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This chapter is from the book

Customizing Your Desktop

You probably don't have a "formal" physical desktop at work. I'll bet that you customize it to meet every need you have. Your desk reflects the way you work. No one, for example, forced you to place the stapler in the upper-right corner.

The Windows XP desktop has some features you might not think about right away. If you right-click the desktop, for example, it has a context menu, just like everything else in Windows XP. (We discussed the context menu in the "Using Context Menus" section of Chapter 2.) Suffice it to say that there are plenty of nice surprises when it comes to arranging items under Windows XP.

The entries under the Arrange Icons By menu work just like the same entries under Explorer. (See how everything seems to have a bit of Explorer in it?) You can rearrange your icons by name, type, size, or modified date). Personally, I find the type and name orders the most convenient. You can use the Auto Arrange option to automatically keep your icons aligned and in order.

Some people detest the standard arrangements, so they put the icons in the order they want them. If you're one of these people, the Align to Grid option is custom tailored for you. It enables you to keep the icons in a specific order, but arranges them into neat rows and columns. This option provides a grid effect that enables you to keep your desktop neat yet still arranged in the order you want.

Another method for arranging icons is to use the Show in Groups option. This feature will group your icons using the chosen sorting criteria. For example, if you choose to arrange your icons by name, you'll see alphabetical groupings.

You'll find two entries in the Arrange Icons By menu that don't appear on the standard Explorer menu. The first is Show Desktop Icons. Clearing this option will remove all the icons from your desktop so that you can enjoy your wallpaper. The Lock Web Items on Desktop option, which is part of Active Desktop, prevents users from moving any Web content. This is a nice feature because it's possible to move things around without really meaning to do so.

The following sections look at the desktop as a whole. They discuss different options to make your desktop more usable, but they don't stop there. These sections are a guide to the most common tricks people use to optimize their Windows XP environment. This is an unofficial "must do" checklist you should look at when trying to get the most from your setup.

Taskbar

A major part of the Windows XP interface is the Taskbar, which appears as a horizontal bar at the bottom of the display (or on one of the sides or at the top if you decide to move the Taskbar there). The Taskbar is the central control area for most actions you'll take under Windows XP. The Taskbar contains three major elements: the Start menu, the Task List, and the Notification Area (known as the Taskbar Tray and various other names in the past). You also might see one or more toolbars. We've already discussed many of these elements in this chapter, so you should have a good feel for the Taskbar components.

It's time to discuss the Taskbar as an entity. Here are a few ways you can configure it. The Taskbar starts out at the bottom of the display, but you don't have to leave it there. With Windows XP, you can place the Taskbar on any side of the desktop. Simply drag the Taskbar where you'd like it to go. Of course, moving the Taskbar by accident would disrupt the setup you tried to hard to achieve. The Taskbar content menu contains a Lock the Taskbar entry that allows you to lock the Taskbar content and location so that you don't have to worry about inadvertent changes.

Like other objects under Windows XP, the Taskbar provides a properties dialog box. To display it, right-click the Taskbar and select Properties from the context menu. Figure 3.12 shows what the Taskbar tab of the Taskbar and Start Menu properties dialog box looks like.

Figure 3.12 Use the Taskbar tab to change your Taskbar settings.

The seven settings on the Taskbar Options tab enable you to change how it reacts. We've already discussed the Lock the Taskbar option. My personal favorite is the Auto-hide the Taskbar option. When you select this option, the Taskbar appears as a thin line at the bottom of the display (or on one of the sides or at the top if you decide to move the Taskbar there). Whenever the mouse cursor touches this line, the Taskbar resumes its normal size. This feature enables you to minimize the Taskbar to clear space for application windows, yet the Taskbar stays handy when you need it.

You should always select the Keep the Taskbar on Top of Other Windows option. Otherwise, the applications you have running at the time could hide the Taskbar, making it hard to work with. To access a hidden Taskbar, you'd have to minimize most of the running applications—a time-consuming and unnecessary process.

