How about a little spring cleaning in August? This weeks column is all about the cleaning and organization of your friendly and mostly useful computer. Without fail, everyone is guilty of a little bit of haphazard file management on their computer. This is normal and it doesn’t make you a slob or a bad person, but a little bit of help in this area can certainly make your life easier.
So let’s start with file organization. Some of this may seem obvious, but it’s frightening how few people take advantage of the built in file structure of Windows. The simplest way to put this is that there are two places that your personal documents and files should be. Only two. On your computer desktop, or in your ‘My Documents’ folder. Do not save a recipe list to the root of the C: drive. A much better place is to open up ‘My Documents’, create a new folder called ‘Recipes’ and save it there. There are a number of ways to create a new folder, but perhaps the simplest is to navigate to the place you want this new folder to be (in this case ‘My Documents’) and right-click within that folder so that a contextual menu comes up. Scroll down to ‘New…’ and select ‘Folder’ from the new side menu. Windows will automatically create a folder for you aptly named ‘New Folder’. You may notice that the title of this folder is highlighted, which means it’s ready to be edited, just type in the new name (in this case ‘Recipes’), and hit enter. Now you have a recipe folder, nice.
The best reason to take advantage of this folder structure is for the upgrade process. When you get a new computer and want to transfer your old info to the new, searching the computer for folders scattered every which way is not only cumbersome, it’s downright irksome. Using built in tools like the ‘Files and Settings Transfer Wizard’ grabs your desktop and documents and prepares them for an easy transfer to the new machine, but if your files aren’t in those two places, it’s not going to keep them. Sorry.
Another key point as far as organizing these files takes place in the ‘Save’ dialog box. This box come up whenever you hit ‘Ctrl-S’ or the ‘File, Save’ command for the first time. So let’s say we’re using Microsoft Word, and we’ve written a letter to the editor of the Deerfield Valley News in support of a certain ‘geek’ candidate. It’s full of praise and admiration and it’s almost perfect. When you click on ‘Save’, where does it go? By default, with a new document it routes you to the ‘My Documents’ folder. If you have opened an existing document, it will automatically save it to it’s previous home. Within that ‘Save’ window, there are a handful of options that are generally available regardless of the program you are working in. At the top of this window is an address bar indicating your current location. Directly to the right of it are a number of small icons that can help you navigate through the folder structure. One other important icon looks like a folder with a little red ‘star’ in the upper right corner. This symbol can be pressed to create a new folder, directly from the save dialog, which can be very handy indeed, as previously explained.
On the left of this dialog there are a handful of common locations to save to, be it the Desktop, My Documents, or My Computer. Approaching the bottom, there is a place to name the file, more on that in a moment, and a ‘Save as type:’ area. This one can be very important. Depending on the program you are using, there may be a multitude of options here. This is important to note in terms of compatibility. If you are using Microsoft Works instead of Word, this is where you would select the option to save as a word document if you need to share it with others.
Back to the file name. Let’s go over some naming conventions. You can name files just about anything you want, but I can’t help but stress to you all to stop using special characters. If it isn’t a dash or an underscore, do not use it in the filename. Absolutely no periods, or apostrophes please, they create the most trouble when it comes to file restoration when your hard drive fails or when transferring data. Avoid using slashes for dates such as 09/08/09, and either opt for dashes (09-08-09), or no punctuation at all (090809). Spaces are generally okay, unless the file is going to be uploaded to the internet, where spaces are messy. So let’s just say that it’s a good habit to drop them too. As an example, I like to name files thusly; ValleyNewsArticle082709.doc
So there are a couple of tips to get you organized. Sure it made for a somewhat boring read, but sometimes the information is more important than the associated entertainment value. If it helps, you can imagine that I was wearing a pink shirt while I wrote it, or that I incorporated recorded laughter and applause to motivate me while writing. Fine by me.