Basic Computer Skills
At our local library the only prerequisite to my courses and workshops about Movie Maker and
Photo Story is 'Learning to use a Mouse'.
From a mouse class to Movie Maker is a pretty big leap. There's a number of what I call basic
computer skills that will make your story and movie-making experiences easier, skills that are not
well covered in books, classes or online tutorials.
I'll use this newsletter to go over 10 of the basics that I wish everyone was skilled at before
they jumped into a movie project. By basics, I mean skills using a computer that are independent
of the software apps being used. Let's do these 10
- Browsing folders and files... including 'hidden' ones
- Selecting multiple items
- Copying and pasting
- Dragging and dropping
- Renaming files and folders...
- Checking CPU and memory use
- Making your virtual memory larger
- Checking hard drive free space
- Defragging your hard drive
- Creating and editing low level text files... like html and xml
Here's a link to an
about basic computer skills from the University of Maryland... if my notes are confusing, maybe
it will help. The opening paragraph on the site echoes my feelings about
the more prepared you are for the experience, the greater your chances of success and
... before getting into them, here are a few
Earlier this year I took a first shot at blogging... in April/May... and it
didn't work. With one undated response that I couldn't figure out how to respond to, it wasn't effective.
This week I started a second attempt. APress, the publisher of Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero, invited
some authors to blog on their site, and I took them up on it.
I'll try to keep the blog notes on a high level... not like Q&A topics on a newsgroup or forum.
The blog link is on the Online > Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts page of the website, and the initial topics
are the wave of Windows digital media galleries around the country, and the evolving beta version
of Movie Maker for Vista.
.... on to the main topic...
Browsing folders and files...
Do you remember 'directories' and 'subdirectories', the words we used in the days of DOS, the
operating system before Windows? Today we call them 'folders' and 'subfolders'. Whatever they are
called, they contain files and other sub-level directories or folders. For analytical thinkers like
me, a tree view of a hard drive makes a lot of sense.
... but it seems we're moving away this kind of structure, and toward a world of virtual storage
spaces... where it doesn't make a difference where something is... as long as you can find it on
your computer when you need to.
I spent an hour this summer with a friend on an Apple computer, looking for
a video file... and gave up. We knew it was someplace on his internal hard drive or attached external
drive because we had captured it from a camcorder. But the Apple operating system just wanted to
show us the virtual items, not the location in a way that made sense to us. The computer didn't
think we could be interested in which drive the file was on. From what I see of Vista, the world
of Windows is going down the same path. Someday I'll look back and wonder why I wanted to know where
to today!!. One reason to find a file is check it's name, and rename it if needed.
Start by making sure you see the file's extension. Not all files need an extension,
but those we work with have one... usually 3 characters long (WMV, AVI, MPG, XML, PNG, BMP, JPG,
WAV, WMA, MP3, etc.). The Movie Maker project file is an exception with its 5 character MSWMM extension.
Another exception is a recorded TV file with a DV-MRS extension.
If you don't see the file extensions, as they are hidden by default, change the view... right-click
on My Computer > Tools > Folder Options > View tab > Files and Folders > Hidden files and folders
> change the option to 'Show hidden files and folders'.
Windows XP gives you a number of options to view the contents of a folder:
- in Groups by any detail of your files such as name, size, type, or date modified.
- as thumbnails of image and video files
- tiles... as large icons
- filmstrip... a slide-show type view of a folders with images (this is the
view I'm using at the right). The controls under the larger image are used to go through the
files like a slide show... a really handy view when importing source files.
you're using only one of these views, explore the others and you might be surprised... right click
in white space of the folder to get the list of choices...
You can see in the image at the right that the file extensions are included, the ones shown being
This picture shows some files in the Movie Maker > Shared folder, the place for things such as
custom xml files and associated png images. I've pasted two views together... the view at the left
without file extensions, and the view at the right after changing the option to view the extensions....
you then see .txt, .png, and ..xml.
Copy and Paste
You can copy a single character, a word, sentence, document, file, folder filled with files,
and groups of them together. One way to think about the computer's copying is to envision putting
the item onto an invisible clipboard... one that can hold only one thing at a time... if you copy
something else, it replaces whatever is on the clipboard.
There are utilities that let you have multiple clipboards and let you see what's in them, but
we'll assume you're not using them.
Try to explain what's going on during a copy/paste operation it to a newbie user... it's easy
to show them but hard for them to grasp what's happening... grab the controls, do a couple and tell
them things like "... got it?, it's easy, you know!!...".
Copying puts it/them into the clipboard...
