My mom must have been thinking about my computer when she said, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Geeks need not apply, Part 3:
File all of this under 'folder'

May 20, 2012

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2012, The Post-Standard

Files are things you store on your computer. That's all they are.

Folders are things that hold files. They're really talented, because they can hold other folders, too.

Of all the possible misunderstandings in the jargon of computers, the "file/folder" conundrum is the most vexing. Even people who should know better talk about files as if they were folders. One of my friends told me he had "stored his vacation photos in the Pictures file."

Folder, please. It's F-O-L-D-E-R.

There. I got that off my chest.

Folders actually make everything possible on a computer. They keep stuff where it can be found.

Computers are wonderful and all that, but they don't like messes and they can't work properly if everything is strewn about. My mom must have been thinking about my computer when she said, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."

Folders make this neat organization possible. Stuff in one folder can't see (or even know about) stuff in another folder. Your computer won't even know you've written a message located in another folder that says, "It's time to toss this old computer out!" No hurt feelings.

Folders are special. They can hold stuff like files, of course. But they can also hold folders. And those folders can hold other folders. This "nesting" can go on until the cows come home -- or until your computer blows up from terminal folderitis. (That happened to me one time. I made so many nested folders that nothing worked any more.) So limit the number of folders-inside-folders to five or six.

Any time you double click on the icon of a folder -- the one that looks like those "vanilla" folders from the old days -- your computer enters that folder. You can back out by holding the Alt key and pressing the Up Arrow in Windows or the doing the same thing with the Command key held down on a Mac. (Yes, I know it's not "vanilla." But it was when you and I were in Third Grade.)

You can create a new folder anywhere on your computer by clicking the right button of your mouse and following the menu that pops open. It will always have a dumb name like "New Folder." Be smart; change the name to something that makes sense.

Change the name of a folder in Windows by clicking once on the folder, pressing the F2 key, typing a new name and pressing Enter. On a Mac, click once on the folder and press the Return key. Type a new name and press Return again.

If you dig down and double click enough, you can take a tour of a few dozen folders on your computer. That's probably all you're allowed to get into. The rest are off-limits because they hold vital operating files. Some of these folders have the computer equivalent of a "No Entry" sign while the others are just plain hidden away. Your computer does this because it knows about the kids who come to your house on Thanksgiving -- you know, the ones who say "Can we play on your computer?" -- and that know-it-all brother-in-law who deleted all your printer files one day.

How many folders are off-limits? On my main computer, I can only travel through 20 or 30 folders. Doing a backup, I noticed that my backup software counted more than 100,000 folders in all. That's a lot. It's a good thing your computer will keep those off-limit folders out of sight the next time you're trying to find where your pictures went.

Next: Where things go.