GWKB1039 : Understanding Windows Elements

Product: Window-Eyes
Author: Aaron Smith
Date Added: 02/02/2006
Last Modified: 02/02/2006

Microsoft Windows uses an interactive Graphical User Interface (or GUI) method of communication that sits between the applications you command, and the nuts and bolts of the operating system. Windows gets its name from the fact that it uses rectangular boxes (called windows) to display information on the screen. Windows, in combination with controls, are the guts of all programs.

Windows

Windows are rectangular areas on the screen, commonly consisting of a title bar at the top, menu bar area, client area in the middle, and some sort of status area at the bottom. Applications windows are highly customizable, and may contain a combination of these elements.

Title Bar - Title bars are used to provide textual information that describes the purpose of a window. The Window-Eyes title bar includes the text "Window-Eyes" to easily identify the Window-Eyes control panel window. Title bars often contain a set of three buttons: minimize, maximize/restore, and close. The minimize button hides the window visually. The maximize button causes the window size to be expanded to the same size as the display if it is not already maximized. If the window is already maximized, then the button becomes a restore button. The restore button reverts a maximized window to its original size, before it was maximized. The close button causes the window to stop being displayed.

Menu Bar - Menu bars are often located below an applications title bar (if a title bar exists), and stretch across the entire width of the containing window. Menu bars contain individual menu titles, which expand to provide access to an application's features. Menu items can contain additional menu items called pull downs. Pull downs can even contain additional pull-downs, or lead to dialogs, allowing for complex organization of an application's features. A few common titles for individual menu items are File, Edit, and View. The Window-Eyes menu bar contains items like, File, Screen, Keyboard, Mouse, and so on.

Client Area - The client area of an application is usually considered the area where most of the input and output will take place. Client areas can be simple content containers, or complex containers that hold multiple elements. In the default text editor for Windows (Notepad), for example, the client area is where all the text is written, and reviewed. Notepad contains a simple client area. The client area of an editor that allows you to open multiple files at the same time would be complex. Earlier web browsers contained client areas that only allowed for one web page per window. Newer web browsers contain complex areas that allow for multiple web pages to open in the same client area.

Status Area - The status area of a window often contains a status bar which contains information about the progress of a specific task, or information relevant to the task taking place in the client area. Microsoft Word uses the status bar to indicate, among other things, the position of the cursor (or insertion point) in a document. Web browsers use the status bar to indicate the download progress of the current web page.

A window that contains another window is called the parent window. The windows being contained by a parent window are called child windows. Child windows can be closed without affecting the parent window. When a parent window is closed, however, any contained child windows will also be closed.

Dialogs and message boxes are types of windows that do not contain client areas. Dialogs, or dialog boxes, are used by the application for gathering information. Dialog boxes often consist of multiple controls for gathering input. Message boxes are used to obtain responses to prompts. Message boxes usually consist of prompt text, and a small number of buttons (such as Yes and No, or OK and Cancel).

Terminology

Before we begin discussing individual controls, it's important to understand some common terminology often used when talking about the functions, or actions a particular control has.

Focus - When you navigate to a control, say with the TAB key, you are performing an action called focusing. When a control has focus, it is ready to receive input. For example, when an edit box has focus, text can be entered into it. If an edit box does not have focus, it will not accept any input. A control does not, however, have to be focused in order for it to display output. A program can choose to display text in an edit box regardless of whether that edit box has focus or not.

Activate - When you press ENTER or SPACE BAR on a button that contains focus, you are activating it. Activating means telling the application to perform whatever action is associated with that button. You can only activate a control that has focus. A common rule is that controls that do not have focus can not be activated directly with the ENTER key or SPACE BAR. There are, however, some exceptions. For example, if no control in a dialog box has focus, but a default button has been assigned, the ENTER key will cause the default button to be activated. Window-Eyes can tell you the name of the default button in a dialog box, or message box, by pressing NUMPAD-DELETE.