... pasting takes it from the clipboard and puts it/them into another place
To copy, make a selection and use the Control-C keys (or right-click the item and select Copy)...
to paste, select the location to paste to and use the Control-V keys (or right-click the item and
In Photo Story 3, there's only one thing you can copy and paste... that's text on a picture.
In Movie Maker, you can copy and paste most anything:
- entire collections, including the clips in them
- one or more clips in a collection... to the same collection for a 2nd set of them, to another
collection, or to the open project
- one or more clips in a project... to another point in the same project (set the new point
on the timeline first), or to another project (close the one you copy the clips from, and then
open the other one to paste into)
- a selected video effect or transition to one or many places
- a batch of video clips on the video track to the audio/music track, at any selected point
on the timeline
An advantage of being able to copy and paste between projects is to do something such as having
a reference project with your favorite settings for title clips... the font, font size, transparency
setting, colors, etc... get them just right and then copy the clip from the reference project to
your working one.
Select Multiple Items
When you want to do the same thing to many items at once, instead of one at a time, the first
thing you need to do is select the batch of items you want to be included in the process. The process
could be a renaming, a cutting or deletion, a drag and drop. The items could be a set of folders,
files, clips in a collection, clips on the timeline or storyboard, transitions in a project... just
about anything. The selection process is the same.
To select multiple items, select the first one with your mouse... then hold the shift key down
if you want a group of sequential items, and (keeping the shift key held down until done) select
the last one of the group.
You can't select multiple items in Photo Story, but you can in Movie Maker. If it works, use
it. If it doesn't work, don't assume anything is wrong... the programmers just didn't include the
Drag and Drop
Dragging an item, or a batch of selected ones, from a window of one app to a window of another
one makes life much easier many time. It can be easier than copy and paste.
Sometimes you can't copy and paste, but you can drag and drop... examples are WAV files from
a folder in your file manager to an open collection in Movie Maker, and an image file from a hard
drive folder to a Photo Story 3 project.
If copy/paste doesn't work, try drag and drop... if drag and drop doesn't work, try copy and
paste. It's up to the programmers of each app to put each of these options into the software. And
it's easier to try them than it is to look it up in the help file or reference material.
Tip: Sometimes dragging and dropping can be used to copy items from one place to another...
but at other times it moves the file rather than copying it. Be careful... if you think it's
copying but it's actually moving, you could regret it when you go back later and look for your
Sometimes neither copy-n-paste or drag-n-drop work, such as music files from a hard drive folder
into the add music window of Photo Story 3.
Rename Files and Folders...
Renaming is easy if:
(1) the file you're trying to rename isn't being held open by some software... if it is open,
you need to close the file or the software first.
(2) there's not another file in the folder that already has the name you want to use.
This error message comes from Windows Explorer when you try to rename a file... in this case,
yes the name is already being used by another file, but you want to do it anyway. With Windows Explorer
you need to delete the file first and then give the other file its name.
Total Commander, my favorite file browser, gives a different message, one that tells you the
other file exists, but gives you an option to overwrite it.
Skilled computer users are so used to doing things such as checking a file's extension and renaming
them as needed.
Photo Story doesn't use source file names, or let you rename them. Movie Maker lets you rename
collections, and the clips inside the collections... but not video effects and transitions. Select
a collection or clip and press the F2 key to get to the renaming feature.
Movie Maker doesn't let you rename a clip once it's in a project. The name is inherited from
the clip in the collection... and can't be changed.
The 'name' of the clip shown at the right shows that it can be a paragraph long, up to 256 characters.
It's a far cry from the days of DOS when names were limited to 8 characters followed by a 3 character
Check CPU and Memory Use
Checking CPU and memory usage is one of the easiest things to do in Windows XP, but few outside
programmers, geeks and hackers know about it or do it.
Right mouse click any unused part of the task bar at the bottom of your desktop (the blue bar
at the bottom in the picture at the left)... select Task Manager and then the Performance tab.
My new HP laptop has a 3.4 GHz CPU... but it's really two CPUs, not one. In the Task Manager,
the uppermost right hand CPU Usage History chart is divided into two sections, one section for each
of the CPUs.
The left half is for CPU 0 and the right half for CPU 1.
This is the first computer I've had with multiple processors. When I'm in the Processes tab,
I can select any of the running processes, right mouse click on it, and choose 'Set Affinity'. That
lets me assign the process to one of the CPUs, something that can come in handy.
As I write this, I'm also listening to music... I've unchecked CPU 1 for both of these processes,
which limits them to using CPU 0.
I'm also rendering a movie with Movie Maker limited to using CPU 1. That let's the rendering
have 100% of one processor... the rendering goes full speed ahead, and the music doesn't miss a
beat, nor do I notice any slowdown in my writing.
