Is your computer a mess? Do you spend a lot of time searching for files, or searching for the program you want to use? Do you want to protect your data? Here are some tips that I have found useful.
Storing data files | Use replacements (improvements) for Windows Explorer | Keep data on a separate partition | Protect important files | Use strong passwords | Folders and subfolders | Use software to organize your music | Make backups | Use clever names for your files | Keep your computer clean | Use keyboard shortcuts
Storing data files
Keep all your files together in one folder: My Documents. This folder is easily accessible from many programs. And each user on the same computer can have his/her own My Documents folder. If all your data are in the My Documents folder it is easy to make regular backups.
On the hard disk (C:) the folder is usually kept in this location: C:\Documents and Settings\Username\My Documents. But is is even better to keep your data on a separate partition.
Within the My Documents folder you will have to make more
folders and subfolders to keep your data well organized.
Use replacements for Windows Explorer
Windows Explorer has its limitations. That's why there are now several programs that can be used to do the same tasks (and more), but easier and better. Use for example Total Commander. It has several very useful functions such as:
Two file windows side by side (very easy for copying and moving files)
A very fast search function
Compare files / synchronize directories
Support for ZIP, ARJ, LZH, RAR, UC2, TAR, GZ, CAB, ACE archive handling
Built-in FTP client
Multiple language support
Total commander is a Shareware software that can be downloaded from the Total Commander Home Page. I love and recommend Total Commander, but you can also try other programs that can be used as Windows Explorer replacements.
Keep data on a separate partition
Nowadays, hard disks are very big and often they have been divided in two or more partitions. For example a physical hard disk of 80 Gigabyte could be split up in 2 partitions, C: and D: of 40 Gigabyte each. If that's the case, it is recommended to keep your operating system (Windows) and program files on one partition (C:), while you keep all your data files on the other partition (D:). The reason to do this is that if your operating system has serious problems it is possible to format the C: partition without disturbing all your valuable files on the D: partition.
On most computers you will find that the My Documents folder, the operating system and all program files are all on the same partition (usually C:). But it is easy to move the My Documents folder to another partitions. To move the My Documents folder from C: to D: follow these steps:
Create a new folder on D: with the name My Documents
Click on Start
Click with the right mouse button on My Documents and select Properties
Click on Move and then select the My Documents folder on D: as destination
You will get the question if you want to move all document from the old location to the new location. Click OK and wait until all files have been moved.
Protect important files
You always keep important documents under lock and key. Also on your computer several of your files are "for your eyes only". If you want to be sure that other people cannot read your letters or see your photos, you should encrypt them and protect them with a password. There are several programs that can do this for you.
I am very satisfied with the program
Silver Key. After installing it, this program becomes integrated with windows explorer. Just right-click on the file (or folder) that you want to encrypt and give a password. This will immediately create a new encrypted file that can only be opened by entering the same password. Always
Use strong passwords
Whenever you are using passwords there is a good reason for this. The reason is to protect information, for example to protect access to a website, or to protect a file from being opened by unauthorized users. If you use a password to protect your information you better protect it with a very strong password.
There are several ways that passwords can be broken:
Guessing the password (simple passwords like the name of your girlfriend can be guessed)
Trying many different passwords (computers are fast and can find passwords by trying many different passwords until they find the right one)
Stealing the password (there is software that can spy on you and can steal the password while you type it)
Your strategy should be to minimize the risk that your password will be broken. Remember the following points:
Don't use existing words as passwords. These are easy to guess, and computer programs can quickly use words in dictionaries until they find the correct password.
Avoid passwords that consist only of numbers, or passwords with only lower case letters. Use a combination of numbers and letters (combine both lower case and upper case letters). The reason is that this gives much strong password. See also my page on
Make the password as long as possible, but use at least 9 characters.
Keep you computer clean from spyware and viruses. Scan your computer and remove all viruses and spyware, preferable daily, but at least once a week.
Folders and subfolders
You probably have several thousands data files on your computer; letters, photos, music, videos, emails, etc. Keeping them all together in My Documents is a good idea, but to keep it properly organized you will have to create some clever folders and subfolders.
Often your computer will have already a few special folders (My Pictures, My Videos, My Music). Make a few more, with names that reflect the type of data you have. For example: My Letters, My Reports, My Downloaded Internet sites, My Webs, My Emails, My Databases.
Now within these folders make clever subfolders. There are several ways to do this. Here are some example:
In the My Letters folder you could make subfolders for the people you write often. For example:
My Documents/My Letters/Friends/
My Documents/My Letters/Friends/Peter/
My Documents/My Letters/Friends/Irene/
My Documents/My Letters/Friends/zz_other/
My Documents/My Letters/Insurances/Health/
My Documents/My Letters/Insurances/Car/
My Documents/My Letters/Parents/
My Documents/My Letters/zz_other/
(Note that the last folder is called zz_other to make sure that it is always last in the list)
In the My Pictures folder I recommend a different approach. First make some folders for the different types of pictures that you have. One of these will probably be called Photos. This Photos folder will be a big one, with many hundreds or thousands of photos, especially if you own a digital camera. To keep track of so many files, sort them first by year, then by month, and finally by topic. To keep months in the correct order it helps to put a number before the name (01_January, 02_February, etc.) Here is an or example:
My Documents/My Pictures/Drawings/Insects/
My Documents/My Pictures/Drawings/zz_other/
My Documents/My Pictures/Maps
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/08_August/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/09_September/Birthday party/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/09_September/Boat trip/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/09_September/Other/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/10_October/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/11_November/Wedding party/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/11_November/Other/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2005/12_December/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2006/01_January/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/2006/02_February/
My Documents/My Pictures/Photos/zz_other/
My Documents/My Pictures/Scans/Newspaper articles/
My Documents/My Pictures/Scans/Official documents/
My Documents/My Pictures/Scans/zz_other
My Documents/My Pictures/zz_other/
Even with this system it may be difficult to find a particular photo if you don't remember the correct date. Therefore it is also necessary to use clever names for your files.
