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Managing Files and Folders

Although many Windows applications offer basic file management functions, Explorer is the tool you'll use most often to organize files. The basic techniques for creating folders, copying and moving files between folders, and deleting or renaming files have not changed appreciably in Windows Me, so this section is primarily an overview of essential techniques.

Selecting Files and Folders

Before you can perform any action on an object in an Explorer window, you must select that object. To select a single icon, point and click. To select multiple icons, use one of the following techniques:


If you've chosen the Web-style (single-click) interface, the techniques for selecting objects are different. Selecting multiple objects in this configuration is especially difficult, which is why I don't recommend it.

  • To select multiple icons that are adjacent to one another in a folder window or on the desktop, select the first icon, hold down the Shift key, and then select the last icon. All the icons between the two are also selected.

  • To select multiple icons that are not adjacent to one another, select the first one, hold down the Ctrl key, and select all additional icons. To deselect an icon, continue holding down the Ctrl key and select it again.

  • You can use marquee selection to quickly select a group of adjacent files with the mouse. To use this technique, draw an imaginary rectangle around the group of files. Specifically, point to one corner of the rectangle, hold down the left mouse button, and drag the selection to the opposite corner. This technique works with all icon views.

  • Use the keyboard to select multiple icons. In a two-pane Explorer window, press Tab to move the focus into the right contents pane. Then, use the arrow keys to move through the list to the first item you want to select. To select a group of adjacent icons, hold down the Shift key and use the arrow keys to move through the list. To use the keyboard to select a group of icons that are not adjacent, select the first file, hold down the Ctrl key, and use the arrow keys to move through the list; press the spacebar for each file you want to select.

  • To quickly select all the files in a folder, choose Edit, Select All (or press Ctrl+A).

  • To deselect all current selections, click any empty space or on another object in the folder window or on the desktop.


Here's a lightning-fast way to select all but a few icons within a folder. This technique comes in handy when you want to archive or delete most of the files in a folder yet keep a small number of items. Select the objects you plan to keep and then choose Edit, Invert Selection. You can now use any of the standard Windows techniques to move, copy, or delete the selected objects. Another option is to press Ctrl+A to highlight them all and then hold down Ctrl while you deselect the ones you want to keep.

Moving and Copying Files and Folders

The easiest way to move and copy files is not always the surest. When you select one or more objects and drag them from one location to another, the results can vary dramatically. The exact effect depends on the location and type of file. When you drag and drop files in Windows, one of three things happens:

  • When you drag an object from one location to another on the same logical volume, Windows moves the object. On local drives, each logical volume uses the same drive letter, so dragging a group of icons from C:\Windows\Temp to the Windows desktop moves them to the new location.

  • When you drag an object from one logical volume to another, Windows copies the file. If you drag a group of icons from C:\Data and drop them on the icon for a floppy disk (A:), a shared network folder, or another partition with a different drive letter, Windows leaves the original files untouched and creates copies in the new location.

  • When you drag a program file from one location to another, regardless of location, Explorer creates a shortcut, leaving the original file untouched.

Even though this default behavior is based on sound logic, the results can be confusing to novice users. Even experienced Windows users can sometimes stumble over these rules. For example, if you drag multiple program icons from a folder onto the desktop, Explorer creates a group of shortcuts; but if you select even one icon that isn't a program, Windows moves or copies instead.


The best way to predict what Explorer will do when you drag and drop icons is to examine the mouse pointer before you release the mouse button. If you see a plus sign just to the right of the pointer, you can expect a copy; a small arrow next to the pointer means you'll get a shortcut; and a plain pointer means you're about to move the selected objects. If the pointer you see doesn't match the result you intended, press Esc before releasing the mouse button to abort the procedure.

For maximum control over the results of drag-and-drop operations, select one or more objects (they don't have to be in the same format) and hold down the right mouse button as you drag. When you release the button, Windows displays a shortcut menu that lets you choose any of the three actions (the default action appears in bold).

When the Folders Explorer bar is visible, you can drag objects from the contents pane on the right and drop them onto an icon for a folder or drive in the left pane. If the icon for the destination folder is not visible, let the mouse pointer hover over the parent icon for a second or two; the branch expands automatically.

