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Cleaner desktop fever hassles

Feb, 2008: Follow the golden rule of a place for everything, and everything in its place to 'de-clutter' your PC, suggests Nizar Diamond Ali.

Information overdose is one of the main areas of concerns for netizens in 2008 as new ways to exchange information online keep growing and bombarding users. From e-mails, IMs, social networking, blogs, twitters to RSS and P2P there are a number of incoming items that one has to keep track of. In this regard, its easy to pile up loads of items in PC in an unorganised manner, such that it becomes extremely difficult and time-consuming, if not outright impossible, to locate a file or a piece of important information when it is needed.

The amount of electronic clutter on personal PCs has increased so much that especialised desktop search tools have evolved to solve problems of locating relevant information.

Yet, the better way is to de-clutter, delete and organise the PC in a way that it follows the golden rule a place for everything and everything in its place!

So, today we will explore two areas of a PC which are often found littered with information on home and work place PCs, and see how these areas can be streamlined. These areas are desktop and files / folders on hard disk.

Desktop

Some people are in the habit of saving e-mail attachments, downloads, files copied from friends' USB disks and new documents to desktop presumably for the sake of easy access. True as the case may be, but continuing to place files results in a cluttered desktop from top-left to bottom-right. This not only makes the PC look ugly, but it becomes increasingly difficult to find relevant stuff.

To counter the instinctive use, start with creating folders such as Downloads, Documents and Misc on the desktop and use these folders to save files. This will ensure enough empty space on the desktop.

Ultimately, move these folders under your named folder in the hard disk. Some avid desktop users even create dated folders when their desktop is over-crowded. However, it is important to assimilate such folders into the above mentioned folders to avoid disorganised information.

Files and folders on hard disk

One of the reasons why people push desktop to its limits is because they are almost sure that any thing placed outside it or anywhere in any other folder on the hard disk will probably get lost. The key to an aesthetic and clean desktop is a learn and organised folder hierarchy on disk.

Let us build one. Start with a folder with your own name -- if you do not have one till now and place all the important files here. This includes everything you create and access, and you would like to move if you change the PC. Create context-wise sub-folders in your own-named folder, like Books, Documents (with sub-folders CVs, Financial, Educational, Reference etc), Downloads, Multimedia (with sub-folders Songs, Movies, Images, Icons etc), and Setups folder to hold programme downloaded from the internet and important device drivers.

Now go through the entire hard disk and copy-paste items spread all over the disk into these organised first level of folders under your own-named folders. This also prevents accidental deletion of important documents if Windows is reinstalled and My Documents folder is overwritten as a result. When all the information is consolidated under folders mentioned above, then you can streamline them further by creating context or date-wise sub-folders. For example, a student can create folder MBA, with sub-folders Semester-1, Semester-2 etc, each with sub-folders of relevant subjects, which can be further sub-divided into Report, Tests, Reference etc. This makes it very simple to locate information, say term report of Economics: you will find it in folder c:\Nizar\Documents\Education\ MBA\Semester-1\Economics\ Report

Archive of the least used files
While mopping up the vast disk spaces, you may find files that are not needed right now, or in foreseeable future but still holds some importance. Place them in a folder with a relevant name, for example, Java_Work, 3D_Models etc., and zip that folder. Place the zip file (automatically named Java_Work.zip) in the Archives folder and delete the actual one. This makes up free space, so copying and moving becomes easier and reduces the number of folders one has to keep. Thus, Archives folder under your own-named folder will hold all information that is irrelevant at present but important enough to be saved.

Use naming convention
Come up with custom naming conventions to name files and folders. For example, using prefix 01, 02 etc, is a good way to keep files and folders listed in order since otherwise they are listed alphabetically which is not particularly useful. This comes in handy when a project has a fixed number of files. For example, company policies and procedures folder could have files sequentially numbered for easy access.

Another way to embed visual information in files and folders is to append date with the file name and possibly version number so that chances of accidental removal or overwriting is minimised. Also, do not use spaces between file names instead, use underscore. Such naming scheme also helps in keeping frequency based files organised.

For example, a monthly report can be named as 01.Status_Report_Jan_2008.xls. All subsequent reports will then be automatically listed chronologically in folder if you follow this naming scheme. And any file that is not a status report will be easy to identify, to move into another folder. One more organisation tip is to name folders according to years whenever it makes sense. Say, a doctor can have folders 2007 and 2008 under c:\doctor-name\patient_log\ to keep time-relevant information compartmentalised.

Start slow and proceed gradually
At first, this may seem a daunting task to have a detailed folder layout, and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the perceived effort it will take to organise the information spread over desktop and numerous folders into one of your own-named folder. Start small with a couple of levels -- as and when you have time to spare, continue to refine the folder structure deeper, and ultimately it will become a habit a second nature.

The time needed to organise information once is less than the combined time wasted in looking for relevant information if considered over a slightly longer period of time, say, a quarter. So consider organisation time as an investment that would pay off immediately as well as in longer run with higher efficiency, reduced stress and most importantly, time is saved.

It also makes it very easy to take backups online or offline, say over DVDs. Moreover, you can even impress your boss and surprise your peers with the speed with which you will be responding to e-mails requesting some information, when generally people take hours with fair amount of uncertainty to locate even a year old report or a presentation. Dawn
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