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Put into the wrong hands, the mouse could turn into one of the most dangerous things you can plug into your computer.

The mouse has been a part of a basic computer system ever since Microsoft adopted a graphical interface. No longer did you have to type commands at a blanking command prompt. Instead, you could just move that little pointer over the icon of the software you wanted to launch, click, and you’re done.

However, with the speed and convenience of the mouse also came certain behaviors you needed to learn in order to use it effectively. Clicking versus double-clicking. Dragging versus dropping. Knowing how and when to do these things became a part of learning how to use a computer. Fail to learn these things, and you could be doomed to a lifetime of terrible experiences every time you sit in front of a computer.

The Accidental Mouse Drop

For the last five years, I’ve been helping a friend of mine “learn computers”. The first few months of this “training” experience, I quickly realized that when a person hasn’t had a proper introduction to computers, the mouse fast becomes the most dangerous weapon in their hands. The destruction they can cause with a few minor mouse-mistakes is unbelievable.

One of the most common mistakes newbie mouse-users make is what I call the “accidental mouse drop.” I cringe every time I see my friend press that left mouse button just a little too long. What happens is, instead of quickly double clicking to open a folder, the user will press too long during the first click, and move the mouse before letting go and clicking again.

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What happens during that click-drag motion is the user has unknowingly “picked up” the folder and with the movement of the mouse, is moving the folder to a new location.

The scary part is where the folder ends up when the user decides to release the left mouse button. If it’s simply over open desktop space, nothing would really happen. The icon or folder would just go right back to the location where it started. However, if the user accidentally releases the folder on top of another folder, that original folder and all of its contents will get moved into the second folder.

This mistake can have number of unpleasant consequences:

  • The user doesn’t understand what they just did, so they have no idea where the original folder went. As far as they’re concerned, it “disappeared.”
  • If the original folder was an important system folder, like the Windows folder or the System folder, it could potentially cause the computer to crash and render it unusable.
  • In the worst case, the folder is accidentally released over the recycle bin, in which case the files will all get deleted the next time the recycle bin is cleared.

A key lesson any computer user should learn, is how to properly double-click to open a folder or an application. The stress should be on the importance of the double-clicking speed, and not moving the mouse meanwhile. And if mistakes do happen, it’s always good to remember that the keyboard shortcut Windows Shortcuts 101 - The Ultimate Keyboard Shortcut Guide Windows Shortcuts 101 - The Ultimate Keyboard Shortcut Guide With so many shortcuts built into Windows and its software, it might seem impossible to learn them all. Here's the ultimate guide to the most useful keyboard shortcuts. Read More CTRL+Z is a magic undo function.

Right Clicking Instead of Left Clicking

Another common mistake for first-time computer users is confusing left and right mouse clicking. The concept of a right-click bringing up a context menu How To Add & Remove Entries from The Windows Right-Click Menu How To Add & Remove Entries from The Windows Right-Click Menu Read More is an alien concept for most first-time users, who tend to use the left and right mouse buttons interchangeably.

What I’ve seen happen often is the user – meaning to do a left-mouse double-click to open an application or folder – will do a right-mouse double-click. And depending on the position of the mouse cursor, this can lead to disaster – particularly if the mouse, just before the second click, is hovering right above the “Delete” menu option in the context menu.

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This can cause anything from a minor nuisance (a desktop shortcut getting deleted), to a major catastrophe (someone’s entire dissertation getting deleted). Again, CTRL+Z is your rescue.

Another important lesson new computer users should learn is the concept of the context menu when right clicking on objects. Not only is it good for avoiding this kind of mistake, but it’s also a very useful part of Windows computing.

Double-Clicking Instead of Single Clicking

Mistakes with the mouse aren’t limited to just browsing the file system or opening folders. These same new users often run into problems when they start trying to browse the Internet.

Experienced users take a lot of clicking behaviors for granted, for example that you only need to click once on a web link to open them, not twice. New users, however, after spending so much time double clicking on applications to open them, often think that they also need to double-click on web links to open them.

It’s an innocent mistake, and usually doesn’t cause any issues, but if the mouse is in an unfortunate location during the second click, it could lead to problems.

For example, let’s say one of these new, inexperienced users clicked on the “Using Chrome” link on the MakeUseOf main page.

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If the article page loads fast enough, the second click of that users mouse will actually end up being a click right on the Google Ad on the next page.

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Now, this is great for our advertising revenue, and probably won’t cause any major problems other than some slight confusion when a new web page opens up unexpectedly, but it still isn’t a good thing. It could be even worse on other websites where there may be adware or malware within areas that shouldn’t be clicked.

