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Managing Files in Windows XP Home Edition

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Windows XP really doesn't add anything new in terms of what you can do with your files. What it does add is a much easier way to perform essential file management tasks. This sample chapter from TechTV: Microsoft Windows XP for Home Users explains Windows XP's new method of file management.
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Understanding Files and Folders

Every computer user has to work with files. Whether you're downloading MP3 files from the Internet or sharing Word documents with a friend or colleague, you need to know several essential file-related tasks. You have to know how to copy files, delete files, move files, and rename files. And you have to know which file management tools to use to perform these tasks.

Windows XP really doesn't add anything new in terms of what you can do with your files. What it does add is a much easier way to perform essential file management tasks. Everything you need to do is out in the open, instead of being hidden behind pull-down menus or obscure right-click commands.

In addition, Windows XP tries to anticipate what you want to do when you select a file. If you select an image file, for example, you are presented with a list of image-related operations. If you select an MP3 file, you are presented with a different list of audio-related operations. This context sensitivity isn't perfect, but it does a pretty good job of helping you do what needs to be done.

I think that these improvements to file management offer a compelling reason to upgrade to Windows XP. The simple addition of an activity center panel in My Computer doesn't sound like that big a deal, but its impact is tremendous. That one little panel makes so many things so much easier to accomplish. It's amazing.

My only wish is that Microsoft had incorporated this type of file management years ago. This is the kind of thing that should have been in Windows from the beginning. Fortunately for us, it's here now. A few years late, perhaps, but welcome nonetheless.

Understanding Files and Folders

Before I get into Windows XP's new method of file management, let's spend a little space on a files-and-folder refresher course. (Just in case you forgot, of course.)

The files and folders on your computer are like the files and folders in a typical filing cabinet. Your computer is the filing cabinet, and it contains folders that contain individual files.

On your computer, every file and folder has a unique name and occupies a distinct location. A filename consists of a main name and a three character "extension," separated by a period. A typical filename looks something like this: main name of this file.ext.

Extensions are typically identified with specific types of files. For example, Microsoft Word documents have a .doc extension. Whenever you see a file ending in .doc, you know it's a Word document.


Prior to Windows 95, filenames were limited to eight main characters plus a three-character extension. Windows no longer has this "8+3" limitation. Filenames can now include up to 255 characters, and can use spaces and special characters.

Files are stored on your disk in folders. A folder can contain both files and additional folders. (A folder within a folder is called a subfolder.)

The exact location of a file is called its path and contains all the folders leading to the file. For example, a file named filename.doc that exists in the system folder that is contained in the windows folder on your c:\ drive has a path that looks like this: c:\windows\ system\filename.doc


What current versions of Windows call "folders," Windows 3.x and MS-DOS called "directories." Some older computer users—like me—occasionally slip and refer to folders as directories. Don't get confused. A folder and a directory are the same thing.

Learning how to use files and folders is a necessary skill for all computer users. You may need to copy files from one folder to another, or from your hard disk to a floppy disk. You certainly need to delete files every now and then.

Any time you have to work directly with files or folders, you use one of Windows XP's file-management tools or upper-level Windows folders. I show you how to use each of these tools in the next section.

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