stored. Slick! See Chapter 15,
“Working with the Command-Line Interface,” for details on how to use the command
prompt in Windows.
The system folder contains many subfolders, too numerous to mention here, but
CompTIA wants you to know the names of a number of these subfolders, as well as
what goes in them. Let’s run through the subfolders you should recognize and define
(these folders are in all versions of Windows):
● ● ch04.indd 110 %SystemRoot%\FONTS All of the fonts installed in Windows live here. %SystemRoot%\Offline Files When you tell your Web browser to save Web
pages for offline viewing, they are stored in this folder. This is another folder
that Windows automatically deletes if it needs the space.
%SystemRoot%\SYSTEM32 This is the real Windows! All of the most critical
programs that make Windows run are stored here. 12/11/09 6:00:07 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
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● %SystemRoot%\Temp Anytime Windows or an application running on Windows needs to create temporary files, they are placed here. Windows deletes these
files automatically as needed, so never place an important file in this folder. Program and Personal Document Folders
Windows has a number of important folders that help organize your programs and
documents. They sit in the root directory at the same level as the system folder, and of
course they have variations in name depending on the version of Windows. We’ll assume that your computer is using a C: drive—a pretty safe assumption, although there
actually is a way to install all of Windows on a second hard-drive partition. C:\Program Files (All Versions)
By default, most programs install some or all of their essential files into a subfolder of
the Program Files folder. If you installed a program, it should have its own folder in here.
Individual companies decide how to label their subfolders. Installing Photoshop made
by Adobe, for example, creates the Adobe subfolder and then an Adobe Photoshop subfolder within it. Installing Silverlight from Microsoft, on the other hand, only creates a
Microsoft Silverlight folder with the program files within it. (Some programmers choose
to create a folder at the root of the C: drive, bypassing Program Files all together, but
that’s becoming increasingly rare.) C:\Program Files (x86)
The 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 create two directory structures
for program files. The 64-bit applications go into the C:\Program Files folder. The 32bit applications, in contrast, go into the C:\Program Files (x86) folder. The separation
makes it easy to find the proper version of whatever application you seek. Personal Documents
As you might expect, given the differences among the desktop names for personal document locations outlined earlier in the chapter, the personal folders for Windows 2000/
XP and Windows Vista differ in location and name. Windows 2000 and Windows XP
place personal folders in the Documents and Settings folder, whereas Windows Vista
uses the Users folder. From there, they differ even more.
C:\Documents and Settings (2000 and XP) All of the personal settings for
each user are stored here. All users have their own subfolders in Documents and Settings.
In each user folder, you’ll find another level of folders with familiar names such as Desktop, My Documents, and Start Menu. These folders hold the actual contents of these items.
Let’s dive through these to see the ones you need to know for the CompTIA A+ exams.
● ch04.indd 111 \Documents and Settings\Default User (hidden) All of the default settings
for a user. For example, if the user doesn’t specify a screensaver to use, Windows
refers to this folder’s settings to determine what screensaver it should use if
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● ● ● \Documents and Settings\All Users You can make settings for anyone who
uses the computer. This is especially handy for applications: some applications
are installed so all users may use them and some might be restricted to certain
users. This folder stores information for any setting or application that’s defined
for all users on the PC.
\Documents and Settings\Shared Documents (XP Only) If you’re using XP’s
Simple File Sharing, this is the only folder on the computer that’s shared.
\Documents and Settings\<User Name> This folder stores all settings defined
for a particular user (Figure 4-42). Figure 4-42 Contents of a typical \Documents and Settings folder in XP Opening any user’s folder reveals a number of even lower folders. Each of these store
very specific information about the user.
● ● ● ● ch04.indd 112 \Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Desktop This folder stores the files
on the user’s desktop. If you delete this folder, you delete all the files placed on
\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\<User name’s>Documents This is
the My Documents folder for another user on the computer.
\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Application Data (hidden) This
folder stores information and settings used by various programs that the user
\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Start Menu This folder stores any
customizations the user made to the Start menu. 12/11/09 6:00:09 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 113
C:\Users (Vista) Vista dumps the old Documents and Settings for the Users folder.
Functionally similar to Documents and Settings, there are a number of sub-folders here
that you need to know to pass the CompTIA A+ exams.
Let’s repeat the process, locating the same functions in their new locations.
● \Users\Default (hidden), \Users\All Users, All of these folders retain the
same functions as in 2000/XP.
NOTE Vista and 7 make a special hidden folder called “Default User” that
points to the User folder to support older applications. ● ● \Users\<user name> The big change takes place under each of the \Users\<user
name> folders. This folder still stores all settings defined for a particular user; however, this folder in Vista/7 is much more detailed than in 2000/XP (Figure 4-43).
Luckily, you only need to know a few folders for the exams.
\Users\<User Name>\Desktop Same as 2000/XP. Figure 4-43 ch04.indd 113 Contents of a typical \Users\<User Name>\ folder in Vista 12/11/09 6:00:09 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 114
● ● ● \Users\<User Name>\Documents This is the Documents folder for that user.
Compare the name of this folder to the one in Windows 2000/XP and know
which is which.
\Users\<User Name>\Downloads Microsoft’s preferred download folder for
applications to use. Most applications do use this folder, but some do not.
\Users\<User Name>\Start Menu Same as 2000/XP.