Some people run many applications at the same time. Normally, the Taskbar displays applications in the same order that you start them. The Group similar Taskbar buttons option places the icons in alphabetical order, making them easier to find in some cases.

The Show Quick Launch option displays the Quick Launch toolbar on the Taskbar when selected. We discussed the Quick Launch toolbar in the "Customizing the Quick Launch Toolbar" section of the chapter, so I won't discuss it again here.

The Show the Clock field enables you to clear more space for applications. Simply clear this option to hide the clock from view. You can normally add one more application to the Taskbar and see it clearly by removing the clock.

The Notification Area normally contains a wealth of icons. As you install more vendor-specific drivers, the number of icons seems to increase. Eventually, the Notification Area consumes a great deal of space on the Taskbar—space that's wasted if you don't use the icon. Use the Hide inactive icons option to hide these icons until you actually need them.

Windows XP will always hide inactive icons if you use the default settings. However, if you click Customize, you'll see the Customize Notifications dialog box, as shown in Figure 3.13. This dialog box shows the current and past icons. The list box next to each item allows you to always show, always hide, or hide icons when inactive. In short, you can keep the icons you use all the time and hide those you never use.

Figure 3.13 The Customize Notifications dialog box allows you to choose which icons always appear in the Notification Area.

Right-clicking the Taskbar displays a few other object-specific options, all of which affect the way Windows XP organizes the applications displayed on the Taskbar:

  • Toolbars This option contains a list of toolbar options for the Taskbar. We already discussed this feature in the "Using Toolbars" section of this chapter, so I won't discuss it again here.

  • Cascade Windows When you select this option, all application windows are resized to the same size. Windows XP arranges them diagonally, much like the display in a spreadsheet when you open more than one file. You can select any application in the list by clicking its title bar (the area at the top of the application window that contains the application's name).

  • Tile Windows Horizontally or Tile Windows Vertically Use either of these options if you want to see the window areas of all your applications at one time. Windows XP uses every available inch of desktop space to place the applications side by side, either horizontally or vertically. Each application receives about the same amount of space.

  • Show the Desktop If your screen is so cluttered that you can't tell what's open and what's not, use this option to clean up the mess. The Show the Desktop option minimizes every application you have running on the desktop.

  • Task Manager This option displays the Windows Task Manager, which provides a quick way to check your system's performance. We'll discuss this feature in detail in the "Using Task Manager" section of Chapter 5.

Desktop Settings

Most people look to desktop settings as the means to improve the appearance of their computers. Just changing an object's color won't make it work better, but it'll affect the way you view your system. A new piece of wallpaper or a change of color can produce a subtle performance increase. Any positive change in attitude usually translates into improved efficiency. I find that changing my wallpaper and display colors from time to time gives my computer that "new" feel everyone needs occasionally.

Other reasons can necessitate a change of configuration. For example, wallpaper, although attractive to the eye, chews up valuable memory. You might run into a situation in which memory is at a premium. Giving up your wallpaper is one way to increase memory to complete a specific task.

Eyestrain is also a common problem among computer users. Sitting for eight hours in front of a monitor doesn't do anyone's eyes much good. If you're like me, however, you probably spend more than eight hours a day staring at the screen. Somewhere along the way, you might want to make your icons and text bigger to reduce eye fatigue. Changing your desktop settings to improve readability is a very practical use of this feature.

Themes

We already discussed one use for Windows XP themes in the "Switching to the Windows 2000 Interface" section of this chapter. When you select the Windows Classic theme, you also change the interface to look like Windows 2000. The Windows XP theme reverts the display to the one we've used in most of the chapters.

