File management

Using folders to manage your files

This tip will show you how to create folders in Windows Explorer (probably at Start | Programs | (Accessories) | Windows Explorer).

In the left pane, highlight the drive letter (or existing folder) under which you want to create a new folder.

A:\ is your floppy disk

C:\ is your hard disk

You may have various other drives including:

N:\ is your network area

S:\ the drive where you share files with your colleagues

Click the File menu, click New, click Folder and press Enter.

A folder entitled New Folder appears in the right pane. Type the name you want for the folder over 'New Folder', press Enter and that's it.

You may now select files you want to drag into the new folder, hold down the right mouse button and drag them into it. Windows will then ask you whether you want to move, copy or cancel.

N.B. 'Folders' were known as 'directories' until Windows 95, and you'll still see the term used.

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X for temporary files

There is nothing more boring than having to open a couple of hundred files in Windows Explorer.

Save any file that you just wish to keep for a short time with an X at the beginning of its name. Next time you have a tidy up in Windows Explorer, at least you may be fairly sure that files beginning with X are for the high jump.

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Electronic rubbish

Whilst tidying up files, there are some it is usually safe to delete on sight*:

1. Those starting with:

~ [temporary files generated by Word etc.]

NE00 [temporary files generated by printing on the UCL network]

2. Files with the extension .tmp.

3. winmail.dat files [live in your Eudora attachments folder e.g. \Dos\Eudora\Attach\

Only Outlook users would need these files, as they contain formating information Outllook uses to make e-mails look nice.

*Even if one of the above criteria is met, leave files with the current day's date, as they may be in use, especially if you have programs running.

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Quick & dirty file management

To get things really tidy on your computer, you need to go through your files and e-mail messages periodically.

However, to reduce drastically the amount of space your files are using, the above method takes too long to be efficient.

Much better in that case to take the "quick & dirty approach":

Open Windows Explorer (Start | Programs | (Accessories | ) Windows Explorer).

Highlight the drive letter e.g. N:, or folder e.g. c:\my documents\ where you keep your files.

Press Ctrl-F [F is for Find].

Look for* files larger than 1,000Kb (i.e. 1Mb).

These are the files most likely to cause quota problems etc. Double-click a file to open it.

- If you don't need the file, close it, select it in Windows Explorer and press the Delete key to get rid of it.

- If a file won't open, do NOT delete it.

- Leave any files ending in .mbx, .toc and .pst alone. They contain e-mail.

Repeat this procedure for files larger than 500Kb, and you will be as clean as you are going to get without a thorough file management session.

*Sorry to be a tad vague, but the exact procedure is different depending on which version of Windows you are using.

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Don't delete it if it doesn't open with a double-click

Recently I've met a couple of people who, whilst diligently spring cleaning in Windows Explorer, have ended up deleting some system file by accident.

So, what can we safely delete?

Basically, if you double-click it and it opens, you can delete it. Each file has a three/four letter "extension" at the end of it. (You may need to fiddle round in the View menu to see it; Microsoft sometimes likes to hide it.) Here are some common examples:

.doc (Word document) .xls (Excel file) .ppt (PowerPoint file) .mdb (Access file) .txt (plain text file) .pdf (Adobe Acrobat file)

.jpg, .jpeg and .gif are all picture files

All of these should open when double-clicked.

However, the following are examples of system file extensions:

.exe (program) .ini (settings) .mbx (Eudora mailbox) .toc (Eudora index)

Delete these at your peril!

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Drag files with the right mouse button

Most people manage their files by dragging them from the right-pane, to a folder in the left pane, in Windows Explorer (Start | Programs | Windows NT Explorer on WTS, otherwise, Windows-E. N.B. the Windows key is the one between the left Ctrl and Alt buttons).

However, it's so easy to lose a file. You drag it into the wrong folder, and phut it's gone. (Ctrl-F to find it!)

There is a better way.

Drag your files with the right-mouse button, NOT the normal left mouse-button, held down. With the right-mouse button, you get a helpful little message when you release the button asking you whether you want to copy the file, move the file, or cancel the operation. (It's the last option that can be the life-saver.)

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One thing is sure - every disk you use will, one day, fail. Floppy disks are the most unreliable, but all disks, including harddisks, are in the same boat.

To back up is to make sure that the only copy of your data is not on a disk when it fails.

The best way to back up is to have somebody else do it for you. In UCL, all you have to do is to keep your data on a networked drive (N: on WTS). Information Systems backs up those drives every night, and they are said to have three years of backups.

What if you are not working at UCL? If the file is smaller than 1.44Mb, it will fit on a floppy. Right-click the file in Windows Explorer and click Send To and then 3 1/2 Floppy (A). If it is larger than 1.44Mb you could zip it (see here) and it may still fit on the floppy. Otherwise, you need to use a CD-writer, Zip Disk or one of those fancy USB memory stick things.