Most of the time, double clicking won’t cause major problems for these users, but the potential for danger is always there, and it’s a behavior that should be unlearned as fast as possible.

Clicking and Dragging in Spreadsheets

In addition to web browsing mousing skills, new computer users really need to learn proper mousing skills in common office applications like spreadsheets or word processors.

One common mistake I’ve seen new users make is not understanding that where the mouse pointer is located when you first click the left mouse button is absolutely critical for the behavior you want. For example, to highlight an entire row of cells, it’s kind of intuitive to first click on the first cell and then drag the mouse down the column to highlight all of the rest.

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The first mistake new users make is double clicking inside the cell instead of single clicking. This changes the cell mode to edit, and when the user drags down the column, nothing happens.

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That’s not a catastrophe. However, disaster does strike when the user accidentally lands their first mouse-click on the lower corner of the cell. This is the “fill” button that causes each cell that you drag over, to contain the same value as the cell that you’re dragging.

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You know you’re in fill mode when you see the small pop-up image of the number that’s going to fill all of those cells. Once the user releases the left mouse button, the cells will all fill with the original number, and whatever was in those cells will be lost.

If the user is lucky and they don’t do any other actions to make things worse, a simple CTRL+Z (Undo) will also fix this error.

Clicking and Dragging on the Desktop

Another common mistake is related to the accidental drag-and-drop error mentioned at the start of this article. This error is when the user actually intends to drag and drop a folder or an icon and instead ends up highlighting an entire collection of icons.

This most commonly happens on the desktop, when a user intends to select a single icon with a single left mouse click, but instead they miss the icon and left-mouse click on the desktop itself. Then, when they hold down the mouse button and drag it – thinking they’re dragging the icon – they end up drawing a selection box around a collection of icons on the desktop.

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This isn’t a terrible mistake, depending what happens once they’ve selected all of the icons, but a lot of things can go wrong. They could accidentally press the “delete” key on the keyboard, or right click and delete the icons, thinking they’re deleting a single folder. All selected icons will disappear.

They may also accidentally drag all of those icons to some new location and drop it there, losing track of where they ended up. Fortunately, an immediate CTRL+Z can bring them back.

The ability to select multiple icons on the desktop is an excellent feature of the Windows operating system, but it’s dangerous for users who really don’t know what they’re doing.

Accidentally Enabling Scroll Lock

Eventually, mouse hardware became scrollable Cool Tips To Make Most From Your Mouse Scroll Button Cool Tips To Make Most From Your Mouse Scroll Button Read More , meaning mice include a scroll wheel that allows you to move up or down pages with a flick of the index finger.

This is wonderfully convenient, saving you the hassle of having to click on the top or bottom of scroll bars, but the scroll wheel How To Easily Activate Two Finger Scroll In Windows Laptops How To Easily Activate Two Finger Scroll In Windows Laptops Read More comes with a feature that also gets new users into trouble. If you single-click on the mouse scroll wheel (the wheel is actually a button as well), it’ll enable “scroll lock.”

You know the scroll lock is enabled when the symbol shown in the screenshot below appears on the screen.

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When you move the mouse cursor away from the symbol, the screen will scroll in the respective direction and it will scroll faster the further away you move. The mouse pointer symbol will also change to an arrow pointing in the direction of scrolling.

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This is a pretty cool feature once you get used to it, but for a new user who accidentally “locks” the scroll in this way, it can feel like the most confusing, scary experience. One moment, everything is going perfectly fine, and the next moment the screen is seemingly scrolling back and forth all on its own – like it’s possessed.

Believe it or not, I’ve received frantic calls from the user who I was training about this very problem. He was convinced that his computer had a virus because the web browser 4 Browser Extensions For Searching Multiple Words On A Webpage [Chrome, Firefox] 4 Browser Extensions For Searching Multiple Words On A Webpage [Chrome, Firefox] Do you ever find yourself needing to search things on a webpage? The find function (CTRL+F) is an awesome keyboard shortcut and feature in browsers – chances are you already know about it and use... Read More was “acting crazy.” It wasn’t until I arrived at his house and saw the scroll lock symbol on the screen that I realized the mistake that he had made with the mouse.

A single left-click on an empty spot anywhere on the screen will release the scroll lock.

Accidentally Highlighting and Deleting

Another activity that many advanced computer users take for granted is mouse use while word processing 6 Free Office Suites That Are NOT Microsoft 6 Free Office Suites That Are NOT Microsoft Read More . Applications like Microsoft Word offer some wonderful shortcuts, if you know what you’re doing. For example, if you double-click anywhere in a paragraph, Word will automatically highlight the entire word that you’ve just double-clicked on. This saves you the hassle of having to left click and drag your mouse across the entire word to highlight it.