NOTE

Even though Windows 2000 shipped without the Desktop Themes icon in the Control Panel, you can still use themes with it. The Microsoft Knowledge Base article "Q257841 – How to Configure Desktop Themes in Windows 2000" (http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q257/8/41.ASP) tells how to start the Desktop Themes dialog box so that you can use themes under Windows 2000. Another Knowledge Base article, "Q258478 – Windows 2000 Desktop Themes Compatibility" (http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q258/4/78.ASP), tells about compatibility problems you may have with certain themes. These compatibility problems also appear in Windows XP.

Fortunately, with Windows XP, you can still use all of the themes with a .THEME extension that you used under Windows 9x and Windows 2000. When you use a theme with Windows XP, the interface reverts to the Windows Classic form. Microsoft has opted not to publish the application programming interface (API) for Windows XP themes. (An API makes it easier for people to develop add-ons to a product.) A Windows XP theme contains more information than one used with Windows 9x or Windows 2000.

TIP

One of the more interesting places to find help with Windows themes is ThemeDoctor.com. Desktop Architect (http://www.themedoctor.com/cafe_pg.shtml) provides better support for themes than you'll find in Windows. It not only allows you full control over the installed themes, but also provides more theme settings than Microsoft does. In addition, you can download (among other things) additional wallpaper and screensavers from this site.

The problem is that Microsoft uses a new technique for handling themes, and your old theme files may require a few changes. For example, you'll find that there's no Plus folder under the Programs folder—themes are stored in individual user directories when working with Windows XP. You'll add at least the .THEME file to your \Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Application Data\Microsoft\Windows\Themes folder.

The one change that most themes will require is some means of handling the %ThemeDir% entry they all contain. You can take care of this requirement by adding an environment variable to your Windows XP setup. This variable tells Windows XP what ThemeDir means. You add environment variables by right-clicking My Computer and selecting Properties. You'll see a System Properties dialog box. Select Advanced and click Environment Variables. Figure 3.14 shows the Environment Variables dialog box.

You have two choices at this point. Placing the ThemeDir environment variable in the User variables list will make it accessible for only the current user; placing it in the System variables list will make it accessible to all users. Go the User variable route if you want everyone to have a separate set of themes. This method uses more hard drive space, but ensures that changes made by one person won't affect anyone else. If you're running a business and want everyone to use the same set of themes, you can place in a common directory all of the files required to support the themes and place in the user's directory just the .THEME files. This technique uses less disk storage and tends to enforce a consistent look.

Figure 3.14 The Environment Variables dialog box allows you to set the ThemeDir environment variable.

When you decide which technique to use, click New under the appropriate list. Type ThemeDir in the Variable Name field and the location of the theme files in the Variable Value field. Click OK, and your themes should be ready to test.

In some cases, poorly written themes may still refuse to work. This means editing the .THEME file by hand. A .THEME file is simple text, so you can use Notepad to edit the file. Look for entries with specific directories that don't point to the resource's actual location. For example, if you placed all the cursor (.CUR) files in the D:\Themes\My Theme directory with the rest of the theme files, yet the entry in the .THEME file says that the cursor files reside in C:\Temp, then .THEME file won't work. Earlier versions of Windows overcame problems like this by placing all of the theme files in one directory and then looking at that directory before checking the file path. Because Windows XP places themes in individual user directories, you'll find that this old technique won't work. It's best to place all theme files in a single directory and then point to them using the %ThemeDir% environment variable, like this:

empty=%ThemeDir%\MyTheme\MyTheme_Empty.ico,0

Let's discuss the centralized method of handling themes in a little more detail. Create a central directory for all of the themes for your system. Using a network drive ensures that everyone in a small company can access company-approved themes and that you have to change only a single set of theme files to change everyone's system setup. I create a separate subdirectory for each theme. That way, if you need to remove a theme, you can do so without having to wade through all of the other themes on the system. For example, the first theme for your company might be located in the F:\My Company\Theme 1\ network drive.