Keep one eye on the CPU usage and the other one on memory... still on the same page of the Task
The physical RAM on this computer is 2 GB (the Total Physical Memory)... things work fast if
the Total and Peak numbers in the Commit Charge section stay below the size of the RAM. When usage
goes above the RAM size, things slow dramatically, but still work... as long as they stay below
the 'Limit', the total of physical (RAM) and virtual memory.
Many failed attempts to save an overly-complex project can be resolved by increasing virtual
memory... if you know how to do it.
Access the setting by Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System > Advanced
> Performance Settings button > Advanced tab > Virtual Memory Change button.
In round numbers, my laptop has 2 GB of RAM, a virtual memory setting that starts with 2 GB (the
Initial size). When that limit is bumped into, Windows XP will give a message about reaching it,
and will proceed to raise it to the maximum size of 4 GB. Beyond the 6 GB memory level (2 RAM +
4 virtual), my system would crash.
Crashing when rendering a movie would simply mean getting the familiar message about not being
able to save it. A trip to this setting and raising the maximum allowed size might be all that is
needed to try rendering it again, and being success.
Check Hard Drive Free Space
There are easier ways to make a quick check of free space, but let's take a look at the hard
drive on this new laptop using Start > Right click My Computer > Manage > Disk Management.
Disc 0 is my 100 GB hard drive, which has a bit over 30 GB in free space. Disk 1
is an inserted USB thumb drive. The 3rd drive shown is my CD/DVD drive with a DVD in it.
Defrag a Hard Drive
Staying in the Computer Management window, but moving up to the Disk Defragmenter feature...
I selected the C drive, asked it to Analyze, and then viewed the report at the left... the summary
was 'You do not need to defragment this volume'... but the detailed report showed files with as
many as 1,463 fragments.
Sometimes I'll defrag anyway, even if the report suggests I don't need to, especially if I see
a file that I'm working with in the list.
Some movie tasks run better on a hard drive that is well tuned... such as capturing video from
a camcorder, previewing and viewing movies, and copying a movie to a digital camcorder.
Create and Edit Low Level Text Files...
Files such as html (for web pages) and xml (for custom Movie Maker effects, transitions, and
title overlays) need to be plain text files or they won't work. Create and edit them with Notepad,
an app included in Windows.
Open Notepad by Start > All Programs > Accessories > Notepad... or Start > Run > type in
notepad > OK... or however you usually do it.
By default, Notepad assigns a .txt file extension... which you can over-ride to make it .html
or .xml as needed, either during the initial save or right afterwards by renaming it.
To open an existing html or xml file with notepad... right click on it in your file browser and
opt to Open with Notepad.
I'm thinking of putting a section in my next book about the 'basic skills' needed to get the
most from Movie Maker and Photo Story... this is my first attempt at such a list.
I look forward to comments and discussion about this and other newsletters on the forums at:
Windows Movie Makers.net
Have a great week...
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 -
Photo Story 2 -
Products and Services
I'm involved in many things that support users of Movie Maker and Photo Story, and adding more
regularly. Some are free and others reasonably priced.
Radio and Podcasting
is the only weekly Podcast having more useful information about desktop video editing and production
than anywhere else on the Web. Digital video editing, nonlinear editing, streaming media, software
releases, tutorials, business tips, technical help, download of the day and news on the latest products
to make everything easier. It's where professional and consumer desktop video users go to stay on
the cutting edge.
Call the phone mail machine to get your technical question answered on the air... call (206)-203-3516
The radio broadcast is from Boston, and the website has downloadable podcast files. The June
19th 2005 podcast was the first 'bi-weekly' show with a segment about Movie Maker 2.
Movie Maker 2 - Do Amazing Things (with its online companion on
by Microsoft Press...
Movie Maker 2 - Zero to Hero - with support on the publisher's forum -
Friends of Ed
MaximumPC's winter 2005 quarterly special... had a 7 page tutorial 'Make a Killer Home Movie
with Maker 2'. The special edition of the video made for it is now
on my website
as a file download.
The November 2005 edition of Maximum PC had a well done reworked 6 page reprint of the same article,
starting on page 42 after the Happy 20th Birthday article for Windows.
Learning VirtualDub - published by
Publishing, is the first book about VirtualDub software. I wrote the first chapter about downloading
and setting up the software: VirtualDub, VDubMod and AVISynth.
Movie Maker 2 and Photo Story 3 -
www.papajohn.org - the site's 3 goals are: an online companion to the Do Amazing Things
book, a detailed tutorial for PhotoStory 3, and helping you solve Movie Maker 2 problems.
