An important feature of TOPCAT is the ability to define and use Row Subsets. A Row Subset is a selection of the rows within a whole table being viewed within the application, or equivalently a new table composed from some subset of its rows. You can define these and use them in several different ways; the usefulness comes from defining them in one context and using them in another. The Subset Window displays the currently defined Row Subsets and permits some operations on them.
At any time each table has a current row subset, and this affects the Apparent Table. You can always see what it is by looking at the "Row Subset" selector in the Control Window when that table is selected; by default it is one containing all the rows. You can change it by choosing from this selector or as a result of some other actions.
Other contexts in which subsets can be used are picking a selection of rows from which to calculate in the Statistics Window and marking groups of rows to plot using different markers in the various plotting (and old-style plotting) windows.