EXAM TIP Be very careful here. Some of the folder name differences
between 2000/XP and Vista/7 are subtle. Make sure you know the difference. Any good tech knows the name and function of all the folders just listed. As a tech,
you will find yourself manually drilling into these folders for a number of reasons. Users
rarely go directly into any of these folders with Windows Explorer. That’s a good thing
since, as a technician, you need to appreciate how dangerous it is for them to do so. Imagine a user going into a \Users\<User Name>\Desktop folder and wiping out someone’s
desktop folders. Luckily, Windows protects these folders by using NTFS permissions,
making it very difficult for users to destroy anything other than their own work. Registry
The Registry is a huge database that stores everything about your PC, including information on all of the hardware in the PC, network information, user preferences, file types,
and virtually anything else you might run into with Windows. Almost any form of configuration you do to a Windows system involves editing the Registry. Every version of
Windows stores the numerous Registry files (called hives) in the \%SystemRoot%\System32\config folder. Fortunately, you rarely have to access these massive files directly.
Instead, you can use a set of relatively tech-friendly applications to edit the Registry.
The CompTIA A+ certification exams do not expect you to memorize every aspect of
the Windows Registry. You should, however, understand the basic components of the
Registry, know how to edit the Registry manually, and know the best way to locate a
particular setting. Accessing the Registry
Before you look in the Registry, let’s look at how you access the Registry directly by using a Registry editor. Once you know that, you can open the Registry on your machine
and compare what you see to the examples in this chapter.
Windows 2000 comes with two Registry editors: REGEDT32.EXE, shown in Figure 4-44,
and the much older REGEDIT.EXE (Figure 4-45). You start either of these programs by going to a command prompt and typing its filename.
The reason for having two different Registry editors is long and boring, and explaining it would require a very dull 15-minute monologue (preferably with an angelic chorus singing in the background) about how the Registry worked in Windows 9x and
Windows NT. Suffice it to say that in Windows 2000, only REGEDT32 is safe to use
for actual editing, but you can use the older REGEDIT to perform searches, because
REGEDT32’s search capabilities are not very good. ch04.indd 114 12/11/09 6:00:09 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 115 Figure 4-44 Figure 4-45 ch04.indd 115 REGEDT32 in Windows 2000 REGEDIT in Windows 2000 12/11/09 6:00:11 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 116
Starting with Windows XP, Microsoft eliminated the entire two-Registry-editor nonsense
by creating a new REGEDT32 that includes strong search functions. No longer are there
two separate programs, but interestingly, entering either REGEDIT or REGEDT32 at a command prompt brings up the same program, so feel free to use either program name. We
can also dispense with calling the Registry Editor by its filename and use its proper title. Registry Components
The Registry is organized in a tree structure similar to the folders in the PC. Once you
open the Registry Editor in Windows, you will see five main subgroups, or root keys:
● HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT ● HKEY_CURRENT_USER ● HKEY_USERS ● HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE ● HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG Try opening one of these root keys by clicking on the plus sign to its left; note that more
subkeys are listed underneath. A subkey also has other subkeys, or values. Figure 4-46 shows
an example of a subkey with some values. Notice that the Registry Editor shows keys on the
left and values on the right, just as Windows Explorer shows directories on the left and files
on the right.
NOTE When writing about keys and values, I’ll use the expression key = value. Figure 4-46 Typical Registry keys and values ch04.indd 116 12/11/09 6:00:11 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 117
The secret to understanding the Registry is to understand the function of the five root
keys first. Each of these root keys has a specific function, so let’s take a look at them
This root key defines the standard class objects used by Windows. A class object is a
named group of functions that define what you can do with the object it represents.
Pretty much everything that has to do with files on the system is defined by a class object. For example, the Registry uses two class objects to define the popular MP3 sound
file. If you search the Registry for the .MP3 file extension, you will find the first class
object, which associates the .MP3 file extension with the name “Winamp.File” on this
computer (Figure 4-47). Figure 4-47 Association of .MP3 with Winamp Ah, but what are the properties of Winamp.File? Thats what the HKEY_CLASSES_
ROOT root key is designed to handle. Search this section again for “Winamp.File” (or
whatever it said is the value for your MP3 file) and look for a subkey called “open.”
This variable determines the file association (Figure 4-48), which is the Windows term
for what program to use to open a particular type of file.
This subkey tells the system everything it needs to know about a particular software
item, from which program to use to open a file, to the type of icon used to show the file, to
what to show when you right-click on that file type. Although it is possible to change most
of these settings in the Registry Editor, the normal way is to choose more user-friendly
methods. In Windows XP, for example, you can right-click on a file and select Properties,
and then click the Change button on the General tab to open the Open With dialog box
(Figure 4-49). From there you can browse to select the program you want to use. ch04.indd 117 12/11/09 6:00:11 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 118 Figure 4-48 Winamp file settings
Changing the file
easy way HKEY_CURRENT_USER and HKEY_USERS
Windows is designed to support more than one user on the same PC, storing personalized information such as desktop colors, screensavers, and the contents of the desktop
for every user that has an account on the system. HKEY_CURRENT_USER stores the
current user settings, and HKEY_USERS stores all of the personalized information for ch04.indd 118 12/11/09 6:00:12 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 119
all users on a PC. While you certainly can change items such as the screensaver here, the
better way is to right-click on the desktop and select Properties. HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
This root key contains all the data for a system’s non-user-specific configurations. This
encompasses every device and every program in your PC. For example, Figure 4-50
shows the description of a DVD disc drive. Figure 4-50 Registry information for a DVD drive HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG
If the values in HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE have more than one option, such as two different monitors, this root key defines which one is currently being used. Because most people
have only one type of monitor and similar equipment, this area is almost never touched. Page File
Windows uses a portion of the hard drive as an extension of system RAM, through
what’s called a RAM cache. A RAM cache is a block of cylinders on a hard drive set aside
as what’s called a page file, swap file, or virtual memory. When the PC starts running out of
real RAM because you’ve loaded too many programs, the system swaps programs from
RAM to the page file, opening more space for programs currently active. All versions of
Windows use a page file, so here’s how one works.