Create the theme and place all of the supporting files in the directory you set up on the network drive. Edit the .THEME file so that it reflects the current location of the theme files. For this example, you'd change the entries for every resource in the .THEME file to read like this:

empty=%ThemeDir%\Theme 1\MyTheme_Empty.ico,0

Notice that the %ThemeDir% environment variable isolates the .THEME file from change. It would point to the F:\My Company directory in this case. However, you could easily change the environment variable later to reflect a new storage location and not have to change any of the .THEME files.

Wallpaper and Desktop Items

The Desktop page of the Display Properties dialog box has two major sections. The top half of the page shows a monitor. Changing any of the wallpaper or pattern settings immediately affects the contents of this display. The monitor gives you a thumbnail sketch of how your background will appear. The bottom section contains a list of available bitmaps and Web pages. Windows XP doesn't support the patterns found in previous versions of the product—a real loss because using patterns could dress up your display without using lots of memory.

The Wallpaper list defaults to files found in your main Windows folder. You don't have to use these files, however. Click the Browse button to look in other folders on your drive. To display wallpaper, you can center it on the background (the best choice for pictures) or tile it (the best choice for patterns). You also can choose the Stretch option, which changes the dimensions of a bitmap to fill the entire desktop area.

If you want to change the items on your Desktop, click Customize Desktop. You'll see a Desktop Items dialog box. The General tab of this dialog box allows you to set which standard icons appear on the Desktop, including My Documents, My Computer, My Network Places, and Internet Explorer. The middle of this dialog box contains a list of the standard icons and allows you to change their appearance. Finally, the bottom of the General tab contains an option that allows you to run the Desktop Cleanup Wizard. This new wizard helps you keep desktop clutter under control by moving to a folder any items you haven't used very often.

The Web tab of the Desktop Items dialog box allows you to set the Active Desktop features. We'll discuss Active Desktop in the "Active Desktop: A View of the Internet" section of this chapter.

Screen Saver

A very healthy third-party market exists for screen savers. Some Windows users buy screen savers in bulk. You can find them in stores and on every online service in existence. Unless you own an older system, using a screen saver probably isn't necessary—just fun. A good Web site for all kinds of screen savers is http://www.ratloaf.com/, provided by Screensavers A to Z. This includes a screen saver for displaying your favorite JPEG, PIC, and KQP files. If you happen to be a gardener, this site enables you to build your own virtual garden onscreen. There are many screen savers at this site; look for something that interests you.

Windows XP also provides screen saver options. They aren't as much fun as some screen savers on the market, but they do the job. You'll find these options on the Screen Saver tab of the Display Properties dialog box.

Just as with the Background page, the Screen Saver page contains a miniature view of your monitor. It displays a thumbnail sketch of what the screen will look like when you configure the screen saver. The Screen Saver field enables you to choose from the screen savers in the SYSTEM32 folder. (Screen savers have an SCR extension.) If you decide to use a third-party screen saver that uses the Windows format, you need to place the file in the same directory as the others, or else Windows won't see it.

After you select a screen saver, you can use the Settings button to change its settings. In most cases, the settings affect how Windows XP displays the screen saver. For example, the settings might change the number of lines you see or the number of colors. Click Preview to see the results of any changes you make.

Check the On Resume, Password Protect option if you want to return to the Welcome (or other logon) screen every time the screen saver starts. This option forces you to log back in when the screen saver stops, but also enhances system security. This feature enables you to leave the room without fear that someone will use your machine while you're gone.

The Wait field enables you to change the number of minutes Windows XP waits before it activates the screen saver. To turn the screen saver off, move the mouse cursor or press a key.

This dialog box also contains a special Power button that enables you to set up the energy-saving features of your system. Click this button to display the Power Schemes tab of the Power Options Properties dialog box. I'll discuss this dialog box in detail in the "Power Management Strategies" section of Chapter 17, "Mobile Computing."