What if you are working on an important file, and want to back it up manually before the IS nightly backup?

Open Windows Explorer, click the file and press Ctrl-C and then Ctrl-V. The first command copies the file to the computer's memory, the second pastes the file in the same folder with the words "Copy of" before it.

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Backups - phut! (= noise of hard disk giving up ghost)

Last Monday morning I came in

- to a hard disk crash on my machine :-(

I think it was only the software that had become distressed. However, I did lose absolutely everything on my local hard disk.

I wish I could tell you I lost no data, but actually I did lose a little.


Do not keep your only copy of any data on local hard disks (and, worse floppy disks - they are absolutely treacherous!), unless you absolutely have to, and if you do, back it up regularly, e.g. to your N: drive.

This is a very important issue, and if you would like more advice about it, do not hesitate to e-mail me.

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A backup horror story

This week I became aware of the greatest loss of data I have come across in 15 years of working in IT.

Don't worry - the organisation concerned has nothing whatsoever to do with UCL. But they do seem to have lost 14 months of database data.

So, if you have any data that only exists on a hard disc (typically C: drive) or, worse still, on a floppy (typically A: drive), make sure you make a copy on a networked drive (N: if you are on WTS), or at least that you have a copy of it somewhere.

Why not tell the horror story above to a colleague you suspect may not be backing up properly?

When data is lost, it's not just that the work all has to be done again, reputations suffer too.

If you're not sure about whether data is being backed up properly, why not drop me an email?

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Quick way of copying files to a floppy

Usually a good way of copying files is to open Windows Explorer, select the files, issue the copy command (Ctrl-C), select the destination drive or folder and issue the paste command (Ctrl-V).

However, if you are copying files to a floppy disk*, there is a useful shortcut:

Instead of issuing the copy command, you can right-click and (left-)click Send To.

And there, lo and behold, is 3 1/2 Floppy (A).

*Floppies are basically for backups or moving files around. They store upto 1.44Mb (1440Kb as it displays in Windows Explorer) of data. They are rapidly losing ground to those fancy flash drive keyring-like thingies you stick in your USB port.

See for a picture of a USB port.

You should not really open or print files on floppies, as floppies can be fragile and this stresses them out. Make a copy of the files on a network drive, or hard disk and open or print them from there.

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Files are often compressed using the .zip format when they are to be sent by email, or downloaded, or when old files are archived.

So what to do when one has such a file?

It is usually best to set up a new folder in Windows Explorer (see the previous tip "Using folders to manage your files") and move the .zip file into it.

On WTS things could not be easier; simply right-click the file and select Extract Here. You should now see the contents of the .zip file, but if you don't press F5 to refresh the screen display.

If you are not on WTS, you first need to acquire PowerArchiver from . (If you already have WinZip, use that, but I don't think it's quite as user-friendly).

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What do you need to do, if you want to compress files into a .zip file in order to send them to someone by e-mail or archive them?

If you are just compressing one file, open Windows Explorer, right-click it and select Compress to (where filename is whatever the file is called). This creates the .zip file in the same folder as the original. You may need to press F5 to refresh the screen display in Windows Explorer.

If you are zipping more than one file, I would recommend that you create a new folder in Windows Explorer (see the previous tip "Using folders to manage your files"). Copy the files you want to zip into the folder, highlight them, right-click and select Compress to

Note that these procedures work on WTS, or if you have installed PowerArchiver. If you are using another compression program (e.g. WinZip) the procedure may be slightly different.

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Drives? Disks?

What is the difference between a drive and a disk?

Both concepts are foundations of good file management, but are often glossed over.

Let's start with the concrete:

Disks come in many forms: harddisks, floppy disks, ZIP disks, CDs, DVDs etc.

They are usually represented by one *drive* letter in Windows Explorer and elsewhere in Windows. For example, floppy disks are usually the A: drive and harddisks the C: drive.

However, harddisks may be split into several drives. Your harddisk could be "partitioned" (using a program called FDISK) so that you have three drives on the same physical disk. You could then have, for example, Windows on the original C: drive, your programs on a D: drive and your data on an E: drive.

An interesting case is the networked drive, such as N: in UCL. A small part of a disk, a folder, in this case on a large machine in the Kathleen Lonsdale Building, is appearing on your WTS as a networked drive - N:.

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Opening files on other drives

Ever had difficulty opening a file on another "drive" of your machine? The following may help.

You may know that files are organised into folders (= directories) which are then organised into drives. There's a list of some of the more useful drives at the end.

Anyway, when you issue a command to open a file in Word etc. you can change to another drive just by typing it's letter followed by a colon.

So for example if I pressed Ctrl-O to open a file and I could see folders on my N: drive, but I wanted to open a file on my C: drive, I could type c: and press Enter. That would take me straight to the C: drive without fiddling.