EXAM TIP The default and recommended page file size is 1.5 times the
amount of installed RAM on your computer. ch04.indd 119 12/11/09 6:00:13 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 120
Let’s assume you have a PC with 4 GB of RAM. Figure 4-51 shows the system RAM
as a thermometer with gradients from 0 to 4 GB. As programs load, they take up RAM,
and as more and more programs are loaded (labeled A, B, and C in the figure), more
RAM is used.
A RAM thermometer showing that more
more RAM At a certain point, you won’t have enough RAM to run any more programs
(Figure 4-52). Sure, you could close one or more programs to make room for yet
another one, but you can’t keep all of the programs running simultaneously. This is
where virtual memory comes into play.
RAM to load
program D Windows’ virtual memory starts by creating a page file that resides somewhere on
your hard drive. The page file works like a temporary storage box. Windows removes
running programs temporarily from RAM into the page file so other programs can load
and run. If you have enough RAM to run all your programs, Windows does not need to
use the page file; Windows brings the page file into play only when insufficient RAM is
available to run all open programs.
NOTE Virtual memory is a fully automated process and does not require any
user intervention. Tech intervention is another story! To load, Program D needs a certain amount of free RAM. Clearly, this requires that unloading some other program (or programs) from RAM without actually closing any programs. Windows looks at all running programs—in this case A, B, and C—and decides
which program is the least used. That program is then cut out of or swapped from RAM
and copied into the page file. In this case, Windows has chosen Program B (Figure 4-53).
Unloading Program B from RAM provides enough RAM to load Program D (Figure 4-54).
It is important to understand that none of this activity is visible on the screen. Program B’s window is still visible, along with those of all the other running programs.
Nothing tells the user that Program B is no longer in RAM (Figure 4-55). ch04.indd 120 12/11/09 6:00:17 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 121
Program B being
memory Figure 4-54
Program B stored
in the page file—
room is made for
Program D Figure 4-55
You can’t tell
whether a program is swapped
or not. ch04.indd 121 12/11/09 6:00:26 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 122
So what happens if you click on Program B’s window to bring it to the front? The
program can’t actually run from the page file; it must be loaded back into RAM. First,
Windows decides which program must be removed from RAM, and this time Windows
chooses Program C (Figure 4-56). Then it loads Program B into RAM (Figure 4-57).
Program C is
swapped to the
page file. Figure 4-57
Program B is
into RAM. Swapping programs to and from the page file and RAM takes time. Although no
visual clues suggest that a swap is taking place, the machine slows down quite noticeably as Windows performs the swaps. The alternative (Figure 4-58) is far less acceptable.
Page files are a crucial aspect of Windows operation.
The alternative to
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All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 123
Windows handles page files automatically, but occasionally you’ll run into problems
and need to change the size of the page file or delete it and let Windows re-create it automatically. The page file is PAGEFILE.SYS. You can often find it in the root directory of the
C: drive, but again, that can be changed. Wherever it is, the page file is a hidden system file,
which means in practice that you’ll have to play with your folder-viewing options to see it.
NOTE If you have a second hard drive installed in your PC, you can often
get a nice performance boost by moving your page file from the C: drive (the
default) to the second drive. To move your page file in all versions of Windows,
go to the Control Panel | System applet and select the Advanced tab in 2000/
XP or Advanced system settings menu in Vista/7. This opens the System Properties dialog
box. In the Performance section, click the Settings button to open the Performance Options
dialog box. Select the Advanced tab, and then click the Change button in the Virtual Memory
section. Select a drive from the list and give it a size or range, and you’re ready to go.
Just don’t turn virtual memory off completely. Although Windows can run without virtual
memory, you will definitely take a performance hit. Tech Utilities
Windows offers a huge number of utilities that enable techs to configure the OS, optimize and tweak settings, install hardware, and more. The trick is to know where to go to
find them. This section shows the six most common locations in Windows where you
can access utilities: right-click, Control Panel, System Tools, command line, Administrative Tools, and the Microsoft Management Console. Note that these are locations for
tools, not tools themselves, and you can access many tools from more than one of these
locations. However, you’ll see some of the utilities in many of these locations. Stay
sharp in this section, as you’ll need to access utilities to understand the inner workings
of Windows in the next section. Right-Click
Windows, being a graphical user interface OS, covers your monitor with windows,
menus, icons, file lists—all kinds of pretty things you click on to do work. Any single
thing you see on your desktop is called an object. If you want to open any object in
Windows, you double-click on it. If you want to change something about an object,
you right-click on it.
Right-clicking on an object brings up a small menu called the context menu, and
it works on everything in Windows. In fact, try to place your mouse somewhere in
Windows where right-clicking does not bring up a menu (there are a few places, but
they’re not easy to find). What you see on the little menu when you right-click varies
dramatically depending on the item you decide to right-click. If you right-click a running program in the running program area on the taskbar, you’ll see items that relate
to a window, such as move, resize, and so on (Figure 4-59). If you right-click on your
desktop, you get options for changing the appearance of the desktop (Figure 4-60).