Selection - When you activate a control such as a list, and then use the arrow keys to choose an item (or when an item is clicked with the mouse), that item becomes selected. Selected items are typically colored using the system highlight color, by default, a dark blue background with white text. This contrasts with unselected items which are typically black text on a white background. Applications use selected items to complete specific tasks.

Mouse Actions - When using the mouse, either via hot keys, or with physical movement, focus and activation can go hand in hand. In some applications, moving the mouse pointer over a control can cause that control to gain focus. Clicking a control with mouse buttons, either physically, or via hot keys, causes the control to be focused and gain activation at the same time.

Controls

Windows controls are the basis for interacting with an application. Technically speaking, they are child windows of a parent window, and are used to perform input/output tasks. In more common terms, controls allow you to communicate with an application, and receive information back from an application.

No matter what task you are performing on your computer, you are interacting with controls. Whether you are entering information into an online form, typing an email, chatting with friends or co-workers, navigating a spreadsheet, or doing anything else, controls are being used.

If an application is designed well, controls will be accessible with the TAB and SHIFT-TAB keys (or another documented keyboard method). Application developers can provide a tab "index" to each control so that keyboard accessibility will be abundant. Applications that are not designed well may not allow keyboard navigation among controls. In such cases, you can use the Window-Eyes mouse keys to navigate through the application window.

The following information provides a quick overview of many of the most commonly used controls used in Windows XP. This list is not comprehensive, and some controls may not be available in previous versions of Windows. Activation information is presented relative to the keyboard, although all controls are also accessible with the mouse, either physically, or with Window-Eyes mouse hot keys.

Button

Buttons are rectangular areas that contain a description (via text or image) describing what will happen when activated. Buttons can also be graphical, and appear much different than rectangular boxes. Graphical buttons, however, have the same function as non-graphical buttons: an action is executed when activated. Buttons can be activated by using the SPACE BAR or ENTER key to activate a button. You can also use Window-Eyes mouse hot keys to click on a button, using the NUMPAD-SLASH key. The Run dialog in the Start Menu (accessible by pressing WINDOWS-R) contains three buttons: OK (executes the specified action), Cancel (closes the window without performing any action), and Browse (opens a standard Windows browse dialog used to select files).

Check Box

Check boxes are small, square areas used to accept or decline an option which is described by the associated label. When a check box is set to accept an option, it will contain a check mark (either standard or graphical), sometimes referred to as a tic mark. If the check box is set to decline an option, it will either be blank, or include a graphic negating the option, such as a red X. Check boxes can be checked, or unchecked, by pressing the SPACE BAR, or by clicking the check box with the left mouse button. The Taskbar Properties dialog contains several check boxes, including: Lock the Taskbar, Group Similar Taskbar Buttons, and Show Quick Launch. These items can either be checked, or unchecked to affect the behavior of the Taskbar.

Window-Eyes also supports tri-state check boxes (also referred to as three-state check boxes). Tri-state check boxes include a checked option, and unchecked option, and an intermediate option, often indicated by a shaded gray background inside the check box square. Window-Eyes will say, "partially checked" when a tri-state check box is set to the intermediate option.

Combo Box

A combo box is a list of selectable items. You can press the UP ARROW or DOWN ARROW to move a selection through the available items in a combo box. ALT-DOWN ARROW often expands the list, allowing you to maneuver through the list items without activating the control until you press ENTER. ALT-UP ARROW collapses the list, displaying the selected item. Combo boxes display only one selected item at a time, and contain a graphical arrow to the right of the container list that can be clicked on with the mouse to expand the list items. The ALT-UP and ALT-DOWN arrows perform the same function as clicking on the graphical arrow. List items can then be selected by clicking the left mouse button. The Themes tab in the Display control panel contains a combo box that lists all available Windows themes.

