It’s kind of funny how we’ve been trained by our computers to do things in a way that don’t always make a lot of sense. If you want to turn off your TV, you hit the power button. If you want to turn off your car radio, you hit the power button. Just about any appliance in your house, you turn off with the power button. But… turn off the computer just by hitting the power button? You must be crazy! You’ll destroy it! Well, maybe not.
What is it that makes computers so different from other devices? Really it all goes back to the early days of personal computers like around the time of Windows 95 and Windows 98. Back then, you always got strict instructions to go through the Windows shut-down process in order to turn off the computer. This meant clicking Start, then Shut Down, then choosing either Restart or Shut Down.
That process was necessary because the actual power button back then was pretty dumb. That power button only did two things. If the computer was off, the power button connected electricity to turn it on. If the computer was on, the power button cut off the electricity. Well, you just can’t do that with Windows. Windows has to make sure all the programs are closed, data is saved, and a bunch of other things before it finally shuts off. Just hitting “Power” on one of those old machines could cause problems.
Today it’s different!
On newer computers (“newer” meaning the era of Windows XP and later), you can actually program the power button so it can do whatever you prefer it to do – shut down, sleep, hibernate, or you can even instruct the computer to do nothing when you tap the power button.
In Windows 7 or 8, go to Control Panel. In the top right drop down menu, make sure “View by: Smal icons” is chosen, then click on the icon that says “Power Options”. Look over on the left side near the top and you’ll see “Choose what the power buttons do”:
When you choose that, you’ll see that you have a few options about what the computer does when you hit the power button. For me, I just have the computer shut down when I hit it. I don’t usually use the Sleep or Hibernate mode anyway.
Your computer may also be equipped with a “Sleep” button, and you would have the same options to choose for that button’s actions.
You also will have a whole separate set of options for the power buttons if you are using a laptop. One configuration is for when it’s running on battery, and the other is for when it’s plugged into an outlet.
There’s something important to keep in mind. If your computer freezes up and you can’t do anything (no mouse movement, no keyboard response), it may sometimes be necessary to do what is called a long hold on the power button to force it to power down. This means you hold it in for several seconds until the machine shuts off. That long hold forced shutdown is not what I’m talking about today. When your computer is running properly and you just want to shut it down, you don’t need to hold in the power button for any length of time. Just push it in and then let go.