Chapter 8 - Essential stuff

Browse the software aisles of your local computer store, and you might think, "How can I possibly learn all this stuff?"

It's not as complicated as you might think. Since every program must cooperate with the operating system, there are a wealth of commands and tricks that are common to nearly every program you'll encounter. Learn this stuff once, and you'll have a head start on any new software you might buy.


Undo is the perennial winner of the "Most Valuable Button" award. It's your saving grace after that wince caused by hitting one key too many or deleting an item you still needed. Hit Undo, and it's like you've magically turned back the clock to the time just before you made the error!

The Undo command can be found under the Edit drop-down menu. In many programs you might find an alternate toolbar button that looks like a curved arrow pointing to the left.

For those more comfortable with the keyboard, many menu items offer keyboard shortcuts that can be used in place of the mouse (you'll notice key combinations in pull-down menus to the right of a menu choice). In Windows, you can use the keyboard shortcut for Undo by holding down Ctrl and hitting the Z key. On a Mac, just hold down the Command (Mac Command key) key and hit Z.

Although some programs will allow you to undo only one step after an error, others have a memory and will remember the last series of actions you've taken. In that case, hitting Undo several times in a row will walk you back through the last few things you've done.

For instance, if I deleted this paragraph in my word processor, scrolled up to the top and then deleted the first paragraph, hitting Undo twice would restore both.

Some programs might also change the appearance of the Undo command to make it more specific. The Undo spot might read "Undo Delete" after you've deleted something to tell you what would happen if you chose that function.

By the way, you'll sometimes encounter situations in which you try to undo something and find that the command is either grayed out or marked "Can't Undo." Sorry. There's nothing you can do about that.


Redo is the opposite of Undo, or - essentially - how to undo an Undo. If that sounds a bit confusing, use it this way: Hit Redo if you've just hit Undo but really didn't want to.

You'll find Redo under the Edit menu, or it might appear on the toolbar as a curved arrow pointing to the right. (Its shortcut is Ctrl-Y or Command (Mac Command key)-Y.


Wouldn't it be nice if this key dispatched an expert to our door who could do our work while we relaxed by the pool? Well, it's seldom that helpful, but it's a good place to learn a little more about your operating system or a program's specific functions.

If you're looking for help with the Windows operating system, click on the Start button, then click Help. For general Mac assistance, click Help on the top menu bar.

If you're seeking more specific help with a program you're running, you'll consistently find Help as the rightmost item on the menu bar. Remember, the menu bar is found under the title bar in Windows applications, and at the top of the screen on the Macintosh. You can also reach program-specific help in nearly any piece of software by hitting the F1 key on your keyboard.

How much help you'll actually get from a particular program depends on how much effort the software company put into that feature. Some are extremely complete; others leave a lot to be desired. The help box allows you to browse and click on underlined links for assistance with specific topics, or type in a search terms to see what comes up.

Fortunately, there's no opposite of the Help key. I don't think too many of us would click on "Hinder" to warrant an additional menu item.

The clipboard

Much like its real-life counterpart, the clipboard is a temporary spot to store some information we might need a bit later.

The clipboard is important, but it's not complex. If you attach something to the clipboard, it will stay there until you put something else in its place. The Windows/Mac clipboard can hold large items, but the operating system versions most are using typically can hold just one thing at a time. So if you add another item to the clipboard, it will get rid of the previous item and put the newest item in its place.

(Note: If you are using Microsoft Office 2000 or XP, the software can use its own special clipboard to simultaneously store up to 12 items. We're talking here only about the main operating system clipboard.)

The clipboard is an esoteric concept. Its more concrete uses can be found in the commands Cut, Paste and Copy.


Cut works just like it sounds. When you cut something, you remove it from wherever it was and place it on the clipboard.

The keyboard shortcuts for Cut are Ctrl-X for Windows and Command (Mac Command key)-X for the Mac.

We'll work in our word processor for this example. Say I just typed this sentence:

"The rain in Spain mainly falls on the plain."

I really wanted the word "mainly" between "falls" and "on." So I can highlight "mainly," go the Edit menu and select Cut. That removes the word and places it on the clipboard, which leaves me with:

"The rain in Spain falls on the plain."

Then, after I move the pointer between "falls" and "on" and click to place the cursor there, I'm ready to


With the cursor in that position, I go to the Edit Menu and select Paste, and now

"The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain."

It's that simple! The keyboard shortcut for Paste is Ctrl-V for Windows and Command [CLOVERLEAF]-V for the Mac.


Copy works similarly to Cut, taking the contents we select or highlight and adding them to the clipboard. There is, however, one glaring exception.

While Cut deletes what's there and moves it to the clipboard, Copy leaves what's there and makes a copy to the clipboard.

For an example, we'll stick with word processing. Suppose you're not feeling very creative and want to repeat a sentence several times through your document. If you highlight the text and select Copy, it will place the text on the clipboard but leave the original where it was.

If we used Copy instead of Cut in our first example, we would have wound up with:

"The rain in Spain mainly falls mainly on the plain."

Our grade school English teacher would be appalled!

By the way, the keyboard shortcut for copy is Ctrl-C for Windows and Command (Mac Command key)-C for the Mac.

Other uses for Cut, Copy and Paste

The word processor examples are the simplest of instances in which you can use these commands.

Since these are commands are uniform throughout Windows and MacOS applications, you can also cut and copy items from one program and paste them in another. Here are some examples of other uses:

  • Use the on-screen calculator to add up some numbers and use Copy to save the result. Then, you can Paste that result into a document or e-mail.
  • Copy a picture someone e-mailed you and paste it into photo editing program.
  • Cut a file from one folder, move to another folder and paste it in its new location.

The possibilities are endless, but successful use of Cut, Copy and Paste takes practice. Here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Cut and Copy are commands for getting stuff to the clipboard. Paste is the command for getting stuff back from the clipboard.
  • Use Copy if you want to end up with an additional item. Use Cut if you simply want to move something from one area to another.
  • Make sure you're where you want to be before you paste.

So how do you know what's on the clipboard at any given time? Well, the easy way to see what's on there is to paste it! If you really need to know in Windows, you can find a little application called Clipboard Viewer, which is hidden in the Start menu under Programs - Accessories - System Tools. Windows 2000 and XP make it slightly more difficult to get to. The ClipBook Viewer can be found by clicking Start - Run, then typing "clipbrd" and pressing ENTER.

NEXT - Chapter 9 - Make it your own