PhotoStory 2 -
www.papajohn.org/photostory2/PS2.html - a detailed tutorial about using it.
It's not a problem-solving site.
Online Support - Forums and Newsgroups
I'm a regular on many online forums and newsgroups, the key ones being:
Forums are open to all for viewing, but require registration of those who want
to post. Moderators actively participate to ensure the forum discussions move forward and stay on
Movie Maker and Photo Story forums at W
indows Movie Makers
Movie Maker 2 forum at
Newsgroups are wide open for all to view and post... moderation is collective
by the participants.
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup -
Photo Story 2 newsgroup -
Photo Story 3 newsgroup -
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story newsletter. The annual subscription is $20 and the link to subscribe
is on the main page of my Movie Maker website at:
Topics for upcoming newsletters (always subject to change):
#81 - December 10 - open
#82 - December 17 - open
#83 - December 24 - open
Newsletters that were distributed more than 6 issues ago are posted by Rob Morris to an
Site at his Windows Movie Makers website. Links from my website pages to specific newsletters
make it easier for the website viewer to see the content of both while browsing a topic.
Drop an email to suggest a newsletter topic... I can use more requests rather than fewer.
Add-On Transitions and Effects
Transition Maker 2
(TM2) is a utility for the ultimate in making your own personal and custom transitions
for Movie Maker 2. It's a joint product from Patrick Leabo, the programmer, and myself. Version
2 was released a week ago and I'm still working on updating the online tutorial.
beta tested some of the Pixelan
packages and think very highly of their people and products.
ProDAD's Adorage package for Movie Maker 2 provides an additional source of
professionally developed transitions and effects.
your personal information is more of a challenge as hard drives get bigger and the internet more
My personal database has been an ongoing project over many years, and is now available to others.
A tutorial about using it is on the Managing > Personal Database page of my site, and more info
is in the database package itself.
It's free for the asking to regular newsletter subscribers... send an email request and I'll
return it with the zipped file, which is less than 1 MB.
To others it's $10. To order, use the button on the top of the Managing > Personal Database page.
An online gallery that fully aligns with the main priority of the website is the
'PapaJohn Expert Zone'
Check it at Neptune
and the Distributing > Neptune page of the website, where there's a developing tutorial about how
to use the service.
in conjunction with the Portage, Michigan library, I offer two free training
sessions about Movie Maker and Photo Story, an intro session and a workshop. The upcoming scheduled
Monday - January 30 - 7-8:30 pm - Intro to Movie Maker and Photo Story
Monday - February 13 - 7-8:30 pm - Workshop
Monday - March 13 - 7-8:30 pm - Intro to Movie Maker and Photo Story
Monday - April 10 - 7-8:30 pm - Workshop
Monday - May 8 - 7-8:30 pm - Intro to Movie Maker and Photo Story
Other fee-based services
you can't save a movie because your project has become too complex, e-mail a copy
and I'll divide it into manageable sub-projects, and provide detailed instructions about how to
render the parts and assemble them into your final movie. $49.95 (no cost if it's not the right
solution or doesn't work) - for details, see the sidebar on the Problem Solving > Can't Save a Movie
page of www.papajohn.org
Movie Maker 2/Photo Story training and support services start at $50 per hour
- send an email - PapaJohn@CharterMi.net
and I'll help you determine your needs, and work with you to plan and implement them.
Wedding combo website/video packages - check the bottom branch of the Movie
Maker 2 website for a sample of what you can expect for the online portion of the package.
Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or
About John 'PapaJohn' Buechler from Microsoft.com
John "PapaJohn" Buechler, of Kalamazoo, Mich., goes by PapaJohn
online. An avid user of Movie Maker since its first release, and
a regular supporter of the community of Movie Maker users, John
received a 2003 MVP award from Microsoft for that support. In March
2003, he started a comprehensive website about Movie Maker 2 at
He maintains the website, writes books and articles, teaches, and
provides support services - all for the community of Movie Maker
2 users. An engineer by formal education, John is a computer database
and multimedia expert by business and personal experience. He co-authored
the first book about Movie Maker 2 and is actively working on a
second one. You can find his advice in the
Windows XP Movie Maker newsgroup and in the
Windows Movie Makers Forums.
newsletter is republished with permission of John "PapaJohn" Buechler.
Please note that this is an archive of newsletters and some information
may become outdated. PapaJohn, and the webmaster of this site, provides
this information "AS IS" with no warranties.
Visit - PapaJohn's Movie Maker 2 and
Photo Story 2 Newsletter Index