Appearance

The Appearance tab of the Display Properties dialog box enables you to change the actual appearance of your display, not just the Desktop. As previously mentioned, this dialog box allows you to choose between the Windows XP and Classic Windows styles using the Windows and Buttons field. The Color Scheme field allows you to choose which color scheme Windows will use. The selections change to match the current display style. Likewise, the Font Size field chooses the generic font size. When working with the Classic Windows style, you can choose from Normal, Large, and Extra Large.

Click Effects, and you'll see the Effects dialog box. The options in this dialog box remain the same no matter which display style you use. The first option allows you to choose either a fade effect or a scroll effect for menus and tooltips. The next option determines the method used to smooth the font edges. We already discussed this option, in the "Switching to the Windows 2000 Interface" section of this chapter. The last four options determine if you'll use large fonts, display shadows beneath the menus, show window content while dragging, and hide the underlined letters for keyboard navigation.

Click Advanced to display the Advanced Appearance dialog box, shown in Figure 3.15. Users of previous versions of Windows will recognize this dialog box immediately as the one used to change the appearance under Windows 9x and Windows 2000. To change the appearance of an item, click the picture of the display. (You have to select some items manually from the list because they don't appear in the picture.)

Figure 3.15 The settings on the Advanced Appearance dialog box enable you to change the colors and fonts used by your display.

Windows XP provides a great deal of flexibility when it comes to selecting fonts for your display. I have several configurations with "tired eye"–size text settings. You can change individually the size of the menu and title bar text. Everything else with text also has a setting here for font and type sizes.

Changing an entry consists of making list box selections. This dialog box contains seven list boxes. The first four affect the item itself and include Item Name, Size, and Color (two selections, in many cases). Size refers to the size of the window or other display element. For example, you could change the width of a menu bar using this option. The first color selection normally affects the top or left side of an item, such as a title bar. The second color affects the bottom or right side of an item. The second set of three list boxes controls the text within a display element. These settings include Font, Size, and Color. You can select any installed font as your display font, but most people find that MS Serif or MS Sans Serif works best on displays. I occasionally use Arial and find that it works quite well. You can also choose bold or italics text (or both), if you want.

Resolution

The Settings page of the Display Properties dialog box enables you to change your display resolution and number of colors. You usually can change the settings without rebooting your machine. Note that Windows XP forces you to use a minimum of 16-bit color resolution, which differs from previous versions of Windows that allowed you to use 256 colors.

This dialog box also allows you to change the font size. Click Advanced to display the General tab of the Display Adapter Properties dialog box. The DPI Setting drop-down list box contains two standard sizes: Normal Size (96 DPI) and Large Size (120 DPI), which are nebulous definitions. Choose the Custom Setting option to display the Custom DPI Setting dialog box. This dialog box enables you to create a custom-size system font. This feature is very handy if you need a font that's either very large or very small. Normally, however, you'll use the standard sizes that come with Windows.

Click Troubleshoot if you're having problems with your display. Help and Support Services will start and ask you some questions about the problems. In at least some cases, you'll receive a list of the most common problems affecting your display.

Clock

We discussed the clock previously in this chapter, when talking about the Taskbar. The clock isn't just a means to keep time. You can use the clock to change the computer's hardware storage (CMOS) and, therefore, the time stamps on all your files. The clock also affects any events you schedule and anything else that relies on the clock.

The clock's properties consist of a single check box—Show the Clock—on the Taskbar Properties dialog box. All this entry does is display or hide the clock. In most cases, you'll want to display the clock because you gain nothing from shutting it off.

Double-clicking the Clock icon displays the Date and Time Properties dialog box. This dialog box is the same one used during the installation process to set the clock. The Date & Time tab contains a calendar and a clock, which you can use to change the system settings.

NOTE

Some network operating system and client combinations will thwart any effort on your part to change the system time. For example, the Novell client will automatically synchronize the time on your machine with the time on the server. This is actually an advantage because the entire company can remain synchronized this way.

