Tips and Tricks
Mel Babb © 2006

Interior Decorating, or High Fashion with Files and folders
In the previous article about files and folders, July 2006, I ended by describing some of the ways file dialog boxes can be manipulated. The similarities and differences of boxes opened from Microsoft Windows XP (like My Computer and My Documents) and boxes opened inside of Microsoft Office programs (like Open and Save as) were explored. I explained how once you have found the way you like to display your files and folders (called the view), you can make all the file boxes in Microsoft open this way. When you are in a Windows file box, like My Documents, click Tools, Folder Options. Then choose the View tab and Click “Apply to all folders”.

Shortcut icons are like remote control buttons


Figure 1 At Top of File Box

  If you have lots of folders and files created in different programs, also making the following setting changes can help you manage them and know more specifically what you have. Click Tools, Folder Options and click on the View tab. In the Advanced settings section, check “Display the full path in the Address Bar”. This will show the


hierarchy of folders where the file selected is located in the address bar, Figure 1. The bar looks very much like the bar where a web address appears in a web browser like Internet Explorer. Note that in the title bar (the blue band at the top of the file box) only the folder name appears. While you are in the view dialog box, you can choose to dot “Show hidden files and folders”. This will display all the special files and folders that make the programs work. These are not shown by default, because Microsoft is trying to prevent you from inadvertently deleting a needed file. If you are troubleshooting a problem, it’s helpful to see all these kinds of files and folders. Otherwise, you can leave them hidden. Click OK.

Drag Files Around – Just like on Your Real Desktop
You can open several file box windows and actually drag files from one window into a folder in another window, which is helpful when the “to and from” folder are far apart in the folder structure. Another kind of icon that appears in the file and folder lists, is the shortcut icon, many of which are seen on the desktop. Most of these have an arrow on the icon image2. Shortcut icons are like remote control buttons. These icons simply point to where the real file is. When you click on a shortcut, they “access” the file and open it. They are not the actual file. So you can delete a shortcut without removing the real program file.
In actuality, the My Documents folder is really a shortcut, and an exception because it does not have an arrow on it. This means you can make My Documents point to any folder you want. The definitive way to tell if an icon represents a shortcut or a file is to right click on it and choose properties. If it has a Target tab, or a Shortcut tab it’s a shortcut. In the target box you make the shortcut point to any folder you want. (Useful if you had a folder structure already set up with your files with a name like documents or data).
Finding a lost file

Figure 2 On Toolbar of File Dialog Box

  If you can remember anything about the file, you can find it by using the Search dialog box. It’s slow but it finds it. After experimenting with lots of ways to find a file, this seems to be the most efficient. Just once, change the default settings on the Search dialog box. Open My Documents either from the Desktop or the Start menu. Click the Search button on the toolbar. In the Search box, click “Change preferences”, then


“Change files and folders search behavior”. Dot “Advanced….” and close the box. This will make the box look more like it did in Windows 98. To search for something, open My Documents, My Computer or Windows Explorer and click on the Folders icon, Figure 2, on the toolbar. Then in the left pane click on the drive or folder you want to search in. (To search everything click on My Computer).
In addition to searching for words in a file or folder name, from this box you can search, any phrase inside the document, or a time period when the document was last modified. Fill in the information and click search and wait.
If you want instant gratification, and a way to find any word in an email, web page you’ve looked at or file, download and install the Google Desktop which will give results in a few seconds or less! I wouldn’t be without it! To locate it from the Google home page, click more, even more, then Desktop. After it’s installed it will spend up to several hours indexing your hard drive. It does this in the background and updates as you add files, receive email and browse the internet.
About File Extensions and Types of Files
Each file has instructions encoded in it that determine which program is needed to run it. It’s helpful to understand a bit about the different kind of files you may encounter. First what they are and then more about the types. There are the files you use: graphic, text, audio, and video files. Graphic files can be permanently made smaller using special compression software. The rest can be temporarily compressed or zipped to make them smaller to send in an email or for storage to conserve space on the hard drive. Special files you use include email, address book, favorites (bookmarks), backup, htm/html (web page files), pdf for Adobe Acrobat reader files. Elaboration of these will be done in the third part of this series. The kinds of files that the computer uses include program, drivers, dat (virus definition), and updates to programs files. Each category of file has three ways to identify it: a type name (Word, Excel), an extension (doc, xls) and an icon


