technofile template Geeks need not apply, Part 4: Biggest computer mystery: Where things go

Let's demystify this. No jargon, I promise.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


Geeks need not apply, Part 4:
Biggest computer mystery: Where things go

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

We all lose things now and then. Especially on our computers.

We connect our cameras with the cables that came with them or stick memory cards into slots, hoping that a miracle will happen and we'll actually be able to see our photos somewhere on the computer.

Or we tackle that most inscrutable of all mysteries-- downloading -- and spend the rest of the evening trying to find where the thing went. Or, actually, trying to figure out what the blasted thing was called, and then where it went.

Tooth extraction would be more fun.

So let's demystify the problem of where things go. No jargon, I promise.

Photos can go either of two places when you connect your camera or your camera's memory card to your computer. They can be absorbed into a photo library -- this is what typically happens on a Mac -- or they can be dumped into a folder, as happens on most Windows PCs.

The Mac approach is 4 zillion times better than any other method, because your pictures always end up in iPhoto, the cute photo software that comes free with Macs. But other ways aren't all bad, because pictures don't actually get lost; in most cases, they're deposited in the Pictures folder. If you're good at navigating around your computer, just look in the Pictures (or "My Pictures") folder.

A quick tip: Windows users can download and install Picasa (it's free) for handling photos. It automatically finds your photos when you dump them out of your camera, no matter where they go. It's almost as cool as using iPhoto. Get Picasa from

As for downloads, stop sighing and write this down: Downloading means loading a file from another computer down the network to your computer. (OK, I tried. Now I'll tell you what really happens. When you download something, your computer has a file it didn't have before.)

You have to find the thing you downloaded. The two places it could go are:

1. Your desktop. Yes, that means you've got to clear out the 347 items that are on your desktop so you can find whatever was just added. Here's what I do: I create a new folder, select everything EXCEPT "My Computer" or "Macintosh HD" and drag all the other stuff into the new folder. Now you have a clean desktop.

2. Your Download folder, which might be spelled "Downloads." All but really old Windows PCs and ancient Macs have such a folder. Search for it in Windows by typing the name into the Start menu's search line and pressing Enter. Search on a Mac by holding the Command key while pressing the Spacebar, then let go and type the name and press Return. Double click on whatever your computer finds to open the folder.

You'll earn a couple of stars if you already know that once you've downloaded a program, you have to install it. That usually means you have to double-click the icon for the thing you downloaded. Your computer will then install the software. (You'll have to answer a few questions sometimes, and you can just click the "OK" button.) After the program is installed, you'll find it in your Start menu for Windows or your "Applications" folder for a Mac.

(Sometimes Mac programs don't need any sort of fancy installation. You simply drag them to the "Applications" folder. Or if you have a recent Mac and know that there's such a thing as the Mac App Store, you don't have to do anything at all once you've chosen an application at the store and clicked on it to buy it. The Mac App Store does the rest and magically places the new app where it belongs. Cool. Windows needs to catch up on this.)

But you'll get two demerits if you forget Housecleaning 101. Except for stuff you get from the Mac App Store, you absolutely must get rid of the downloaded program file. Don't let downloads pile up. Drag it to the trash once you've installed the software. Empty the trash, too. You won't need that file any more. (Quick note: If the downloaded file shows up as a drive-looking thing on your Mac desktop, drag that icon to the trash before you get rid of the actual downloaded file. Yes, it's a different file from the one on your desktop.)