Even different types of files show different results when you right-click on them. Rightclicking is something techs do often. ch04.indd 123 12/11/09 6:00:34 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 124
a program Figure 4-60
the desktop Figure 4-61
My Computer ch04.indd 124 One menu item you’ll see almost
anywhere you right-click is Properties.
Every object in Windows has properties.
When you right-click on something and
can’t find what you’re looking for, select
Properties. Figure 4-61 shows the results
of right-clicking on My Computernot
very exciting. But if you select Properties,
you’ll get a dialog box like the one shown
in Figure 4-62. 12/11/09 6:00:35 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 125
properties Control Panel
The Control Panel handles most of the maintenance, upgrade, and configuration aspects of Windows. As such, the Control Panel is the first set of tools for every tech to
explore. Select Start | Settings | Control Panel to open the Control Panel in Windows
2000 and Windows Vista. In Windows XP, the Control Panel is directly on the Start
menu by default.
The Control Panel in Windows 2000 opens in the traditional icon-littered view. In
Windows XP and Vista, the Control Panel opens in the Category view, in which all of
the icons are grouped into broad categories such as “Printers and Other Hardware.”
This view requires an additional click (and sometimes a guess about which category
includes the icon you need), so most techs use the Switch to Classic View link to get
back to the icons. Figure 4-63 shows the Windows XP Control Panel in both Category
and Classic views.
A large number of programs, called applets, populate the Control Panel. The names
and selection of applets vary depending on the version of Windows and whether any
installed programs have added applets. But all versions of Windows share many of the
same applets, including Display/Personalization, Add or Remove Programs/Programs
and Features, and System (all versions)—what I call the Big Three applets for techs. With
Display/Personalization, you can make changes to the look and feel of your Windows
desktop and tweak your video settings. Add or Remove Programs/Programs and Features enables you to add or remove programs. The System applet gives you access to essential system information and tools, such as the Device Manager, although Microsoft
wisely added Device Manager right on the Control Panel starting with Vista. ch04.indd 125 12/11/09 6:00:36 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 126 Figure 4-63 Windows XP Control Panel in two views: Category (left) and Classic (right) Every icon you see in the Control Panel is actually a file with the extension .CPL.
Any time you get an error opening the Control Panel, you can bet you have a corrupted
CPL file. These are a pain to fix. You have to rename all of your CPL files with another
extension (I use .CPB) and then rename them back to .CPL one at a time, each time
reopening the Control Panel, until you find the CPL file that’s causing the lockup.
EXAM TIP Even these common applets vary slightly among Windows
versions. The CompTIA A+ certification exams do not test you on every little
variance among the same applets in different versions—just know what each
You can use the Control Panel applets to do an amazing array of things to a Windows
system, and each applet displays text that helps explain its functions. The Add Hardware applet in Windows XP, for example, says quite clearly, “Installs and troubleshoots
hardware” (Figure 4-64). They are all like that. Figure 4-65 shows the User Accounts
applet. Can you determine its use? (If not, don’t sweat it. I’ll cover users in Chapter 16,
“Securing Windows Resources.”) Don’t bother trying to memorize all these applets.
Each Control Panel applet relevant to the CompTIA A+ exams is discussed in detail in
the relevant chapter throughout the rest of the book. For now, just make sure you can
get to the Control Panel and appreciate why it exists.
Wizard of the
applet ch04.indd 126 12/11/09 6:00:36 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 127 Figure 4-65 User Accounts window of the User Accounts applet Device Manager
With the Device Manager, you can examine and configure all of the hardware and drivers in a Windows PC. As you might suspect from that description, every tech spends a
lot of time with this tool! You’ll work with the Device Manager many more times during the course of this book and your career as a PC tech.
There are many ways to get to the Device Manager—make sure you know all of them!
The first way is to open the Control Panel and double-click the System applet icon. This
brings up the System Properties dialog box. In 2000/XP, you access the Device Manager
by selecting the Hardware tab and then clicking the Device Manager button. Figure 4-66
shows the Hardware tab of the System Properties dialog box in Windows XP. In Vista/7,
the System dialog box has a direct connection to Device Manager (Figure 4-67).
You can also get to the System Properties dialog box in all versions of Windows by
right-clicking My Computer/Computer and selecting Properties. From there, the path
to the Device Manager is the same as when you access this dialog box from the Control
Panel. ch04.indd 127 12/11/09 6:00:37 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 128
Windows XP System applet with
the Hardware tab
selected Figure 4-67 Windows Vista System applet with the Device Manager menu option circled ch04.indd 128 12/11/09 6:00:37 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 129
NOTE Holding down the WINDOWS key and pressing PAUSE is yet another way
to get to the System Properties dialog box. Keyboard shortcuts are cool! The second (and more streamlined) method is to right-click My Computer/
Computer and select Manage. This opens a window called Computer Management,
where you’ll see Device Manager listed on the left side of the screen, under System
Tools. Just click on Device Manager and it opens. You can also access Computer Management by opening the Administrative Tools applet in the Control Panel and then
selecting Computer Management (Figure 4-68). Figure 4-68 Device Manager in Computer Management Why are there so many ways to open Device Manager? Well, remember that we’re
only looking at locations in Windows from which to open utilities, not at the actual
utilities themselves. Microsoft wants you to get to the tools you need when you need
them, and it’s better to have multiple paths to a utility rather than just one. ch04.indd 129 12/11/09 6:00:38 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 130
EXAM TIP The CompTIA A+ exams want you to know multiple ways to
open Device Manager.
