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Where Should You Keep Your Files?

In Windows XP, the files you create belong in one place: the My Documents folder. This folder is a part of your personal profile, which is created when you set up your user account in Windows XP. Using this folder as the default location for your personal data files makes it easier for you to find and back up files you create.

In Windows XP, the My Documents icon is never more than two clicks away—it’s located at the top of the right column in the Start menu, and in Windows Explorer it’s just below the Desktop. When you click the File menu and choose Open or Save As from within any Office program, the resulting dialog box takes you straight to the My Documents folder. As we’ll discuss a bit later in this chapter, you can also get to the My Documents folder by clicking its icon in the Places Bar along the left side of those dialog boxes.

The My Documents icon on the desktop, in Windows Explorer windows, and on the Windows XP Start menu is actually a shell extension—a virtual folder like the My Computer and My Network Places icons, not an actual physical location. Opening this shortcut opens the folder that’s registered as the Documents location for the user who’s currently logged on. The exact physical location of the My Documents folder varies, depending on which Windows version you have installed and whether it was a clean installation or an upgrade. On most computers running Windows XP, the My Documents folder appears in your user profile, normally C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\My Documents.

If you currently store data files in other locations and you’re willing to reorganize your storage system, you can substantially increase the odds that you’ll find files you’re looking for when you need them. Doing so also makes it easier to back up data files.

You can change the default location that individual Office programs use for data files; it’s also possible to point the My Documents shortcut to another location. (Oh, and if the name bugs you, just change it.)

Finally, you can change the default working folder for any individual Office program, although the exact procedure is slightly different, depending on the program you’re working with. Why would you want to reset the default working folder? Maybe you’re working on an extended class project that requires constant access to files on a shared network folder. In that case, you might want to define that location as the default working folder; whenever you choose File, Open or File, Save As, the dialog box will display the contents of this folder. Follow these steps, for example, to adjust the default document folder in Word:

  1. Choose Tools, Options, and click the File Locations tab. The dialog box shown in Figure 3.1 lets you specify a wide range of system folders.
  2. In the File Types list, select the Documents entry.
  3. Click the Modify button; then use the Modify Location dialog box to browse through drives and folders. Select the correct folder and click OK.
  4. Click OK to close the Options dialog box and save your change.

Follow the same basic procedure for Excel and PowerPoint, with the following exceptions: In Excel, click the General tab; in PowerPoint, click the Save tab. In the box labeled Default File Location, enter the full name and path of the folder that you want to specify as the new default. Only Word allows you to browse through drives and folders to find the one you want; with other Office programs, you must enter the full directory path (complete with drive letter and backslashes to separate folder names) manually.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1 Use the Options dialog box to adjust the default working folder for any Office program.

The default file location setting for each application is independent. If you set Word’s default Documents folder to a location on your network, for example, Excel and PowerPoint continue to open to the default location—typically the local My Documents folder.

Behind the scenes, Office creates and uses an additional group of subfolders in the Application Data folder within the user’s personal profile. These subfolders represent standard locations where Office stores customization data, such as your Excel Personal macro workbook, any custom templates that you create in any program (stored in the Templates folder), custom dictionaries (in the Proof folder), and Word startup templates (in the \Word\STARTUP folder). On a default Office installation, these subfolders are typically located within the %appdata%\Microsoft folder. Office maintains separate subfolders for each application, special-purpose folders for use by all Office programs, and a folder for Office itself.

Finally, Office stores a small number of data files in a second Application Data folder. This subfolder is stored in the hidden Local Settings folder within each user’s profile. Most notably, this is the default storage location for Outlook Personal Store (PST) files, which contain, among other things, each user’s Outlook e-mail and Contacts.

→ To learn more about how to manage PST files, see "How Outlook Stores Data."

Opening and Saving Files over a Network

Office 2003 lets you work with files over a network or on the Web in much the same way that you access files and folders on a standalone PC. If you are connected to a network at your office or school, contact your network administrator to find locations on the network where you’re permitted to read or write files. You should get a network share address for the location, using UNC syntax (\\Servername\Sharename\). Unless the network administrator has restricted your rights, you can create and manage your own subfolders in this location.

Although you can type UNC-style network addresses directly from within Open or Save As dialog boxes, doing so is usually more trouble than it’s worth. For easier access, browse to the My Network Places folder and click your way to the correct server, share, and folder.

Aside from the additional navigation steps, there is no difference between using network shares and using local drives, assuming that you have proper authorization from your network administrator.

Storing Files on the Web or an Intranet

If you're using Office to create documents that will be used on the Web, you can save your files directly to a web server or to an FTP server—the process is almost as simple as working with files on a local network. You can usually open a Web-based file by copying the URL from your web browser's Address box and pasting it into the File Name box on the Office program's Open dialog box. On servers that support the Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV) standard, you need only the URL for the location (for example, http://www.example.com/someplace or ftp://example.com/incoming) and logon credentials (a username and password) to save files to that location. In Windows Explorer, collections of documents on a WebDAV-compatible server appear as folder icons in the My Network Places folder. (In previous Windows and Office versions, this feature was known as Web folders.)

To save a file to a web server or an FTP site on the Internet or an intranet, choose File, Save As and click the My Network Places icon in the Places Bar. If the list of available network places includes the location you want to use, double-click it and then enter a filename. If the location does not have an icon in the My Network Places folder, enter the full URL for the location and then fill in your logon credentials when prompted.

By default, Windows automatically populates the My Network Places folder with the names of all available WebDAV-enabled servers and shared network folders on the local network. You can manually add, remove, or rename a network place—on a local network, on a remote server, or on the Internet—by opening the My Network Places folder in Windows Explorer and clicking the Add Network Place shortcut.

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