Moreover, if I wanted to open a Word file called mins5-1-3.doc in a folder called ftc within a folder called docs on my N: drive. I could press Ctrl-O in Word, type n:\docs\ftc\mins5-3-1 and press Enter, and that would do the trick without even touching the mouse.

A: is your floppy drive.

C: is your hard disc.

N: is network filespace

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Renaming files

You probably know that you can change the name of a file in Windows Explorer by highlighting the file and then clicking again.

Personally I loathe this use of the mouse. It is so easy, for example, to click twice and end up opening the file.

However, there is a better way — click the filename and press F2.

That allows you to change the filename without ambiguity.

You then type over the selection to create the new filename and press Enter to confirm you've finished it.

You probably have to be careful not to delete the last four letters "extension" (e.g. .doc).

Incidentally, do not use unusual characters in filenames. I would recommend that only a-z, A-Z, 0-9 and - (hyphen) be used.

Spaces can cause all sorts of problems (trust me) and I reckon _ [underscore] is difficult to see.

N.B. The above also applies to folder [=directory] names.

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Views in Windows Explorer

Did you know that there are several ways of viewing your files in Windows Explorer?

There are actually five views, available from last, "Views" icon on the toolbar, or to Large Icons, Small Icons, List, Details and Thumbnails on the View menu.

I think the two most useful ones are List and Details, but do have a look yourself at all five. Thumbnails is also useful esp. with image files. This is the situation on Staff WTS, but there may well be other useful views on other versions of Windows.

So when would we use one and when the other?

'List' is a good default. It just lists all the files in the folder, but you can probably see all the files in the folder unless you have a really huge number in there.

'Details' comes into its own when you need to have more information about your files for some reason. It gives two useful additional columns:

1. Size in Kb (larger than 1,440Kb and it won't go on a floppy, though you could try zipping it - for which see a previous tip).

This is the column one pays attention to when one is having a spring clean. You can save storage space much more quickly by deleting one unwanted 10Mb file than a hundred 100Kb ones!


2. 'Modified' (useful if, for example, you are unsure which file is the more recent version).

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How not to lose files

It is surprising how much time one wastes if one cannot find a file.

I hope the following "tiplets" may be a precaution against this.

"File" is used below to mean a file containing data, for example, a Word document.

1. Keep only One Master Copy of each file.

2. Give it a good, descriptive name. (Select it in Windows Explorer and press F2 to rename it. Careful not to lose its extension, e.g. .doc.)

3. Make sure all files are backed up (on a floppy if all else fails).

N.B. If you are storing files on the N, R or S drive on WTS, you do not need to worry about backups as IS takes care of it.

4. Have a rule about which files are kept on which machine.

For example, "all personal files are kept on the machine at home; all work files on WTS".

5. Do not scatter files across drives and folder* hierarchies.

For example, keep all your work files in folders beneath one folder on the R drive or in My Documents on the machine at home.

*Create folders in Windows Explorer by going to File | New | Folder. The folder is created immediately below what (drive/folder) you have selected.

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ReadMe.txt - a file management tip from Alice in Wonderland

One often wonders "what on earth were those files for?" when one opens Windows Explorer (Start | Programs | Windows Explorer on WTS).

It was obvious at the time, but so many files are just created temporarily, and so one does not bother to give them good names, and then they build up.

This is still a problem even if one is making good uses of intuitive file names (F2 to rename a file) and plenty of folders and subfolders (File | New | Folder to create a (sub)folder).

So, if you have files in a folder, and it is not clear what they are doing or how something works, you can write a little explanation.

A good name for such a file is ReadMe.txt.

Open Notepad (usually in Start | Programs | Accessories).

Type the brief explanation and click the X top right to close Notepad.

It will complain, as you have not saved the data.

So navigate to the relevant folder (n: etc. in the "File name" box would take you straight to the N: etc. drive) and save the file as ReadMe.

Notepad adds the .txt extension.

This technique is esp. useful if you are looking after a complex Web site.

Stick a ReadMe.txt in a folder that you do not upload onto the live site.

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Updating information

You're sorting out the floppies in your desk drawer.

Of course, they (should) only contain backups of files whose master version are on a networked drive (e.g. N: on WTS), or files that you put on a floppy to take somewhere else.

That means you can get rid of most of the contents of your floppies, but it is always good to have a last look at the files before using the floppy for something else.

You put the floppy in the drive, open Windows Explorer (Start | Programs | Windows NT Explorer on WTS), click on the A: drive (A$ on 'Client' (A:) on WTS) and you can see what's there and make a decision.

But what if you take that floppy out and put the next one in to check it? It's still displaying the information from the original floppy.

This is where F5 comes in. Press function key F5 and, bingo, the information updates and you can see what is on the current floppy.

In fact F5 is a useful key throughout Windows programs, and often pressing it will refresh your screen with the current information. It is especially useful in Internet Explorer or Mozilla, when one suspects one is viewing an old version of a Web page.

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