The Device Manager displays every device that Windows recognizes, organized in
special groups called types. All devices of the same type are grouped under the same
type heading. To see the devices of a particular type, you must open that type’s group.
Figure 4-68 shows a Windows Vista Device Manager screen with all installed devices in
good orderwhich makes us techs happy. If Windows detects a problem, the device
has a red X or a black exclamation point on a yellow field, as in the case of the device
in Figure 4-69.
NOTE There is one other “problem” icon you might see on a device in
Device Manager—a blue i on a white field. According to Microsoft, this means
you turned off automatic configuration for a device. Figure 4-69 ch04.indd 130 Problem device 12/11/09 6:00:38 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 131
A red X in Windows 2000 or XP means Windows (or you) disabled the device—
right-click on the device to enable it. The tough one is the black exclamation point. If
you see this, right-click on the device and select Properties. Read the error code in the
Device Status pane, and then look up Microsoft Knowledge Base article 310123 to see
what to do. There are around 40 different errors—nobody bothers to memorize them!
(The knowledge base article is for Windows XP, but these error codes are the same in
all versions of Windows.)
Vista and Windows 7 use the same icons and add one very handy one. If a device
is working but you manually disable it, you get a down-arrow (Figure 4-70). Just as in
previous versions, right-click the down-arrow and select Properties. You’ll see a nice
dialog box explaining the issue (Figure 4-71). Figure 4-70 Hmm…could be a problem. The Device Manager isn’t just for dealing with problems. It also enables you to update drivers with a simple click of the mouse (assuming you have a replacement driver
on your computer.) Right-click a device and select Update Driver from the menu to get
the process started. Figure 4-72 shows the options in Windows Vista. ch04.indd 131 12/11/09 6:00:38 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 132 Figure 4-71 Problem device properties Figure 4-72
in the Windows
Manager ch04.indd 132 12/11/09 6:00:39 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 133
Make sure you can get to Device Manager! You will come back to it again and again
in subsequent chapters, because it is the first tool you should access when you have a
hardware problem. System Tools
The Start menu offers a variety of tech utilities collected in one place: select Start |
Programs | Accessories | System Tools. In the System Tools menu, you’ll find commonly
accessed tools such as System Information and Disk Defragmenter (Figure 4-73).
menu options Many techs overlook memorizing how to find the appropriate Windows tool to diagnose problems, but nothing hurts your credibility with a client like fumbling around,
clicking a variety of menus and applets, while mumbling, “I know it’s around here
somewhere.” The CompTIA A+ certification exams, therefore, test you on a variety of
paths to appropriate tools. One of those paths is Start | Programs | Accessories | System
Tools. Windows XP has all the same tools as Windows 2000, plus a few more. Vista
adds a few beyond XP. I’ll say what version of Windows has the particular system tool. Activate Windows (XP, Vista)
Windows XP unveiled a copy-protection scheme called activation. Activation is a process where your computer sends Microsoft a unique code generated on your machine
based on the Install CD/DVD’s product key and a number of hardware features, such as
the amount of RAM, the CPU processor model, and other ones and zeros in your PC.
Normally, activation is done at install time, but if you choose not to activate at install
or if you make “substantial” changes to the hardware, you’ll need to use the Activate
Windows utility (Figure 4-74). With the Activate Windows utility, you can activate over
the Internet or over the telephone.
NOTE ch04.indd 133 Once you’ve activated Windows, this applet goes away. 12/11/09 6:00:39 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 134 Figure 4-74 Activate Windows Backup (2000, XP)
The Backup utility enables you to back up selected files and folders to removable media such as tape drives. Backing up is an important function that’s covered in detail in
Chapters 16, “Securing Windows Resources,” and 26, “Securing Computers.”
NOTE Neither Windows XP Home nor Windows XP Media Center Edition
includes Backup during installation. You must install the Backup program
from the Windows installation CD by running the \Valueadd\MSFT\Ntbackup
\NTbackup.msi program. Backup Status and Configuration (Vista, 7)
Vista and 7 do not enable you to back up files on your computer selectively. You can
only back up personal data with the Backup Status and Configuration Tool or, if you
have Vista Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise, perform a complete PC backup by using
Windows Complete PC Backup. If you want to pick and choose the file to back up,
you need to buy a third-party tool. Also, this tool only allows you to back up to optical
media, a hard drive, or a networked drive. ch04.indd 134 12/11/09 6:00:40 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 135
Character Map (All)
Ever been using a program only to discover you need to enter a strange character such
as the euro character (€) but your word processor doesn’t support it? That’s when you
need the Character Map. It enables you to copy any Unicode character into the Clipboard (Figure 4-75).
