Back to Basics: How to Use a Computer for the First Time

These days, it seems like you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a computer. They’re in grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops. They’re in our cars and our houses. People even carry them in their pockets.

The information age has hit with a vengeance, and if you aren’t very comfortable around computers, you may feel like you’ve been left behind. 

Despite how some younger generations may make it seem, using a computer isn’t magic. With time and patience, you can learn how to use a computer with confidence.

Read on to learn about some of the basics to get you started.

Using the Controls

The first thing you need to know about using a computer is how to use the controls. In the case of a desktop, you’ll have a keyboard and mouse that are separate from the computer. To use the keyboard, make sure it’s plugged into the computer (or connected wirelessly) and type on it as you would a typewriter or word processor.

To use the mouse, you’ll place your right hand on the mouse so your index finger is on the left key and your middle finger is on the right. You’ll move the mouse forward, backward, and side to side on your computer desk to control the cursor on the screen. You’ll use your fingers to click on things on the screen – mostly, you’ll use the left key.

If you have a laptop, your keyboard will be connected to the computer, and you’ll have a trackpad, not a mouse. This operates the same way as a mouse, except you move your finger around on the trackpad to control where the cursor goes. Your buttons are on the bottom of your trackpad, and, just like on the mouse, you’ll use the left one most of the time.

Turn On and Log In

Now you know how to use the controls, it’s time to turn your computer on. If it’s a desktop, make sure both the monitor and the tower are plugged into the wall. If it’s a laptop, make sure it’s plugged in and charging.

To turn on your computer, press the power button (a circle with a vertical line through the top) once. It may take a few minutes for your computer to boot up, so be patient, and don’t push the power button again. If nothing happens after five minutes, make sure everything is plugged in and try again. 

Once your computer has booted up, you’ll be met with a login screen. If you have an account, select your username or icon and type your password into the box. If you don’t have an account, follow the directions on the screen to create one and log in.

The Desktop

Once you get logged in, you’ll be on your computer’s desktop. This is sort of the landing page for your computer, the place where you can access your main programs and the first thing you see when you log in. You can customize your desktop to suit your style if you like.

There are a few primary features on the desktop. The first of these is icons, small buttons on your desktop that can open various programs on your computer. Then at the bottom of your screen, you have a menu, which is where you can find the settings for your computers, the program to access your files, and any additional programs that don’t have an icon on your desktop.

Find Your Files

Now that you know your way around your desktop a little, let’s find some of the files on your computer. If you’re on a PC, hold down the Windows key on your keyboard (it will be on the bottom left) and press the E button. This will open Windows Explorer.

If you’re on a Mac, use your mouse or touchpad to navigate to the bottom left corner of your screen. Click on the icon that looks like a blue and white smiling face. This will open Finder. 

Both Finder and Windows Explorer are the file control systems for your computer. Here, you will see folders that include things like “Desktop,” “Documents,” and “Downloads.” Think of these like any physical file organization system – each folder can contain subfolders, and in those subfolders, you will have your files.

Open Programs

You will spend most of your time on your computer working in different programs. These can include word processors, internet browsers, games, and more.

If you’re using a PC and want to open a program, navigate to your menu on the bottom of your screen. Click the windows icon on the bottom left, select the program you want to open from the list there and click on it.

If you’re on a Mac, navigate to the icon on the bottom of your screen that looks like a rocket ship in a grey circle. Clicking on that will bring up Launchpad, the list of all your programs. Scroll through the screens until you find the program you want, and click on it to open it.

Using the Internet

For many people, the place they’ll spend the most time on their computer is on the internet. You access the internet through a program called a browser. This can be Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and more.

To access the internet, open the browser program you have installed on your computer. This will bring you to a landing page with a bar at the top of your screen where you can type in website names. For example, if you want to run a search, click into that bar, type in “,” and the browser will take you to the Google home page.

You should be careful while using the internet. It’s easy to pretend to be anyone on the internet, and there are a lot of people out there who may want to scam you. It’s a good idea to learn more about how to keep yourself safe on the internet.

Shutting Down

When you get done using your computer, it’s time to shut it down. If you have a laptop, you can just close the lid, and the computer will go to sleep. But you may prefer to shut it down properly.

If you have a PC, navigate to the menu at the bottom of your screen. At the bottom of this menu, you should see a button that says “Shut down.” Click on this and, if prompted, choose “shut down.”

If you have a Mac, navigate to the apple icon at the top left of your screen. Click on that and then click on “shut down” at the bottom. 

In both cases, follow any directions to save files or shut down programs before you shut down your computer.

Learn How to Use a Computer

Learning how to use a computer is a matter of patience and being willing to mess up a few times. Remember, it’s not magic.

Slow down, take a deep breath, and read what’s on the screen in front of you. In time, you’ll learn your way around the systems on your computer, and you’ll be a computer whiz before you know it. 


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