Understanding Files and Folders
All the information on your computer is stored in files. A file is nothing more than a
collection of digital data. The contents of a file can be a document (such as a Word
memo or Excel spreadsheet), a digital photo or music track, or the executable code
for a software program. The contents of a file can be a document from an applica-
tion (such as a Works worksheet or a Word document), or they can be the executable
code for the application itself.
Every file has its own unique name. A defined
structure exists for naming files, and its con-
ventions must be followed for Windows to
understand exactly what file you want when
you try to access one. Each filename must con-
sist of two parts, separated by a period—the
name (to the left of the period) and the extension
(to the right of the period). A filename can con-
sist of letters, numbers, spaces, and characters
and looks something like this:
Windows stores files in folders. A folder is like a
master file; each folder can contain both files
and additional folders. 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 itself contained in the
windows folder on your
c:\ drive, has a path that looks like this:
Learning how to use files and folders is a necessary skill for all computer users. You
might 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. To do this in
Windows Vista, you use Windows Explorer; in
Windows XP, you use the My Documents folder.
Viewing Folders and Files
In Windows Vista you can open any Windows
Explorer to view the folders and files on your sys-
tem. Perhaps the easiest Explorer to use is the
Documents Explorer, which you open by clicking
the Documents icon on the Start menu. The
Documents Explorer opens automatically to dis-
play the contents of the Documents folder on your
computer’s hard disk.
By default, Windows hides
the extensions when it dis-
plays filenames. To display
extensions in Windows Vista,
open the Control Panel,
select Appearance and
Personalization, and then
select Folder Options. When the
Folder Options dialog box appears,
select the View tab; then, in the
Advanced Settings list, uncheck
the Hide Extensions for Known
File Types option. Click OK when
In Windows XP, use
the My Documents folder
to view your files and folders.
As you can see in Figure 7.1, the Documents Explorer displays not only individual
files but also other folders—called subfolders—that themselves contain other files.
You can perform most file-related operations by clicking the Organize button to dis-
play the Organize menu, or by right-clicking a file icon to display the context-
sensitive pop-up menu.
Display the Organize menu
Manage your
folders and files
with Windows
Changing the Way Files Are Displayed
You can choose to view the contents of a folder
in a variety of ways. To change the file view,
click the Views button on the Explorer toolbar;
this displays a pull-down menu. You can then
select from the available views: Extra Large
Icons, Large Icons, Medium Icons, Small Icons,
List, Details, or Tiles. You can also move the
slider up and down to change the size of the
file/folder icons.
Sorting Files and Folders
When viewing files in the Documents Explorer,
you can sort your files and folders in a number of
ways. To do this, right-click anywhere in the Explorer window, select the Sort By
option, and then choose to sort by Name, Date Modified, Type, Size, or Tags. You
can also choose to sort the items in either ascending or descending order.
Any of the icon views are
good for working with
graphics files, or for getting
a quick thumbnail glance at a
file’s contents. The Details
view is better if you’re
looking for files by date or

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