Character Map Disk Cleanup (All)
Disk Cleanup looks for unneeded files on your computer, which is handy when your
hard drive starts to get full and you need space. You must run Disk Cleanup manually
in Windows 2000, but Windows XP and Windows Vista start this program whenever
your hard drive gets below 200 MB of free disk space. Disk Defragmenter (All)
You use Disk Defragmenter to make your hard drive run faster—you’ll see more details
on this handy tool in Chapter 12, “Implementing Hard Drives.” You can access this
utility in the same way you access the Device Manager; you also find Disk Defragmenter
in the Computer Management Console. A simpler method is to select Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools—you’ll find Disk Defragmenter listed there. You can
also right-click on any drive in My Computer or Computer, select Properties, and click
the Tools tab, where you’ll find a convenient Defragment Now button. Files and Settings Transfer Wizard (Windows XP)
Suppose you have an old computer full of files and settings, and you just bought yourself
a brand new computer. You want to copy everything from your old computer onto your
new computerwhat to do? Microsoft touts the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard as just
the tool you need (Figure 4-76). This utility copies your desktop files and folders and, ch04.indd 135 12/11/09 6:00:40 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 136
Files and Settings
Transfer Wizard most conveniently, your settings from Internet Explorer and Outlook Express; however,
it won’t copy over your programs, not even the Microsoft ones, and it won’t copy settings
for any programs other than IE and Outlook Express. If you need to copy everything from
an old computer to a new one, you’ll probably want to use a disk-imaging tool such as
Norton Ghost. Windows Easy Transfer (Windows Vista)
Vista’s Windows Easy Transfer is an aggressively updated version of the Files and Settings Transfer Wizard. It does everything the older version does and adds the capability
to copy user accounts and other settings (Figure 4-77). Scheduled Tasks (All)
With the Scheduled Tasks utility, you can schedule any program to start and stop any
time you wish. The only trick to this utility is that you must enter the program you want
to run as a command on the command line, with all the proper switches. Figure 4-78
shows the configuration line for running the Disk Defragmenter program. Security Center (Windows XP)
The Security Center is a one-stop location for configuring many security features on
your computer. This tool is also in the Control Panel. Vista removes Security Center
from System Tools. All of these security features, and many more, are discussed in detail
in their related chapters. System Information (All)
System Information is one of those tools that everyone (including the CompTIA A+
exams) likes to talk about, but it’s uncommon to meet techs who say they actually use this
tool. System Information shows tons of information about the hardware and software ch04.indd 136 12/11/09 6:00:40 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 137 Figure 4-77 Windows Easy Transfer
Task Scheduler ch04.indd 137 12/11/09 6:00:41 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 138
on your PC (Figure 4-79). You can also click on the Tools menu to use it as a launch point
for a number of programs. Figure 4-79 System Information System Restore (XP, Vista)
System Restore is not only handy, it’s also arguably the most important single utility
you’ll ever use in Windows when it comes to fixing a broken system. System Restore
enables you to take a “snapshot”—a copy of a number of critical files and settings—and
return to that state later (Figure 4-80). System Restore holds multiple snapshots, any of
which you may restore to in the future.
Imagine you’re installing some new device in your PC, or maybe a piece of software.
Before you actually install, you take a snapshot and call it “Before Install.” You install
the device, and now something starts acting weird. You go back into System Restore and
reload the previous snapshot, and the problem goes away.
System Restore isn’t perfect. It only backs up a few critical items, and it’s useless if
the computer won’t boot, but it’s usually the first thing to try when something goes
wrongassuming, of course, you made a snapshot! BitLocker (Vista Enterprise and Ultimate)
BitLocker is a tool to encrypt files, folders, or entire hard drives. It’s a great way to make
sure other people can’t read your stuff, but it also makes data recovery risky. If you really
want security, use BitLocker. ch04.indd 138 12/11/09 6:00:41 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 139 Figure 4-80 System Restore Command Line
The Windows command-line interface is a throwback to how Microsoft operating systems worked a long, long time ago when text commands were entered at a command
prompt. Figure 4-81 shows the command prompt from DOS, the first operating system
commonly used in PCs. Figure 4-81 ch04.indd 139 DOS command prompt 12/11/09 6:00:42 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 140
NOTE The command-line interface goes back to the early days of computing,
but it continues to be an essential tool in all modern operating systems,
including Linux, Mac OS X, and all versions of Windows. Chapter 15, “Working
with the Command-Line Interface,” goes into the command line in detail.
DOS is dead, but the command-line interface is alive and well in every version of
Windowsincluding Windows 7. Every good tech knows how to access and use the
command-line interface. It is a lifesaver when the graphical part of Windows doesn’t
work, and it is often faster than using a mouse if you’re skilled at using it. An entire
chapter is devoted to the command line, but let’s look at one example of what the command line can do. First, you need to get there. In Windows XP, select Start | Run, and
type cmd in the dialog box. Click OK and you get to a command prompt. In Windows
Vista, you do the same thing in the Start | Start Search dialog box. Figure 4-82 shows a
command prompt in Windows Vista. Figure 4-82 Command prompt in Windows Vista Once at a command prompt, type dir and press ENTER on your keyboard. This command displays all the files and folders in a specific directory—probably your user folder
for this exercise—and gives sizes and other information. DIR is just one of many useful
command-line tools you’ll learn about in this book. Microsoft Management Console
One of the biggest complaints about earlier versions of Windows was the wide dispersal
of the many utilities needed for administration and troubleshooting. Despite years of
research, Microsoft could never find a place for all the utilities that would please even a
small minority of support people. In a moment of sheer genius, Microsoft determined ch04.indd 140 12/11/09 6:00:42 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 141
that the ultimate utility was one that the support people made for themselves! This
brought on the creation of the amazing Microsoft Management Console.
