So, what's with all those screen icons?

Real estate in Hong Kong and Tokyo is valuable but nowhere near as valuable as the Desktop real estate on your computer.

This may be a figurative statement but think for a moment that one hundred million people use the Windows operating system on their computers and what do they see when they start their machines? They see a screen full of icons!

Just what are these icons and do we have any control over their number and arrangement?

Icons were a great innovation when computers moved from requiring the typing of long, cryptic commands to the so called "graphic user interface." Simply clicking a mouse over a little picture on the screen then could operate the computer. What an improvement!

The icon just is a "shortcut" to the actual program still residing in the insides of the computer. This shortcut is what makes modern computing so much easier

Can we add, delete and arrange these icons? Yes, mostly.

When we purchase a new computer the screen comes with a bunch of icons. Some are required by Windows, like My Computer and the Recycle Bin. These icons cannot be removed.

Other icons are placed on the machine to operate specific installed programs, like Microsoft Word, Excel or Quicken. Some icons are on the screen in an arrangement between Microsoft and the manufacturer. They may try to entice you to sign up with an Internet service provider.

Most users like an uncluttered desktop and remove icons they don't use often. Unneeded icons may be removed by right clicking the mouse over the icon and clicking Delete in the small screen that appears. This does not affect the program the icon activated. It remains inside your computer. You can activate the program by finding it on the Start/Program menu. Unfortunately, sometimes Windows 98 removes the program name from the Program menu and you have to move it back there. If this happens, you might go to the Recycle Bin and Restore the icon to the desktop.

Icons can be arranged on the screen in a number of ways. Right clicking on the mouse while the pointer is somewhere in the blank portion of the desktop brings up a menu. A number of arrangements can be selected and all cause the icons to snap smartly to the left side of the screen.

As a funny aside, a person mentioned recently that when they moved their mouse pointer to an icon, the icon moved across the screen in a random manner. A computer virus was the cause. When it was removed everything became orderly again!

Icons and their "pointers" actually are somewhat complex. However, you can't cause any damage by deleting them. Leave the icons alone that cause programs to work but remove the ones that want you to sign up with something or those that activate programs that you don't use.

If you wish to add icons, Windows 98 makes it simple. Open the Start/Program menu, find the program you want on the desktop, move the mouse pointer over it, hold the left mouse button down and drag the pointer to the desktop. A new icon will appear. If you want a new name on the icon, right click on it and select Rename in the small window. Change the name to whatever you want.

There are a lot of mechanics involved in desktop icons. Use the Windows Help menu for more details.

And remember, if you would like to hear more about icons, or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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