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Issue #808: January 15-21, 2023

Q: Somehow, I have used computers for decades without knowingly using a pin; not a PIN, a pin — which in Windows appears more and more often, usually with an option to unpin. I have spent a lot of time trying to understand the significance of the lowly but seemingly increasingly needful pin, especially in Windows 11. I regret that this seems elementary. Perhaps that is why I cannot find any explanation elsewhere, but you appear to be astonishingly patient in sharing knowledge.

 – John P.
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A: Well, John, let me put some of my astonishing patience to work in decoding the riddle of a question that you submitted.  If I understand correctly, you’re finding yourself needing to use a pin, which is not a PIN (personal identification number).  There are only a few contexts in Windows where a pin is anything other than a PIN.  One I can think of is that you can “pin” applications to the Start menu or task bar. This means that you are asking Windows to permanently display the item – usually for convenience – wherever you’ve asked it to be pinned.  I say “permanently” in the context that these pinned items persist between reboots of the PC which is about as permanent as you can reasonably expect on a computer.  But yes, items that are pinned in this manner can then be unpinned to remove them again.

Let’s put a face to these concepts to hopefully help you to understand them better.  For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to pin the WordPad app to the taskbar.  Click on the Start button.  Where it says “Type here to search” type “WordPad” without the quotes, and don’t press [Enter].  You’ll see “WordPad App” appear at the top of the search results.  Right-click on it, and assuming you don’t already have it pinned, you’ll see two pin options in the context menu.  One says “Pin to Start” which we’re going to ignore for now, and the other says “Pin to taskbar”.  Click that one.

Immediately, you will see a new icon appear in the taskbar at the bottom of your screen.  If you hover your mouse over it, you will see that it is indeed the WordPad app.  If you click it, WordPad will run exactly as it does off the Start menu.  You might be used to using shortcuts from this and prior versions of Windows.  A pinned item is similar, but it carries with it some smarts that a regular shortcut does not.  To see what I mean, right-click the pinned WordPad icon on the toolbar.  If you’ve ever used WordPad, you’ll see a list of your most-recent previously edited files (if not, then this would have been a whole lot more dramatic if you’d ever used it before – maybe edit a couple of files to see the selections). If you no longer want to see it on your taskbar, this is where “unpin” comes in.  All you need to do is right-click the pinned icon, and select “Unpin from taskbar”.

Pinning to the Start menu offers another level of convenience.  Repeat the search for WordPad, but this time select “Pin to Start”.  Now, when you pull up the Start menu and look off to the tiles on right (mine is labeled “Life at a Glance” but yours may be different) you’ll see the WordPad tile.  Right-clicking on it offers the same access to previously used WordPad files, along with options to change the size of the tile, unpin it from the Start menu, and even unpin it from the taskbar if you have it so pinned.

This is just a small demonstration using one app that you may or may not use very often.  Pinning can be a powerful tool if you apply it to apps you use in your daily job.  It works with all the Microsoft Office apps, putting the last several documents, spreadsheets, or slide decks that you worked with right at your fingertips.  And who couldn’t use another little time saver?

By the way, just to add to the confusion of PIN vs. pin, there are times when Windows does use a PIN.  There is an optional security service called Windows Hello that offers a more secure way to get into your Windows account.  Options in Windows Hello include facial recognition, fingerprint, or, you guessed it, a  PIN.  By the way, let me close out the week by saying that it is incorrect to say “PIN number” as so many people do.  For the reason why, see the definition of “PIN” earlier in this column.

3 Responses to “Issue #808: January 15-21, 2023”

  • John Parker says:

    Thank you for clearing up my confusion between pin and PIN (Issue #808). Now, all I have to do is figure out what WordPad is. It looks like its a gateway to Word in Windows 11. I may or may not be registered in Word, since I haven’t used it for a long time, and Windows 11 doesn’t seem to reveal what it came with when you bought the computer with it. I think I have Home & Student, which I guess has transferred to the from the old computer, or maybe its on both of them now. I am afraid to erase anything on the old computer, for fear it might disappear from both of them. I might want to use both computers, if I can separate them. I tried to re-register in Word, which I may or may not have done; Windows told me to go ahead and use it through TODAY.

    • The Geek says:

      WordPad has nothing to do with Word. It is simply a text editor that has a few more capabilities than NotePad. I just selected Wordpad because it’s an app everybody should have on their PC. The examples should work with any other app you have that’s Windows 10 compliant.

      P.S. – Your attempt to comment was perfect. But first-time commenters need to be approved by me. This is to prevent SPAM and other filthy content from polluting the comments on my website. In other words – sanitized for your protection.

  • John Parker says:

    I tried to comment; the process is Greek to me.

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