The Microsoft Management Console (MMC) is simply a shell program in Windows
that holds individual utilities called snap-ins. To start an MMC, select Start | Run or just
Start, type mmc and press ENTER to get a blank MMC. Blank MMCs aren’t much to look
at (Figure 4-83). Figure 4-83 Blank MMC You make a blank MMC console useful by adding snap-ins, which include most of
the utilities you use in Windows. Even the good old Device Manager is a snap-in. You
can add as many snap-ins as you like, and you have many to choose from. Many companies sell third-party utilities as MMC snap-ins.
For example, to add the Device Manager snap-in, open the blank MMC and select
File | Add/ Remove Snap-in (Console |Add/Remove Snap-in in Windows 2000). Here
you will see a list of available snap-ins in Windows Vista (Figure 4.84). (Click the Add
button in 2000/XP to open a similar screen.) Select Device Manager, and click the Add
button to open a dialog box that prompts you to choose the local or a remote PC for
the snap-in to work with. Choose Local Computer for this exercise, and click the Finish
button. Click the Close button to close the Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box, and
then click OK to close the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box.
You should see Device Manager listed in the console. Click it. Hey, that looks kind of
familiar, doesn’t it (see Figure 4-85)? ch04.indd 141 12/11/09 6:00:43 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 142 Figure 4-84 Available snap-ins Figure 4-85 ch04.indd 142 Device Manager as a snap-in 12/11/09 6:00:43 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 143
The Device Manager shortcut on
the desktop Once you’ve added the snap-ins you want,
just save the console under any name, anywhere
you want. I’ll save this console as Device Manager, for example, and drop it on my desktop (see
Figure 4-86). I’m now just a double-click away
from the Device Manager. Administrative Tools
Windows combines the most popular snap-ins
into an applet in the Control Panel called Administrative Tools. Open the Control Panel and open
Administrative Tools (Figure 4-87). Figure 4-87 Administrative Tools Administrative Tools is really just a folder that stores a number of pre-made consoles. As you poke through these, notice that many of the consoles share some of the
same snap-ins—nothing wrong with that. Of the consoles in a standard Administrative
Tools collection, the ones you’ll spend the most time with are Computer Management,
Event Viewer, Reliability and Performance (or just Performance in Windows 2000/XP),
and Services. ch04.indd 143 12/11/09 6:00:44 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 144
EXAM TIP The CompTIA A+ certification exams have little interest in some
of these snap-ins, so this book won’t cover them all. If I don’t mention it, it’s
almost certainly not on the test! Computer Management
The Computer Management applet is a tech’s best buddy, or at least a place where you’ll
spend a lot of time when building or maintaining a system (Figure 4-88). You’ve already spent considerable time with two of its components: System Tools and Storage.
Depending on the version of Windows, System Tools also offers System Information,
Performance Logs and Alerts, Reliability and Performance, Device Manager, and more.
Storage is where you’ll find Disk Management. Figure 4-88 Computer Management applet Event Viewer
Event Viewer shows you at a glance what has happened in the last day, week, or more,
including when people logged in and when the PC had problems (Figure 4-89). You’ll
see more of Event Viewer in Chapter 26, “Securing Computers.” Performance (Windows 2000/XP)
The Performance console consists of two snap-ins: System Monitor and Performance
Logs and Alerts. You can use these for reading logs—files that record information over
time. The System Monitor can also monitor real-time data (Figure 4-90).
Suppose you are adding a new cable modem and you want to know just how fast
you can download data. Click the plus sign (+) on the toolbar to add a counter. Click ch04.indd 144 12/11/09 6:00:44 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 145 Figure 4-89 Figure 4-90 ch04.indd 145 Event Viewer reporting system errors System Monitor in action 12/11/09 6:00:45 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 146
the Use local computer counters radio button, and then choose Network Interface from
the Performance Object pull-down menu. Make sure the Select counters from list radio
button is selected. Last, select Bytes Received/sec. The dialog box should look like
Setting up a
throughput test Click Add, and then click Close; probably not much is happening. Go to a Web site,
preferably one where you can download a huge file. Start downloading and watch the
chart jump; that’s the real throughput (Figure 4-92). Figure 4-92 ch04.indd 146 Downloading with blazing speed 12/11/09 6:00:45 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 147
NOTE You’ll learn more about the Performance console in Chapter 17,
“Maintaining and Troubleshooting Windows.” Reliability and Performance Monitor (Windows Vista)
The Reliability and Performance Monitor in Windows Vista offers just about everything
you can find in the Performance applet of older versions of Windows—although everything is monitored by default, so there’s no need to add anything. In addition, it
includes the Reliability Monitor. The Reliability Monitor enables you to see at a glance
what’s been done to the computer over a period of time, including software installations and uninstallations, failures of hardware or applications, and general uptime
(Figure 4-93). It’s a nice starting tool for checking a Vista machine that’s new to you.
NOTE You’ll learn more about the Reliability and Performance Monitor in
Chapter 17. Figure 4-93 The Reliability and Performance Monitor open to the Reliability Monitor screen ch04.indd 147 12/11/09 6:00:45 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 148
Windows runs a large number of separate programs called services. The best way to visualize a service is to think of it as something that runs, yet is invisible. Windows comes
with about 100 services by default, and they handle a huge number of tasks, from application support to network functions. You can use the Services applet to see the status
of all services on the system, including services that are not running (Figure 4-94). Figure 4-94 Services applet Right-click a service and select Properties to modify its settings. Figure 4-95 shows
the properties for the Bluetooth support service. See the Startup type pull-down menu?