The Time Zone tab enables you to change the time zone to match the current area of the world. Simply select the time zone for the area of the world in which you live. The Daylight Savings Time check box enables the computer to adjust the time for you automatically.

Windows XP includes a new Internet Time tab. Check the Automatically Synchronize with an Internet Time Server option if you want to update your system's time automatically. Windows provides several default time servers, or you can type one of your own. Any time server you select must support the Simple Network Time Protocol (SNTP). Businesses that rely on a shared Internet connection should automatically synchronize the communications server with the Internet and then use other methods to synchronize workstations and other servers to communication server time.

Working with Desktop Objects

Making your desktop more efficient is easy in Windows XP. First, you need to learn to work with objects, types of which are data containers. After all, what's more important—the tool that creates an object or the object itself?

Second, you need to learn how to manage objects. You'll start by looking at methods of moving objects around. Remember that everything is an object of some sort, and objects are easy to copy, cut, and paste. You can move them around just like any object in the physical world.

Third, you'll learn to organize objects. Keeping your data organized makes it easier to find, easier to manipulate, and easier to secure. Organizing your data now pays large dividends in efficiency later.

Creating New Objects

One of the first tasks you need to learn is creating a new object. New objects are empty containers you can fill with data. The desktop, Explorer, and most Windows XP folders have a New option in the context menu. This option displays a list of file types that Windows XP can produce automatically. The content of this list will vary according to the applications and operating system features installed on your machine.

Look at the context menu now by right-clicking on the Desktop and highlighting the New option. Note that one of the entries is a folder. You always can place a folder within another object normally used for storage (even another folder). Using folders helps you organize your data into more efficient units.

Manipulating Objects

Many people use cut-and-paste to move data around within applications, such as Word. You just cut the data from where you no longer need it and paste it to a new location. Windows XP also supports cut-and-paste for objects. To move a file from one location to another, cut and then paste it using the commands on the Windows Explorer Edit menu. The beauty of this approach is that a copy of the file is now in memory. This means that you can make as many copies of it as you want.

Windows XP also allows you to copy objects. Anything you can cut, you can copy. Copying the object means that you leave the original in place and create copies where needed. The copy resides in memory, where you can paste it to as many new locations as you'd like.

You can't paste a file on top of another file. If you attempt to do this, Windows XP will create a copy of the file using a different name (normally beginning with the word copy or by adding a number to the end of the filename). However, you can paste a copy of a file on the desktop or within a folder. If you take a logical, real-world approach to moving objects under Windows XP, you'll never run into problems getting objects to work.

Most people find the cut, copy, and paste technique easy to use because that's how they work with data in their applications. Windows Explorer doesn't provide these options on the Standard Buttons toolbar by default, so you'll need to add them. Right-click the Standard Buttons toolbar and choose Customize from the context menu. You'll see a Customize Toolbar dialog box, like the one shown in Figure 3.16. Notice the Cut button highlighted in the figure. Simply click Add to place it on the Standard Buttons toolbar. Highlight the Copy and Paste buttons in turn to place them on the Standard Buttons toolbar as well.

Figure 3.16 Use the Customize Toolbar dialog box to add the Cut, Copy, and Paste buttons to the Standard Buttons toolbar.

Microsoft does place four object management buttons on the Standard Buttons toolbar for you. The following list describes each button and tells how you can use it to manage objects on your system:

  • Move To Highlight one or more objects and then click this button. Windows Explorer will display a Move Items dialog box that contains a hierarchical view of the folders on your system. Choose a folder from the list and then click Move to move the file from the current location to a new location.

  • Copy To Works like the Move To button, except that Windows Explorer will copy the file instead of moving it. This means that the original copy of the file stays in place and that you'll make another copy in the new location.

  • Delete Places the highlighted files into the Recycle Bin. Windows Explorer doesn't actually delete the files; it merely marks them for deletion. You can recover the files from the Recycle Bin for a limited amount of time. Use Shift+Delete to remove files permanently without moving them to the Recycle Bin first.