Combo Edit Box

A combo edit box is a list of selectable items with an edit box used to manipulate a selected item, or to enter new input. You can press the UP ARROW or DOWN ARROW to move a selection through the available items. Use the keyboard to input text. ALT-DOWN ARROW often expands the list, allowing you to maneuver through the list items without activating the control until you press ENTER. ALT-UP ARROW collapses the list, displaying the selected item. Combo edit boxes display only one selected item at a time, and contain a graphical arrow to the right of the container list that can be clicked on with the mouse to expand the list items. The ALT-UP and ALT-DOWN arrows perform the same function as clicking on the graphical arrow. List items can then be selected by clicking the left mouse button. The Run dialog in the Start Menu (accessible by pressing WINDOWS-R) contains a combo edit box which lists a history of recent commands.

Edit Box

An edit box is a rectangular area that contains an insertion point, or cursor, designated for inputting and reviewing text. Once an edit box has focus, text can be entered using standard alpha-numeric keystrokes, the cursor can be moved to review existing text using the ARROW keys, and text can be selected using a combination of SHIFT/CTRL-SHIFT, and the ARROW keys. Edit boxes can be single line (meaning only one line of text is visible), or multiple line (meaning multiple lines of text are visible). The edit area of Notepad, the default text editor for Windows, is a multiple line edit box.

Window-Eyes can indicate when an edit box has been programmatically designed for password entry. Password edit boxes are designed to replace characters with asterisks, or stars, in order to provide a security level by masking the actual text of a password. When you enter any character into a password edit box, Window-Eyes will say "star."

Edit boxes can also be read-only. Read-only edit boxes allow the reviewing of text, but do not allow existing text to be modified or new text to be entered.

Group Box

Group boxes are used to group controls into common categories. Although they do not have the ability to be interacted with, Window-Eyes announces group box names before reading the control information of items inside group boxes. Examples of group boxes can be found in the Accessibility control panel.

Hot Key

A Hot Key control is similar to an edit box in that it contains an insertion point, and allows input. It differs, however, in that it will only accept modifiers in conjunction with alpha-numeric keys as input. In other words, these controls are used to define a hot key for a specific task. The most common place to find hot key controls are in the properties of a Windows shortcut icon. Window-Eyes announces, "Hot Key field," and will speak the hot keys entered as they are pressed. CTRL, SHIFT, ALT, and WINDOWS modifier keys in combination with alpha-numeric keys are all accepted in hot key controls.

IP Address

An Internet Protocol (or IP) Address control is similar to an edit box in that it contains an insertion point, and allows input. It differs, however, in that it will only accept numerical input. IP Address controls are divided into four fields (separated by periods, or dots), each field accepting a maximum of three digits, ranging from 0 to 255 (by default). Once you enter three digits into a field, the insertion point automatically jumps to the next field. If fewer than three numbers are entered, the next field can be accessed by pressing the period (or dot) key on the keyboard. The LEFT and RIGHT ARROW keys will also move the insertion point from field to field. Examples of the IP Address control can be found in the TCP/IP properties of most Windows network connections.

List Box

A list box is a list of selectable text or graphical items. Unlike combo boxes, more than one item can be displayed visually. You can press the UP ARROW or DOWN ARROW to move a selection through the available items in a list box. List items can also be selected by clicking the left mouse button on an item. Multi-selection list boxes allow for more than one item to be selected at a time. SHIFT-ARROW keys will often select items in succession, one after another with each key press. CTRL-ARROW keys often move an outlined selection through the item list without causing any selection to happen. The SPACE BAR can be used in conjunction with the CTRL-ARROW keys to select an item, allowing for the selection of items that may not be listed in a specific order. The CTRL key can also be used in conjunction with the left mouse button to perform the same alternative selection. SHIFT-F8 may also enable multi-selection mode in list boxes where multi-selection mode is not on by default. In multi-selection mode, the arrow keys move the outlined selection through the items, and SPACE BAR selects and unselects items. Pressing SHIFT-F8 a second time disables multi-selection mode when enabled.