It shows three options: Automatic, Manual, and Disabled. Automatic means it starts
when the system starts, Manual means you have to come to this tab to start it, and Disabled prevents anything from starting it. Make sure you know these three settings, and
also make sure you understand how to start, stop, pause, and resume services (note the
four buttons below Startup Type).
EXAM TIP The CompTIA A+ certification exams are not interested in having
you memorize all of these services—just make sure you can manipulate them. ch04.indd 148 12/11/09 6:00:46 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 149
Bluetooth support service
properties Beyond A+
Microsoft adds or tweaks utilities from one version of its flagship operating system to
the next. Plus, tools often move from version to version. The Performance applet in
Windows XP, for example, became the Reliability and Performance Monitor in Windows Vista. With Windows 7, Microsoft shifted things again, with Reliability going into
a new Control Panel applet called Action Center. Go figure. Half the fun in migrating
to a new OS is hunting down your favorite tools!
This Beyond A+ section addresses the several versions of Windows not on the CompTIA
A+ exams: Windows 7, Windows Mobile, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and Windows
Embedded. Windows 7
Windows 7 came out just a few months after CompTIA announced the 220-701 and
220-702 exams, so it’s not on those exams. However, the differences between Vista
and 7 are so minor “under the hood” that it’s safe to say if you know Vista, you know
Windows 7 (Figure 4-96).
EXAM TIP Remember Windows 7 is not on the CompTIA 220-701 and
220-702 exams. ch04.indd 149 12/11/09 6:00:46 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 150 Figure 4-96 Windows 7 Windows Mobile
Windows Mobile is a very small version of Windows designed for PDAs and phones.
Windows Mobile is only available as an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)
product, which means you buy the device and it comes with Windows Mobile you can’t
buy some PDA or phone and then buy Windows Mobile separately. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
A tablet PC is a laptop with a built-in touch screen. The idea behind a tablet PC is to
drastically reduce, if not totally eliminate, the use of a keyboard (Figure 4-97). In some
situations, tablet PCs have started to become popular. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
is Microsoft’s operating solution for tablet PCs. Tablet PC Edition is still Windows XP,
but it adds special drivers and applications to support the tablet.
NOTE You’ll see more of Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in Chapter 21,
Windows Vista comes with the Tablet PC features built in, so there’s no need for a
special tablet-version of Vista (or Windows 7, for that matter). ch04.indd 150 12/11/09 6:00:47 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 151 Figure 4-97 Tablet PC Windows Embedded
The world is filled with PCs in the most unlikely places. Everything from cash registers to
the F-22 Raptor fighter plane contains some number of tiny PCs. These aren’t the PCs you’re
used to seeing, though. They almost never have mice, monitors, keyboards, and the usual
I/O you’d expect to see, but they are truly PCs, with a CPU, RAM, BIOS, and storage.
These tiny PCs need operating systems just like any other PC, and a number of companies make specialized OSs for embedded PCs. Microsoft makes Windows Embedded
just for these specialized embedded PCs. Chapter Review Questions
1. Which of the following is an advantage of running Windows on NTFS as
opposed to FAT?
B. Multiple folders
C. Long filenames
2. Which version of Windows uses the Backup Status and Configuration Tool?
A. Windows 2000
B. Windows XP Media Center
C. Windows XP Professional
D. Windows Vista Ultimate ch04.indd 151 12/11/09 6:00:48 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4 CompTIA A+Certification All-in-One Exam Guide 152
3. What is the proper way to refer to the system root folder?
4. What folder is a central storage location for user files in XP?
A. Program Files
B. My Documents
C. My Files
5. Which utility is helpful in troubleshooting hardware?
A. System Properties
B. Device Manager
C. Disk Management
D. Security Center
6. Which Windows utility backs up critical files and settings and enables you to
roll back to a previous state?
B. System Restore
C. System Information
D. Microsoft Management Console
7. Many tech tools are grouped together in which location?
A. Start | All Programs | Tools
B. Start | All Program | Tools | System Tools
C. Start | All Programs | System Tools | Accessories
D. Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools
8. Which utility is missing from the default Windows XP Home installation?
B. Character Map
C. Computer Management
D. User Accounts
9. What is displayed in the My Computer window?
A. All the drives on your system
B. All the Control Panel applets ch04.indd 152 12/11/09 6:00:48 PM All-In-One / CompTIA A+ All-in-One Exam Guide / Meyers & Jernigan / 170133-8 / Chapter 4
All-In-One Chapter 4: Understanding Windows 153
C. Installed programs
D. Other computers on the network
10. Which Registry root key contains information about file types?
D. HKEY_USERS Answers
1. A. NTFS offers security. FAT provides no security.
2. D. Backup Status and Configuration Tool did not exist before Vista.
3. C. The SystemRoot is referred to as %systemroot%.
4. B. Most XP users put their personal files in My Documents.
5. B. For hardware in general, turn to the Device Manager.
6. B. System Restore does the trick here, enabling you to back up and restore your
7. D. You’ll find many useful tools in Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools.
8. A. Backup is not installed by default in Windows XP Home.
9. A. My Computer shows your drives.
10. A. You’ll find file information in HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. ch04.indd 153 12/11/09 6:00:48 PM ...
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This note was uploaded on 04/27/2010 for the course COMPTIA 1201 taught by Professor N/a during the Spring '10 term at Galveston College.
- Spring '10