Thursday, 13 November 2008

Just Right-Click...

This bewildering phrase is often first heard over a telephone when a new user has phoned someone for help.

It is almost always chucked at you without any explanation at all and most new users hear it as "Just write 'click'". I'll give you the joke at the end but for now, here is what it really means!


Your mouse - whether it has a wire or not, whether it has a red light underneath or a marble-sized ball that it rolls on, will have at least two buttons - a left and a right.

It may have a middle button as well, which we can ignore for the moment, or a wheel as the two mice shown here do, which we can also ignore for the moment.

The buttons are designated left and right and refer to the mouse being viewed from this angle - which is how it fits nicely into the hand. It is possible to switch the two buttons around if you are left-handed but let's not complicate things at this stage. So for the majority of people the phrase "right-click" refers to clicking the button which is marked on the photo by the pointing hands.

What it will do is that it will take whatever the mouse pointer is hovering over on the screen at the moment at which it is clicked and give either more information or a list of options. It normally opens a separate window containing this information or list of options.

Let's look at two examples from the same computer screen - the desktop; the screen seen when the computer first boots up. In the first example I have pointed the mouse pointer at a blank bit of the screen and then right-clicked - clicked the right mouse button once.


This has caused a window to open up with a list of options that the user can choose from. You can release the right button if you have held it down - the window will not disappear until you click one of the mouse buttons again, or press the Esc button on the keyboard which you can do to close the window if you right-clicked by mistake.

Any option which has a black triangle pointing right on the far right hand side means that clicking that option (with the left button) will cause a list of sub-options to appear. There are four such triangles shown above.

Now compare that image with the next, where I have pointed the mouse (pointer) over one of the program icons on the desktop before right-clicking.


The options are different. This is because they are options for a different context; the first one for the desktop space and the second for the specific icon that I was pointing to. Right-clicking a different icon may well have given a different list of options again.

Here's a calming truth for the fearful. You cannot do any harm whatsoever by right-clicking and just having a look! There is often an option labelled "Properties". This often allows the user to choose their own preferences or set defaults for a program. Again no harm can be done by having a look!

So... If you call a help desk and they say "Can you just right-click..." this is what they mean. They don't mean "write click". So the helpdesk joke much loved by techies goes...

A user phones up with a problem and the technician says "Can you right-click?"
The user says "Yes I've done that."
The technician says "What happened?"
The user says "Nothing..."
The technician assumes the user didn't do it right and says "Can you right-click again?"
The user says "Ok, I've done that."
The technician says "What happened?"
The user says "Nothing..."
The technician says "So what's on your screen?"
The user reads out "Click click..."

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