to identify it. Yes, redundancy exists.
Some Terminology
Extension is 2-4 characters after a dot (.) at the end of a file name that identifies which program uses the file. A file you would use is associated with the program needed to open it.
Bit size describes how many colors can be displayed in different graphic types of files
1 bit – black & white
8 bit - 256 shades of grayscale, or 256 colors
16 bit - High Color, 65,536 colors
24 bit - True Color, 16,777,216 colors
32 bit - True Color, 4,294,967,296 colors
Pixel "picture element" is a specific x,y coordinate (“dot”) on your screen. A high-resolution setting displays more pixels per inch. In practical terms, the same picture on a 19” monitor using 800 x 600 resolution looks larger than it does using 1024 x 768 resolution because the pixels are spread out over a larger area.
Specific Extensions
Here’s a closer look at the files you use. Hundreds if not thousands of extensions exist to identify file type, also known as the file format. Go to,289933,sid9,00.html to see how extensive extensions are! We are only going to look at a few very common ones. In My Documents and My Computer the type and icon (not the extension) are shown by default. (To see the extension, in My Documents click Tools, Folder Options, View Tab. Uncheck “Hide extensions for known file types”). A plain text file type is txt. It can be read by just about everything. But it is limited in the characters it recognizes. A variation on this is csv for comma separated value. This is a generic database file where the fields of data in the database table are separated by commas. If you export and import address book information you may encounter this kind of file. Rich text format, rtf, is the generic windows file which can be read by most word processors. You can save files from Word in rtf format so they can be read in Works wps or Word Perfect wpd and vice versa. (The newer versions of these programs will make the conversion automatically for you). Other file types and file extensions are: Excel, xls; PowerPoint, ppt; PowerPoint Slide Show, pps; Access, mdb.


Figure 3 File Types Paint Can Save

Graphic Files
Graphic files open as images or pictures or screen shots. Here’s a very brief description of some of the graphic files you encounter in emails or when trying to decide what format to save a graphic in. Figure 3 shows the formats that the Paint program which is included with Windows uses. The bmp files are large (except for monochrome bmp) and will not go onto web pages. Jpeg, jpg, is often used, because a large picture file (1 mb) can be compressed into a small file (100 kb). Photographs are often saved in a jpeg format and can be used on web pages. When graphics are whizzed around the internet smaller is better. When graphics are printed, larger is better. Be aware, though, that when jpeg compresses it discards some of the original data of the picture, not usually enough to notice (although I detect blotchiness in compressed pictures of faces). Be sure to keep the original size picture file, if you want to try different percentages of jpeg. Many graphic and picture programs let you select how compressed you want the jpeg, which Paint does not. A free program I like and use is Irfan viewer.
To make graphics move, like those little cartoon things, takes the animated gif format. Also, if your picture is grayscale, has large areas of one solid color, or has areas of high contrast (sharp differences between light areas and dark areas), choose the gif format. It does better than jpeg.
The printing industry often uses tiff, (usable by several programs), psd (Adobe PhotoShop), and pub (Microsoft Publisher) format. Printing ink on paper on a printing press requires higher resolution (more dpi, dots per inch) than displaying on a monitor. Some printing places allow a jpeg 300dpi file that is the final dimensions you want, in other words, a 2.5x2.5 inch image, at 300dpi.
If you click “Save picture as”, in an email to save a picture and the only choice you get is bmp, cancel that box and try this. Right click on the picture and click copy. Open Paint or Irfan (or the graphic software you use) and paste it there. (You do not need to open a file to do this, just paste). Then save the picture or graphic as a jpeg or gif. The file will be smaller.
Audio and video files
Much can be said about audio and video formats. Others have explored them more than I care to here. These are some that will play in the Windows media player which comes with Windows: Audio: mp3, wma, wav, ra; Video: avi, ram, mpg, qt. Other programs exist to edit existing audio and video files and to create them.
Files the Computer or Programs Use
I’m only going to mention a few that you might encounter: program, drivers, dat (virus definition), and updates to programs files. When you download a program, or install it from a CD/DVD, it often has an exe extension. This file will open and run a software program. Sometimes the program is an unzip or uncompress program (which will be covered in the next article of this series). Updates to programs such as Windows, virus and spyware programs need to be downloaded from the internet and will have exe extensions. The updates are needed to incorporate better features or to “fix” things in the original or to stay ahead of hackers who want to mess up your computer. Technology changes so fast, that better ways are constantly evolving, making updates necessary.
Drivers, often exe extensions, are programs that give instructions to Windows about how a hardware component of your computer system works. Some of the common components are printer, camera, and router. Improved instructions and new or updated drivers can be downloaded and installed. The virus and spyware programs use, among other techniques, data definition dat files to discover virus or spy code on your computer. The updates for these need to be downloaded regularly.
Files the computer uses make the hardware work. Without them the box would just sit there. The program files let you create what you want, email, letters, pictures, databases, spreadsheets, and browse the internet. The file dialog box gives you a way to save and retrieve your files. Rearrange the file box contents the way you like it.
Mel Babb, a long time member of HAL-PC, is currently an instructor and on the volunteer help committee at HAL-PC. She runs her own company, PC Tutoring Services. She comes to your office or home and creates notes for you on what you want to learn. Contact her at 713-981-5641 or email at © 2006