List boxes also allow the selection of an item by typing the first letter of the item name, making the selection of a single item a quick and easy task. Additional presses of the same letter will move the selection through each item beginning with that letter.

The background selection under the Desktop portion of the Display Properties control panel is a good example of a list box.

List View

A list view is similar to a list box in that it is a list of selectable items. Each item in a list view contains both text and graphical elements. You can press the UP ARROW or DOWN ARROW to move a selection through the available items in a list view. List items can also be selected by clicking the left mouse button on an item. List views often allow for more than one item to be selected at a time. SHIFT-ARROW keys will often select items in succession, one after another with each key press. CTRL-ARROW keys often move an outlined selection through the item list without causing any selection to happen. The SPACE BAR can be used in conjunction with the CTRL-ARROW keys to select an item, allowing for the selection of items that may not be listed in a specific order. The CTRL key can also be used in conjunction with the left mouse button to perform the same alternative selection.

List views provide various display options called views, including icon view, small icon view, list view, report view (often referred to as details view), and tile view. In icon view, or small icon view, each list item appears as an icon (either small or large, depending on the view) with a text label beneath it. The icons can be placed in any position within the list view window by using the mouse drag and drop functions. In list view, each list item appears as a small icon with a text label to the right of it; the items are arranged in columns, and they can not be position manually. In report view, or details view, each item appears on a separate line, with multiple columns of information. The leftmost or first column always contains the item's small icon, and text label. Subsequent columns contain information specified by the application (for example, size, type, and date modified). Columns usually contain headers, unless programmatically disabled. In thumbnail view, a very large icon is used to display a small image of an item, useful for visually scanning folders containing image files. In tile view, the textual information used in details view is included with a large icon in each item. Items in tile view can be position manually.

List views can also be styled to include elements such as check boxes, scroll bars, grid lines, and more. When a list view includes check boxes, the SPACE BAR is often used to check and uncheck a selected list view item.

The files and folders portion of a Windows Explorer window provides a good example of a list view.

Progress Bar

Progress bars are rectangular windows that gradually fill with a graphic, or color, to indicate the status of a particular operation. Window-Eyes will announce the status of standard progress bars, if they exist, with the Progress or Scroll Bar hot key, CTRL-INS-B. Internet Explorer download dialog boxes provide good examples of progress bars.

Property Sheet

A property sheet is a window used to view and edit the properties of an item. Property sheets differ from dialogs in that they contain tab controls (discussed below) which allow switching between several groups of options in one window. The Accessibility Options control panel is an example of a property sheet.

Radio Button

Radio buttons are small circular areas with associated text labels, often existing in groups of two or more, with all items being related to a specific option. Unlike check boxes, you can only select one of the items in a radio button group. The ARROW keys move focus between radio button group items. When a radio button receives focus via an ARROW key, it will automatically be selected. When a radio button is selected, the circular area is filled in, while all other radio buttons belonging to the same group remain unfilled. The Taskbar Properties dialog contains an example of a radio button group.

Rich Edit

A rich edit control is similar to an edit box in that it is a rectangular area that contains an insertion point, or cursor, designated for inputting and reviewing text. Unlike edit boxes, text inside rich edits can be formatted with font styles such as font name, size, color, and effects such as bold, italic, and underline, and paragraph style information, such as alignment, tabs, indents, numbering, and simple tables. Once a rich edit box has focus, text can be entered using standard alpha-numeric keystrokes, the cursor can be moved to review existing text using the ARROW keys, and text can be selected using a combination of SHIFT/CTRL-SHIFT, and the ARROW keys. The edit area of WordPad, the default rich text editor for Windows, is an example of a rich edit control.

Rich edit boxes can also be read-only. Read-only rich edit boxes allow the reviewing of text, but do not allow existing text to be modified or new text to be entered.

