At one of our local computer club meetings, one of the volunteer helpers was demonstrating the then brand new Internet Explorer 8 to the rest of the members. Somebody said something about "there's always so much to learn", which caused him to pause for a moment and then say:
"One thing I really recommend is right-clicking. You can really learn a lot about your computer by exploring the options available with a right-click."
That is excellent advice, for several reasons. First, it's safe: when you right click anywhere, in Windows or Mac, you either get a menu that gives you options, or nothing happens at all. If options do appear, you may very well learn a faster way to do something or even learn something entirely new. Indeed, exploring your computer with right-clicking is a great way to learn!
What is Right Clicking?
When computer mice always had buttons on them, it was obvious: you used the right hand button. With buttonless mice like Apple's "Magic Mouse", there are no buttons, so how do you Right-Click?
It's actually easy: you can either hold Control and then click, or turn on "Secondary Click" in Preferences. With that checked on, using the right side of the mouse does a Right-click without using Control.
Yes, you can use an Apple Magic Mouse on Windows or use Microsoft's Touch Mouse, which seems pretty similar.
What happens when you right click?
Chrome on Mac
Chrome on Windows
IE on XP
As I said above, maybe nothing. The video at the bottom of this page shows me right clicking around on my Mac and on Windows XP. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes I get a new menu to choose from.
Lists of things you can do
Microsoft has a nice web page that introduces you to many of those right-click menus and explains some of them in detail. If Apple has a similar page, I am yet to find it, but Dan Rodney has a helpful page that lists some things.
It's not just out at the operating system level. Applications you use may have contextual menus that pop up with a Right Click. For example, if you right click in white space on this web page, you'll get a menu. What you can do in that menu will depend upon what browser you are using and sometimes even what operating system, but many of the choices will be the same.
If you right click on a word in the text, you may get a different menu. If you don't, try highlighting a word or words first. You'll get still another menu if you right click on a picture or video.
That's the point of "You can really learn a lot about your computer by exploring the options available with a right-click.". Point your mouse at something on your screen and right-click - you might be surprised by what choices you are offered!
Right clicking on a hyperlink will offer you the choice to open the link and to copy the link so that you can paste it somewhere else. That's certainly useful, but there's another reason to use it. If you aren't sure where opening a link might take you, use the right click to copy the link and paste it into a text editor. You can then clearly see where it would go.
If you don't know how to cut and paste, see Basic Cut and Paste and Beyond.
Other click modifiers
There are other keys that can sometimes modify the meaning of a click. Holding down Command and clicking on an icon in the Mac Dock will reveal the item's location on your computer, for example. You can use Ctrl-Shift-Click to run programs as an Administrator in Windows 7.
There are more, but you can't safely experiment because, unlike a right-click, these actions usually take effect immediately and may not be what you intended. These are things you need to be aware of before you try them. Often menus will show you the short-cut keys to invoke certain actions, but sometimes that information is buried somewhere in a manual.
Unless you have a really big screen and fantastic eyesight, I suggest opening this video on YouTube - right-click on the video and choose "Watch on YouTube". You may even want to go to Full Screen mode after that so that you can see details easily.
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