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Windows 7 - Shut Down and Log Off Options Explained

Windows 7 provides various options for shutting down the computer. By default, all of these options are available from your start menu. You can access them by clicking on the arrow beside the "Shut down" button in the start menu. Some of the options may seem a little confusing to novice users at first. The following guide explains what each of the options do and when you should use them. The only ones which need no explanation are, of course, the "Restart" and "Shut down" options.

1 – Switch User and Lock
If you have a shared computer, you should ideally have one separate user account for each person. Using the "Switch User" or "Lock" feature will bring you back to the login screen. "Switch User" will bring you straight to the list of user accounts currently on your computer. If you use the "Lock" option, you can also access the list of user accounts by clicking on the "Switch User" button on the login screen. Both options lock your computer, but any programs you were running and unsaved work will remain just as you left it.
In Windows 7, multiple users can be logged in at the same time. You don't need to save your work unless you are actually logging off, shutting down or restarting the computer.
Locking the computer is handy if you're using a machine in such an environment where you don't want people trying to use it when you're not present. Regardless of whether you choose "Switch User" or "Lock," you'll need to re-enter your password to get back into your account.

2 – Log Off
The "Log Off" option is not really of much use for a computer which is only used by one person. It's useful on shared computers, however. Before logging out of Windows, you'll need to save your work and close any running programs. Logging off will return you to the login screen where another user can log in. Although, as previously mentioned, you can be logged in to multiple user accounts simultaneously, it's better to log off when you've finished your work and the next user is likely going to shut down the computer when they're finished. Also, keeping all of your programs running only takes up system resources, slowing down the computer for the next person to use it.

3 – Sleep
By default, most computers include the "Sleep" mode in their power saving settings. After a certain amount of time has gone by without the computer being used, the monitor will turn off and sometime later, it will go into sleep mode. You can activate this manually from the "Shut down" menu.
It is a common misconception that "Sleep" mode turns the computer off. This is not true. You don't need to worry about closing your programs or saving your work, since this does not turn off your computer. It simply turns off most of the features, including the monitor, and puts the system into a low-power mode. When you press a button on the keyboard, it will wake up again, typically within a few seconds.

4 – Hibernate
Hibernate and Sleep modes are quite often confused. Unlike sleep mode, Hibernate does turn off your computer. Instead, everything that is in the system memory such as open programs and unsaved work will be saved to a "hibernate" file on your hard disk. This typically takes no more than a few seconds, even with computers which have a lot of memory. Windows will then shut down and your computer will be turned off.
When you start up your computer again, Windows will restore the hibernate file and all you'll need to do is enter your login password at the login screen and your desktop will be exactly how you left it.


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