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Secret Tips & Tricks
November 2005

One of the reasons that computers don't come with much in the way of an instruction book is that if it were any good it would be the size of several large encyclopaedias, and even then it wouldn't be complete. Software companies employ large teams of engineers, and they all slip in useful little tricks here and there, but most of these nuggets are not even in the built in Help file (incidentally - you can always make that appear by pressing the "F1" key). I've uncovered a few that you might not know about. Sorry if you are an Apple Mac user - these may not work for you, I'm afraid.

First, a cracker: If you are like me, you regularly click the wrong button on the screen, and start something happening that you didn't want. You know you've made the mistake even before you've released your finger from the mouse, and you have that same feeling of helplessness that comes from slamming the front door just as you remember that you've left your keys on the kitchen table.

Here's the answer: if you haven't lifted your finger off the mouse yet, press (and then release) the "Esc" button and move the mouse pointer away from the on-screen button. Then take your finger off the mouse, and you should be back where you started before you made the mistake.

Now let's look at the mouse itself. Do you find it races across the screen too quickly for you to stop it at the right point? People with arthritis, or perhaps a slightly unsteady hand, often do. If so, I suggest that you move the mouse down a gear or two. Open the Control Panel (by pressing "Start"…"Settings"…"Control Panel" or something similar) and open up the "Mouse" section. You'll find that you can change the rate it moves across the screen quite a bit (the "motion" tab), and also slow down the speed needed for a double-click so that it suits your fingers. This can help you achieve much more accurate clicking and less shouting at the screen.

Toolbars are those useful buttons along the top of the screen, but if you are a bit clumsy clicking on them they can disconnect themselves and reappear as a block in the middle of the screen. This is meant to happen, as they are designed to be moveable, but it's a nuisance. To put it back where it was, place your mouse over the title of the toolbar and double-click. It should reattach itself automatically.

Next, the magic of the right click. Not exactly a secret, but much underused. Whatever you are doing, if you click the right hand button on the mouse, you will be offered a menu with a range of options that your computer thinks might be helpful, having considered what programme you are using and whereabouts on the screen your mouse is sitting at the time. This can save ages of hunting around for a particular command, and you will never do any damage with a single right click, so don't be afraid to try it. To get rid of the menu offered, just left click or press "Esc".

Finally, always remember that if your computer is behaving oddly, before panicking switch it off and then back on again ("reboot" as the help lines say). It allows the complex system inside to sort itself out, clear its throat and have a good stretch. It resolves all kinds of problems.

I find a good walk often has the same effect on me, but that's a different sort of booting.