Use software to organize your music
What about these few hundred CDs in your house? Copy them to your computer (all of them) and let the computer do the rest. You are probably tempted to start organizing all the music files in directories with names of artists, names of CDs, etc. But this is a lot of work especially if you have hundreds of CDs with thousands of songs. The computer can do this faster and better than you.
I have played around with several programs that can organize and play music files, and my final recommendation is: MediaMonkey. Just let MediaMonkey organize your music. Make sure that the music folder is within your My Documents folder (easy for making backups) or put all the music in a My Music folder and let Mediamonkey do the rest. With its build-in search function you will be able to find any song instantly. And to accommodate your different moods: make play lists.
Go to the MediaMonkey homepage for downloading the program (it's free).
Another program called iTunes is also quite good (iTunes homepage) but a bit slow in starting up.
If you don't have several up-to-date backups of all your data files, some day you will regret it. Probably the most important tip for everybody is: Invest in a DVD recorder, invest in a second hard disk, and start making backups. Do this regularly, which means at least once a week if you are not so active on the computer, and do it every day if you work a lot.
If you have kept all your data files in the My Documents folder, making a backup is easy. Just copy the entire folder to another hard disk or to a DVD. But wait a minute … there are programs that keep data files in other locations. For example if you use Outlook, you may find that the data files (extension PST) are kept in a folder C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook\ . Remember that you should also backup these files. Look carefully on your computer if there are other data files that should be included in the backup as well.
Making a complete backup of all your files can be time consuming. But you don't need to make complete backups all the time. If you already have a few (3 or 4) complete backups (stored in separate safe places), you only need to backup the files that you have added or edited recently (since the last backup). There are many software tools available to help you do this. In the
Total Commander program there is an easy function to Compare and Synchronize directories. I always use this tool to quickly compare the content of my hard disk with the content of my backup disks. Then I just copy the files that were changed.
Remember this: "Your data can never be too backed up – ever".
Use clever names for your files
With thousands of data files on your hard disk it can be difficult to find the file you need. Therefore, always use file names that consist of keywords. A file name such as DSC004521.jpg means nothing. But if you rename it to "Birthday party Irene 10 years 2006 cutting cake.jpg" it is very likely that even when Irene is already 25 you can still locate this memorable moment without too much trouble. This tip is not only for naming your photos, but any data file on your computer (reports, drawings, letters, music, etc.) should have file names with a meaning.
There are many software programs that can help you finding back your files. For example to help find photos, the
Picasa program is an excellent tool.
Naming or renaming files can be time consuming if you have to do it file by file. There are tools that can help you rename several files at the same time, for example within the
Total Commander program there is a very handy multi-rename tool that helps you to quickly rename an entire folder of similar photos. The program also has a clever search tool to help you find back your files.
Another useful program that can help you to search in your own computer is Google desktop search.
Keep your computer clean
Maintain your computer regularly, especially if you make a lot of use of the internet. But also after installing or uninstalling software programs it may be useful to give some extra attention to your computer. The problems I see occurring all the time are adware, spyware and viruses. Therefore:
Use antivirus software to keep your computer safe from internet attacks.
You must have a virus scanning software installed and make sure that it is up-to-date. Make regular virus scans of your hard disk, at least once a week.
(I have bad experience with Norton Antivirus. When I had a virus (ww32.rontokbro@mm) the program got into a loop of discovering and deleting the virus, which prevented me from using the computer until I disable the antivirus program. When I contacted Norton about this, they wanted me to pay extra to help with the problem. I refused of course, because I had paid already for the program. A free antivirus program (Avira Antivir) then solved the problem. Bye bye Norton.) Unfortunately, after using Avira for almost 3 years, I had reinstalled Windows and then could not get my paid version of Avira to work again. They sent me a long list of instructions on how to proceed, but I feel that if their installation doesn't work smoothly I better move on. I have now started using AVG; for the moment I am satisfied.
Install programs that can remove adware and spyware. I have good experience with the programs “Ad-Aware SE” and “XoftSpy”.
Use programs that can repair the Registry. You will see that this improves the speed of your computer, especially if you have installed and uninstalled a lot of software. I have always good results with the program “Registry Healer” and “Advanced System Care”. The latter does much more than cleaning the registry and it's free.
Use shortcut keys
Use keyboard shortcuts to start programs you often use. It's faster than using the mouse. To add a shortcut key, click the Start Button and then find the programs you often use. Right-click on the program name and then select Properties. Enter a shortcut key which you can easy remember and click OK. For example I use the following keyboard shortcuts to start these programs I use almost every day:
- Ctrl-Shift-W for Word
- Ctrl-Shift-E for Excel
- Ctrl-Shift-A for Access
See also: Evernote