  • Undo Undoes the previous action. For example, if you created a copy of a file, Windows Explorer will remove the copy. Undoing a delete will place the file back in the original directory. However, you can't undo permanent actions, such as permanently deleting a file using the Shift+Delete key combination.

Using a Template

One problem with the New menu is that it creates objects of a default type. For example, if you have a graphics program, like Paint Shop Pro, installed on your machine, you might get a new BMP image rather than a new TIF image. Even though Paint Shop Pro handles both file types, it defaults to a specific file type.

Some applications get around this problem by using New menu entry extensions. For example, if you create a new Word for Windows object using the selection on the context menu, it uses the Normal style sheet. What you really wanted was the Letters style sheet, but there isn't a fast way to create that document using the direct New | Microsoft Word Document entry on the context menu. However, in the case of Microsoft Office, you'll see an entry for Other Office Documents. Selecting this option displays a dialog box that contains a complete list of all of the Microsoft Office templates you've defined.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is about the only application that provides a method for you to get around the new default document problem, so you need another way of doing things. I got around this problem by placing a folder named Templates on my Desktop. Inside are copies of each sample file I use to create new documents. For example, if you write many letters using the same format, you can use your word processor to create a document containing everything that normally appears in a letter. Place a copy of the letter template in your Templates folder. Every time you need to write a letter, right-click the template in your Templates folder and drag the template to a new destination, such as a project folder. When the context menu appears, select Copy to create a copy of your template.

This approach to creating new documents can reduce the time necessary to start a task. You can create enough copies of a template to satisfy project needs in a few seconds. Using the template also means that all of your settings are correct when you enter the document for the first time.

Creating Work Areas

Now that you have an idea how to move and copy data, let's look at a more efficient way to work with it. I've started using a new method of organizing information because of the way Windows XP works. You can follow several easy steps to start a project:

  1. Create a main project folder on the Desktop.

  2. Open the folder and place one folder inside for each type of data you plan to work with. When writing this chapter, for example, I created one folder for the word-processed document, another for the electronic research information, and a third for the graphics files.

  3. Open the first data folder, create a copy of your template, and then make as many copies of that template as you'll need within the data folder.

  4. Rename the data files to match what they'll contain.

  5. Close this data folder, and repeat steps 3 and 4 for each of your other data folders.

  6. Complete your project by filling each data folder.

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Using the same method of creating new data files for all your data might not be possible because of the way an application is designed. In some cases, as with the screen shots in this book, the data file is created in a different way. My screen shots are all captured from a display buffer. I don't need to create a blank file to hold them because the screen capture program does this for me. Always use the data-creation technique that works best with the applications you use.

You might wonder about the benefits of using a datacentric approach to work with Windows. The old application-based method of managing your data may appear to provide the same results as the method I've outlined. However, the new technique offers advantages you just don't get using the application-centric approach:

  • Data transmittal Giving someone else access to a group project means sending him a folder, not a bunch of individual files. How many times have you thought that you had gathered all the files for a project, only to find that you didn't send an important file? This method of organizing data prevents such problems.

  • Application independence It doesn't matter which application you need to use in order to modify a file. If everyone in your office uses the same applications, modifying a file means double-clicking it and nothing else. You no longer need to worry about which application to open; all that matters is the data.

  • Location Where's your data? Do you ever find yourself searching for hours to find a file you thought you'd lost? This method enables you to place all project data in one place. Its physical location no longer matters because the pieces are together. Of course, you still need to know the data location when you organize the project folder, but would you rather look for a file once or a hundred times? Using desktop folders means that you'll find the data once and never worry about it again.

  • Ease of storage When I finish a project in Windows XP, I don't worry about putting all the bits and pieces together. I send one folder to storage. When I need to work on the project again, I know that I need to load only that one folder back on my local drive.

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