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Every software application has a learning curve. Some applications are easier to use and understand than others. But what you are going to find, as you become more experience with computers and software, is that nearly all applications have features or controls in common with each other. If you are novice with computers at the moment, you've probably wondered how more experienced users can just sit down and start being productive with applications they have never used before. And yes, talent and an aptitude for computers can be significant contributors, but what seasoned computer users know is that most applications have basic things in common, and they know where to look for the commands that will allow them to perform the tasks they want to accomplish.
So in this video, I want to go over five features that appear in, and work the same, in nearly all applications. The first common feature is the File menu. Here are some screenshots of the File menu from several different applications. Just about every application has a File menu, and it usually contains commands like New, Open, Save, Close, and Print. New is for creating a new document, image, or project depending on what app you are in. Open open files or projects that you have previously created or worked on. Save saves the file you are currently working on. Close closes the file, but usually leaves the application running. And if the application is one you can print from, like a word processor, or spreadsheet program, or a photo editor, you'll always find the Print command under File as well.
Notice I am showing you menus from both the Windows applications and Mac applications. These common features I am going to be showing you are not just common across applications, but also across operating systems. So if you are a Mac user finding yourself working with Windows, or a Windows users having to use a Mac, you won't be completely lost. But there are differences to be aware of. For example, in Windows applications you will usually also find the Exit command under the File menu, which quits the application. On Mac's though, you quit applications by clicking the application's name and then choosing Quit. That's one of the slight differences between the two operating systems, but they are always consistent with themselves.
You will always find Exit under File in Windows, and you'll always find Quit under the application's name on Mac. That's a bit of a tangent, but the point is that the File menu is found in nearly application, and within it you will almost always find the commands to create, save, open, or print your files. The next common feature is a group of three commands named Cut, Copy, and Paste, all found under the Edit menu. I refer to these as a single feature, because they really go hand in hand. They're probably used most commonly in applications involving typing. If you've typed some text that you would like to copy or move to another locations in your document, these are the commands you would use.
Now I'll be covering these commands more thoroughly in the chapter on word processing, but here is a quick overview. So Cut is used when you want to move text. For example, here in Microsoft Word, if I want to move the second sentence of this paragraph and make it the opening sentence, I would first select that sentence and then choose Edit > Cut, which temporarily removes it from my document. I then place my cursor at the point of the document where I want the cut text to appear, so in this case at the beginning of the paragraph, and then choose Edit > Paste, and my cut text reappears in that location.
Now Copy, on the other hand, leaves the selected text where it is, but makes a copy of it to your computer's clipboard. The clipboard is a special section of memory your computer uses to temporarily store cut and copied text. So, for example, maybe I want to create another document that begins with this contact information at the top. So I'll select it by clicking and dragging until it's all highlighted, and I can release my mouse, and then I will choose Edit > Copy. Now it doesn't look like anything happened, because copying doesn't alter your document in any way. It just places a copy of your highlighted text into your computer's memory.
Then you'll just place your cursor at another location in your document, or into another document altogether, and choose Edit > Paste. So for this example, I will choose File > New Blank Document. You can see my cursor flashing on the page here, and I will choose Edit > Paste, and there is a copy of this text here in this new document. So that's the Cut, Copy, and Paste feature that you will find in many applications. You will even find Cut, Copy, and Paste in image editing applications where you can cut and copy photos, or other graphics, and paste them into other image files.
Feature number three is another group of commands that also appear under the Edit menu of most applications. They are Undo and Redo. Whenever you make a mistake, like accidentally deleting some text or making a change to a photo or a video clip that you want to take back, you'll more than likely use Edit > Undo. In almost every application, you will find an Undo command, which simply takes back the last change you made to your document. Many applications even have multiple levels of Undo. So you can take back the changes you made to your document in reverse order. The Undo command can also be a nice safety net that lets you experiment with your file without permanently altering it.
For example, maybe you're trying out different effects on a photo you are editing. You can apply effect after effect, and as long as you keep choosing Edit > Undo between attempts, they will never do any permanent changes to your photo. Now, Redo is a little less common than Undo. Sometimes it's called repeat. And while you'll find Undo in just about every application, fewer apps have Redo, which is a shame, because it can be a very useful time-saving feature. It has two main uses. First, if you chose Undo but change your mind, you can then choose Edit > Redo, which changes your document back to before you chose Undo.
In some applications, Redo can also be used to take changes you've made to one item and apply the same change to other items. For example, if I selected some text in the document and changed the font, I could then select other text and choose Edit > Redo to apply that same font to the other text. So that's Undo and Redo, and again if the application you are using has these commands, and most do, you will find them under the Edit menu. Feature number four is Preference Settings. Almost every application has an area in which you can tweak or adjust the way the application behaves. If you are using a photo editing application, you might want to change the default image format of files you have saved.
If you are using a page layout program, you might want to change how page guides appear and behave in your documents. Every application has Preference Settings. On Macs, you will almost always find Preferences located under the application's name in the Menu bar. In Windows applications, depending on the application, you'll often find Preferences under the Edit menu, but it might be called Properties or Options instead of Preferences. In some applications in Windows you will find Preferences under a menu called Tools, or even under unlabeled buttons that looks like a gear icon. So sometimes you do have to do some hunting around in Windows applications, but those are generally where you will find Application Preferences.
And the fifth feature you will find, that almost all applications have in common, is a Help menu. The Help menu is a where you'll find things like the built-in or online instruction menu for the applications you are using. You might also find links to tutorials or other special guides that teach you how to use the application. The Help menu is also where you can check for updates, which helps the application check online to see if any newer versions of the software have been released. But generally, the Help menu is a good place to go if you can't figure out a feature of the application you are using, or just want to learn more about the application overall. Again, you will find that most applications have this menu.
So those are five of the most common features you will find in nearly all applications. Knowing about these features can really help make an application you have never used before a little less daunting, because at least you'll already be familiar with, and know how to use, a couple of these commands.
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