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THE TGB ELDER GEEK: You and Your Files – Part 1

VirginiaDeBolt75x75Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words. You will find links to Virginia's previous Time Goes By Elder Geek columns here.

This will the first in a series of articles about file systems and file management. That was the most frequent question when I asked what you would like to have me write about a couple of weeks ago.

Today I'll talk about general principles and finding files. In the next parts of the series, I'll cover creating files and folders, naming and saving files where you want them, renaming files, and more.

Everything I say here applies to particular versions of Windows and Mac in my possession, if you don't have the version I'm using, you will see something similar but not exactly the same.

Like the file cabinet metaphor that computer filing systems were copied after, the system is based on the idea of storing file in folders. The folders are given appropriate names and any documents about that topic are stored in the folder. Sounds pretty straightforward, but if you've ever tried to find a file in someone else's file cabinet, you know that filing systems are as individual as the people creating them.

If you are the only person using your computer, the names you give to things only have to make sense to you. If you share a computer, you have to either agree on a naming system for things or create different accounts on the computer. With different accounts, each person can have their own filing system. If you do use different accounts, remember that something you saved under one account may not be findable under the other.

To view your documents, open the My Documents folder on Windows or the Finder on a Mac. On Windows, you can start with My Computer and then select My Documents in that window. Windows may have a separate folder for images that is similar to the My Documents folder.

the Mac finder and the the Windows my documents

On the top of the image above, you see the Mac Finder, with the Documents folder selected. Under that you see a Windows My Documents folder.

There are many alternate ways of viewing the contents of the Documents folders besides the views shown in the image.

With the Documents window open, look at the View menu. On Windows, you have the options to view Large Icons, Small Icons, List, Details, and Thumbnails. On the Mac you can choose to view as Icons, List, Columns, or with Cover Flow. Each view has its merits and is useful for different things. For general use, I like a Mac set to columns and Windows set to Details, but you may have a different preference.

some view options on Mac and Windows

I suggest you play around with all the views and try to see how different views might be useful in different circumstances. For example, when I'm looking for a file, I like a list, but when I'm looking for an image, it's nice to see the thumbnails. I don't like the icon views the items are too big and it's too hard to scan for names but some people love icon views. Different views have different features.

If you don't spend some time playing around with the views, you won't learn when to use one view or another to help you do something more easily. Go on a first date with your View menu and learn all about each other.

One important point to know about the Details or List view is that clicking on something in the title bar rearranges things. This is an image of the Windows title bar.

the Windows title bar

If you click "Name" the files will sort in either ascending or descending alphabetical order. I like to keep files in alphabetical order because they are easier for me to find. If you click on the word "Modified" in the title bar, you can sort files from oldest to newest, or from newest to oldest. That helps if you're looking for something you saved yesterday!

If you click "Type" you can sort by file type, for example, all the .doc files together, all the .jpg files together, all the .pdf files together and so on. Click around in either List or Details View on your computer to play with this to see what happens.

To look inside a folder, click it. (In Icon view, you may have to double click.) If there are folders inside folders, just keep digging down folder by folder until you find the individual file you are seeking. In the image below, I started from Documents in the Finder, selected Elder Geek Posts, then selected Zoom, and finally I see some individual files. If I want to open one of them, I double click it.

An important feature of either the My Documents window or the Finder window is the search option. On Windows, a search area opens up to the side when you select Search. On a Mac, there is a search box at the top of the window. Select the folder you want to search by clicking the folder to highlight it. You may want to search your whole computer or just the documents folder or perhaps some other folder. Then type in what you want to search for hope the results list is short!

searching for a word on a mac

The image above shows a search in a Mac Finder. If you look carefully, you'll see that I was searching in the Documents folder for a word in the contents of a file. If what I wanted shows up in the results, I can click the name once and see where the file is stored. (You can see a file location displayed at the bottom of the image above.) Double click the name to open the file.

I suggest you play with the search on your own computer and try searching for files, file types, words or phrases and anything else you can think of to try. Try to search only certain folders or your whole Documents folder. Figure out how to tell where something is stored and how to open it. (Saving your files and getting them stored in the right place to begin with saves a lot of searching. We'll talk about how you do that in a later post.)

Your My Documents folder and the Finder on a Mac both have back buttons. If you've dug your way down into several folders, you can find your way back to the top using the back button. On Windows, you may see some pull down menus that let you move back up the way you came to the My Documents folder. If you see anything like that, spend some time and figure out what it does.

Understanding how to use the My Documents or Finder window is a big step in learning to find your files. I urge you to click around and play with it. It's the best way to learn.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dell Pendergrast: A Fleeting Encounter with History


I like the videos, especially the way you use them to back up what you have written. I need the combination.

Thanks again for the lessons.

I'm going to read this later, when I have more time. Thanks for the lessons.

Thank you.......I will get to this when I get my computer out of the shop. The repair man said these worms/Trojan Horses/viruses are let loose directly after Microsoft does an update. Why the bug got my brand new computer with all the safeguards and didn't get this antique with nada including updates, I will never know.

There's a question for you. Tell us about Virus's/worms/Trojan Horses et al.

And thanks for being here.

Oh, Virginia! This is so valuable and I've been extremely negligent in trying to organize my files, partly because I simply haven't taken the time to set things up well. I lacked the technical knowledge to quickly do certain things so just moved ahead 'cause I needed to get to other things. Someday I must dedicate much time to what I guess is referred to as "housekeeping" on my computer. Thanks, Virginia. When I undertake it, your posts here are where I'll first head.

Very well done and easy for most to understand. Your use of illustrations is done very well, too.

One place where we depart is, on a PC, I never use the Microsoft generated "My documents, Music, videos, etc. Folders. It's a security issue. If anyone should hack your system (including MS) that's the first place they will look.

Despite all of the anti-viral and hacking protection available, electronic break-ins are far more common than most think. Identity and data theft has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Why make it easy for anyone?

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