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Better yet, you can triple-click to highlight the entire paragraph.

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This is a major time-saver while typing, but for new users it can be very confusing. Most of the time, a new user may just want to add edits inside a section of the paragraph, which would normally just require a single-click at that location.

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What happens for users who haven’t yet grasped the concept of when to double or single click, is that they will often double-click instead, highlighting the entire word – and then without thinking, they will start typing, wiping out the original word in the process. This isn’t too tragic – unless the user accidentally triple-clicks and starts typing. There goes the entire paragraph, and the user will be completely confused about how such an odd thing just happened. Once more CTRL+Z can save the day.

It’s amazing, when you stop to think about how many computing routines require a thorough understanding of appropriate mouse-clicking. A person could build an entire class around mastering the skill of using the mouse on a Windows computer. So, it’s understandable why so many new users end up getting into trouble.

A good place to learn more about proper mouse use is MakeUseOf. Tina wrote a great guide for making better use of your mouse in Windows 3 Handy Mouse Tricks You've Probably Never Heard Of [Windows] 3 Handy Mouse Tricks You've Probably Never Heard Of [Windows] The computer mouse is an incredibly nifty device, which unfortunately, a lot of people do not use to its full potential. There are many more things the mouse can do than left-click to move and... Read More . Bakari wrote a similar mouse-click guide for Mac 15 Control-Clicking Hints To Make You More Productive On Your Mac 15 Control-Clicking Hints To Make You More Productive On Your Mac Read More .

Have inappropriate mouse-click mistakes ever gotten you into hot water? Do you have any other tips for new computer users to be wary of when using the mouse? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Image Credits: Angry Fist via Shutterstock

  1. kath
    May 30, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    I've a problem- when I left mouse click the number 1 appears sometimes and if I hold left click down I get 111111 |...what have I done wrong? :(

  2. Earl Conway
    May 20, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    i have learned most of this the hardway. most of my problems stem from the fact that i don't know what i don't know and i don't know where to get an education this basic

  3. GodSponge (EB)
    September 2, 2015 at 6:42 am

    Just for reference Scroll Lock is on a keyboard, not a mouse. The feature you're writing about is called Autoscroll.

    As far as I'm aware, Scroll Lock doesn't actually do anything anymore.

    • GodSponge (EB)
      September 2, 2015 at 6:46 am

      That being said, I've had many people get confused with this feature and not knowing why the page was flying around all over.

    • Alex Dethier
      September 2, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      auto scroll is still a thing, if you just press on the scroll wheel of your mouse, it should acitvate

  4. Peter Andrews
    September 1, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    I taught introductory PC use at a technical institution and after the usual intro about usernames and passwords, we got to the desktop for the click, double click and right click talk. I then told the class to put their mouse on an icon and double click. I then gave a few more instructions and realized one of my students was very distressed as he could not get anything to work.

    I went to his station and gave him an instruction..."put your mouse on that icon and click." He picked up the mouse and placed it on the screen and clicked.! I changed my instruction to all classes since then to "move the mouse pointer..."

    • Eva Harr
      September 2, 2015 at 12:51 am

      >>>He picked up the mouse and placed it on the screen and clicked<<<

      Haha! I've seen people do that.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 2, 2015 at 7:10 am

      Hahahahaha I didn't see that punch line coming!

  5. Patricia del Valle
    September 1, 2015 at 7:55 am

    Great article. I've found myself caught up in doing some of these things just from bumping into the side of the keyboard while trying to move a file ... even if I raised the mouse, then lowered it, to move the arrow location. I corrected it, but these things happen in various ways as you describe. Cntrl Z is nice to know. I've use the arrow circle in the upper left of the toolbar most of the time. Works fast too. Moving picture files was the one place I have accidentally "combined" files or images into files ... and then had to go back and see which file in that row had the image that wasn't supposed to be there. Just knowing these things happen will enlighten many folks who find things have "disappeared." Windows used to have a feature where you could enter a file name in the Start box and a name would appear somewhere in the column, then right click and select 'show file location.' Now you do it with File Explorer in the taskbar, but takes longer to find the file ... eventually you find it. That's the main thing.

  6. Eva Harr
    September 1, 2015 at 12:59 am

    >>>did you have to type commands at a blanking command prompt<<<<

    Ahhh yes... I've typed some very creative and colorful things at the command prompt. All I got back was "bad command or file name." How positively polite |-)

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Hehehe I love this reply.

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