Scroll Bar

Scroll bars are used to position data that extends beyond a client window's area into view. Scroll bars can be position vertically, or horizontally, along the edge of a client window. Vertical scroll bars typically reside along the right side of a client window, and allow content to be scrolled up and down within the client window. Horizontal scroll bars typically reside along the bottom edge of a client window, and allow content to be scrolled left and right within a client window. Each scroll bar, regardless of its orientation or position consists of two directional arrow buttons (one at each end of the scroll bar), and a scroll box (often referred to as the thumb) which sits in between the arrow buttons. The position of the scroll box changes when data is scrolled inside the client window.

When data is scrolled up, the scroll box will move down, indicating the position of the data is toward the bottom of the client window. When data is scrolled down, the scroll box will move up, indicating the position of the data is toward the top of the client window. When data is scroll to the left, the scroll box will move to the right, indicating the position of the data is near the right edge of the client window. When data is scrolled to the right, the scroll box will move to the left, indicating the position of the data is near the left edge of the client window.

Window-Eyes can tell you the position of the scroll bars, if they exist, with the Progress or Scroll Bar hot key, CTRL-INS-B.

Static Text

Static text windows are used to display text, or draw lines separating other controls. Static text controls can be styled with font information, but do not accept input. Static text is most often used for control labels inside a window, or to describe the function of a window. The Run dialog in the Start Menu contains static text in two places: the definition of the window ("Type the name of a program, folder, document, or Internet resource, and Windows will open it for you."), and the field label for the combo edit box ("Open:").

Tab

Tab controls can be thought of like dividers in a notebook, or file folder labels in a file cabinet. Tabs allow applications to define multiple collections of information in a single window. CTRL-TAB and CTRL-SHIFT-TAB are frequently used to rotor forward and backward through the tabs. When a new tab gets activated, the first control of that tab usually gains focus. Tab controls can also be tabbed to using the TAB key. Once a tab control has focus, the ARROW keys can be used to activate different tabs. Once a tab has been activated, the TAB key will move focus through the tabs options.

The properties dialog for the Start Menu contains an example of tab controls.

Tooltip

Tooltips are small rectangular windows of unformatted text that pop up near the mouse pointer, and are used to describe the function of the item beneath the mouse pointer. Tooltips usually display for only a few seconds before disappearing. By default, tooltips are used strictly for notification, and can not be interacted with. Some tooltips, however, can accept mouse input. Balloon tooltips, programmed to pop up in specific locations such as the system tray, can be clicked on using the left mouse button. Window-Eyes will automatically route the mouse pointer to a balloon tooltip when pressing INS-NUMPAD-PLUS twice. Placing the mouse pointer over the Start button will cause a tooltip with the text "Click here to begin" to display.

Trackbar

Trackbar controls are vertical or horizontal lines, usually containing increment markers between the beginning and end points. Trackbars (also referred to as slider-bars) usually deal with varying degrees of a single option, with the end points defining the minimum and maximum settings. UP and DOWN ARROW keys can be used to move the track bar from beginning to end, stopping at any existing incremental marker with each key press. The Windows Volume Control utility contains several trackbars that modify the volume of various system sound devices.

Tree View

A tree view control displays information in a hierarchical list, with each list item, or node, collapsible (to hide contained items), or expandable (to display contained items). Tree view items often contain a text label and a graphic indicating the open (expanded) or closed (collapsed) status. UP and DOWN ARROW keys can be used to move a selection through the items. If an item is closed, the RIGHT ARROW key will cause that node to be expanded. If the item is open, the LEFT ARROW key will cause that node to be collapsed. The drives and folders view in Windows Explorer provides an example of a tree view.

Up-Down Control

An Up-Down control is usually identified by a pair of arrows, one pointing up, and the other pointing down. Up-Down controls are often paired with a companion control (or "buddy window") such as an edit box. Up-Down controls are used to increment and decrement a value, and the value is displayed in the associated edit box. UP and DOWN ARROW keys are used to increment and decrement a value respectively. The Date and Time Properties control panel provides two examples of Up-Down controls: the date year, and the time's hours, minutes, seconds, and AM/PM.