Wielding the Power

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 24, 2019)


There may come a time when you want to stop using Windows for a while, and you might wonder what your options are. While you could certainly just walk away from your computer, confident that it will be there when you come back, that might not be the most secure method of ending your session.

In the "old days" of computers, you would often just push the power button or unplug the computer from the wall. (OK; it was in the really, really old days of computers.) That isn't the best approach with Windows, however. Instead, you'll want to get to know the Windows "power button" and the various options that it provides you.

If you are using Windows 7, display the Start menu and then cast your eyes toward the very bottom-right of the menu. It should look similar to what you see here. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Windows 7 power button.

Note that the power button is emblazoned with the catchy words "Shut Down." Clicking on the button conveniently shuts down Windows and powers off your computer. (If you notice a small shield icon next to the words "Shut Down," then Windows will apply any outstanding system updates before actually powering down.)

You can get more power-down options if you click the small arrow to the right of the button. Doing so presents seven different options:

  • Switch User. Doesn't really turn off the computer. This option leaves the current user logged in but allows you to log in another user. This is good if Windows is executing a long-running program for the current user, but you want the system available for use by a different user.
  • Log Off. Again, this option doesn't turn off the computer. Instead, it logs off the current user and returns to the log-in screen so someone else can use the system.
  • Lock. Secures the computer behind a log-in screen so people can't use it without logging back in. This is like the "switch user" option, but without actually switching the user.
  • Shut Down. Same as clicking the Shut Down button—closes all programs, logs out the user, and turns off the computer.
  • Restart. Same as the Shut Down option (or button), except the computer is restarted after the power down occurs.
  • Sleep. Doesn't really turn off the computer, but puts it into a twilight-like power-saving mode from which you can easily "awake" to begin using the system again.
  • Hibernate. This is a "deep sleep" mode. Essentially, the current state of your system is saved to hard drive and the computer goes through the shut-down process. When you turn the computer back on, the state of the system is restored from the hard drive.

Not all of these options may be available on all systems. For instance, if you don't have multiple user accounts set up on your system, it doesn't make much sense to give you shut-down options that include options for multiple users.

If you are using Windows 8, the power options were simplified quite a bit. To get to the options, display the Charms at the right of the screen (just press Win+C). Click the Settings icon—it looks like a gear—and then click Power. Windows displays three options:

  • Sleep. Doesn't really turn off the computer, but puts it into a twilight-like power-saving mode from which you can easily "awake" to begin using the system again.
  • Shut Down. Closes all programs, logs out the user, and turns off the computer.
  • Restart. Same as the Shut Down option, except the computer is restarted after the power down occurs.

If you are using Windows 10, the power options are the same as with Windows 8, but you get to the options a little differently. One method is to click the Start button (the Windows icon) and then click the Power button. Windows displays three options: Sleep, Shut Down, and Restart. They function the same as with previous versions of Windows. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Windows 10 power button.

You can access another option by right-clicking the Start button and then hover the mouse over the Shut Down or Sign Out option. Windows displays the following context menu: (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. The Shut Down or Sign Out option.

As you can see, the top option that you can choose is Sign Out. As the name implies, this option allows you to sign out of Windows. All the apps you were using are closed, but the PC isn't turned off. Another user can sign in without having to restart the PC.

 This tip (12444) applies to Windows 7, 8, and 10.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...


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What is three less than 3?

2015-06-22 09:56:38

Andrew G. Plourde

Not on my Windows 8.2.

When I hit the gear, under Settings I get Desktop, Control Panel, Personalization, PC Info, and Help.

Why is that?


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