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Organise the innards of your computer

February 2008

When I held my first of the “Computing for Oldies” seminar, I asked everyone what they wanted most to learn. The answer that received the largest chorus of approval was a rather heartfelt plea for me to explain how to organise the contents of a computer so that you can find the thing you have just created.

I must say, I sympathise. When I started out on this computer business, I found myself in a hopeless mess. I’d proudly create a rota for the flower arrangers, save it, and there, suddenly, it wasn’t. Gone away.

Well it wasn’t gone, of course, but it was well hidden, because I didn’t know how to organise the machine in a neat and tidy manner.

The key to this is using folders properly. If you hold down the Windows Key (usually next to the Alt key on the bottom row – sorry Mac users, this is not for you) then press the “E” key, a programme called Windows Explorer will open up. This shows you what is going on in your hard drive.

You’ll see it’s all arranged like a sideways family tree. Find a folder called “My Documents” and open it (double click). What is revealed will depend on what has been going on before – if you have been organised it will show a carefully structured and labelled set of sub-folders. More likely, however, it simply contains a huge list of documents you have created, some with odd names. If that is what you find, it’s as if you had emptied a filing cabinet all over the floor of your study and called it a filing system.

So it needs tidying up. Click on the “My Documents” folder to highlight it. Now, from the top of the window, click on File…New…Folder and a new yellow folder symbol (they insist on calling them “icons”) will appear, called “New Folder”. Rename it something sensible (like “Flower Arranging”) and move all documents with that theme into it (just drag and drop). Just as you would in a filing cabinet, in fact.

The beauty of this electronic filing cabinet is that each pocket, (the “Folder”), is as big as you need it to be, and you can create whole sub file systems within it. Looking at my own, for example, I see that I have a “Finances” folder, which has ten different folders within it (“tax”, bank” and so forth), and some of those have sub folders within them (“2006”, “2007”).

Finally, and this is also important, if you share your computer, each of you should establish your own system of files. Start by creating two new folders, labelled, for example, Amanda and Elyot, and then each can create their own tree of sub folders within those, and neither will tread on the other’s toes .

But none of this is any good if you go on saving new documents willy nilly. So follow this closely.

Open a new document in Word, and press Ctrl+S (which tells it to save the file). Up will pop a box headed Save As.

Now, pay attention – what you do now is crucial. Within this box you need to navigate yourself to the folder in which you want to save this new document. You will almost certainly see “My Documents” mentioned on the left edge of the window; click on it, find the sub-folder you want, and double click on it to open it

Now give the new document a sensible name, by typing it in the “File Name” box at the bottom. It’s a good idea to develop a consistent naming system and avoid abbreviations you may not recognise later. You have plenty of room; 255 characters, in fact.

Now press the Save button, and it’s done, snug and tucked away in the right place, waiting patiently for the next time you need it.