So you're just starting out on Blender. The sheer number of controls and options can look intimidating at first glance but you know that it is possible to make sense of this stuff. If you want to do anything serious with Blender, you just need to get used to the available high-level interfaces and user preferences.
Don't have Blender yet? Well, if you have Linux Mint like I do, you can find it in the “Graphics” section of Software Manager on your computer or, if you don't, download it at Blender.org, where you can also see some of the cool stuff that real people are doing with it. This is free software, which means you can make a donation if you want but they won't charge you for downloading and installing it.
The interface is made up of a series of windows that, when all put together, make up the controls, views and menus of Blender.
3D View Window: The big grid window in the center of the screen. The 3D View window includes the Object Tools menu on the left of the screen and the header just below the grid view that includes menus like View, Select and Object.
Info Window: The header on top with options like File, Add and Render. It includes useful options like accessing the User Preferences box.
Outline Window: The window on the top right that provides outlines for the project.
Properties Window: Displays the properties of the currently selected object in the 3D View window. It takes up most of the right side of the Blender display and contains tabs for Render, Layers and Dimensions.
Timeline Window: The window along the bottom of Blender that keeps track of timeline based on frames.
Customizing Your Windows
Each window has a header that includes a pull-down menu that can change it to any other window. For example, if you don't need the timeline window right this instant but have some talent with Python coding, you can change that window to a Python console.
You can adjust window sizes by finding the edges of each and dragging them with your mouse. Right-click on any edge for options like split area, which splits the selected area into new windows like in the above picture. If you split the 3D window, a change to one will automatically update in the other. To undo splitting an area, use the option join area. You can also move headers from the top or bottom of their windows by right-clicking on them and choosing flip to top or flip to bottom. A lot of Blender users, including experienced ones, like to leave their windows at the defaults unless they need to inspect something more carefully.
This is very useful for adjusting preferences. Access it by clicking it on File ==> User Preferences in the Info window. One thing you should do is set the undo options in the Editing tab so that you can undo mistakes. You can set the number of steps you can undo and the memory limit for machines that, basically, need to be upgraded for more RAM.
Another useful thing to do is to set the Auto Save feature in the File tab. I've gone through the frustration of losing work because my computer had a meltdown, so setting it to automatically save your work every few minutes can help if you ever have to hook up your hard drive to another machine to retrieve files. (Backups also help, especially if you aren't a geek like me and don't know much about working with computer hardware.)
A number pad is used for a lot of the Blender hotkeys, so if you don't have one, go to the input tab and check emulate numpad to turn the number keys along the top of your keyboard into your number pad. This is very useful for handling a lot of common tasks quickly.
More About Blender
This is pretty basic stuff isn't it? I'll get more into Blender, its features, and the full functionality in future articles. In the meatime, you might like to check out this resource on Blender for everything you want to know about polishing those projects.