One final option for moving and copying files doesn't involve dragging and dropping at all. Use the Windows Clipboard to cut, copy, and paste files between folders and drives in exactly the same way you copy text and graphics between documents. These techniques work equally well in Explorer windows, in folder windows, in email messages, and on the Windows desktop. Use the Cut, Copy, and Paste menu commands or the corresponding keyboard shortcuts–Ctrl+X, Ctrl+C, and Ctrl+V.

Renaming Files and Folders

To rename a file or folder, first select its icon. Then, use any of the following options to select the name for editing:

  • Click the label to make it available for editing.

  • Press the F2 key.

  • Choose File, Rename.

  • Right-click the icon and choose Rename from the shortcut menu.

When the label text is selected, type the new name. To save the name you enter, press Enter or click any empty space on the desktop or in a folder window.

Working with Shortcuts

Properly used, Windows shortcuts are the secret to maintaining an orderly filing system and still keeping programs and documents close at hand. As the name implies, a shortcut is a pointer file you can use to access a file without moving or copying the original. You can create a shortcut for almost any object in Windows, including programs, data files, folders, drives, Dial-Up Networking connections, printers, and Web pages. Windows uses shortcuts extensively: Every item in the Programs folder on your Start menu is a shortcut, for example, and every time you save a Web address to your Favorites folder, you create an Internet shortcut.

Shortcuts are a tremendous productivity aid. If you have a document file stored six subfolders deep, you can create a shortcut icon and store it on the desktop so it's always accessible. The target file remains in its original location.

Here are some key facts to understand about shortcuts:

  • Each shortcut is itself a small file that contains all the information Windows needs to create a link to the target file. The shortcut uses the same icon as the target file, with one crucial difference: a small arrow in the lower-right corner that identifies the icon as a shortcut instead of an original.

  • TIP

    Some shortcuts (notably those on the Programs menu and the Quick Launch bar) have no arrow. You can use Microsoft's Tweak UI utility to change the shortcut arrow to a lighter version or remove it completely, so that all shortcuts look just like their corresponding target files. In that case, you'll need to use Details view in an Explorer window, or right-click and inspect the icon's properties, to see whether it's a shortcut.

  • When you right-click a shortcut, the available menu choices are the same as if you had right-clicked the target file. Opening the shortcut has the same effect as opening the target file.

  • Renaming a shortcut does not affect the target file.

  • Deleting a shortcut removes only the link to the target file. The target file itself remains intact in its original location.

  • To associate a different file with the shortcut, click in the Target box and type the filename, including its full path.

  • You can create many shortcuts to the same file. For your favorite programs, you might create shortcuts on the desktop, on the Start menu, and on the Quick Launch bar. Each shortcut takes up a negligible amount of disk space (typically no more than 500 bytes), even if the original file occupies several megabytes of disk space.

What happens when you attempt to launch the target file using its shortcut icon? Windows is intelligent enough to re-establish the link to the target file even if you've moved or renamed the original; to do so, it follows these steps:

  1. Windows looks at the static location (the filename and path) whether the file is stored locally or on a network.

  2. If that file no longer exists, Windows checks to see whether you've renamed the file, looking in the same folder for a file with the same date and time stamp but a different name.

  3. If that search fails, Windows checks to see whether you moved the file, looking in all subfolders of the target folder and then searching the entire drive. (On a network location, the search extends to the highest parent directory to which you have access rights.) If you have moved the target file to a different drive, Windows won't find it and the shortcut will break.

  4. Figure 3.6

  5. If Windows can't find the target file, it displays an error message similar to the one in Figure 3.6, which offers to delete the shortcut for you. If you know the file has been moved or changed, go ahead and delete the shortcut.

When you want to create a shortcut to a program or a file stored in a folder that isn't currently open, use the Create Shortcut Wizard:

  1. Right-click an empty space on the Windows desktop and choose New, Shortcut. The Create Shortcut dialog box shown in Figure 3.7 appears.

  2. Figure 3.7 Creating a new shortcut is a two-step process with this wizard.

  3. Click the Browse button and select the document or program file from the Browse list. To create a shortcut to a drive or folder, you must type its name directly in the Command Line text box. Include the full path if necessary. Then click Next.

  4. Give the shortcut a descriptive name and click Finish. Test the shortcut to ensure it works correctly.


The easiest way to create a shortcut is by dragging and dropping the target file's icon. Select the icon in an Explorer window, hold down the right mouse button, and drag the icon to the desktop or another folder. Choose Create Shortcut(s) Here from the pop-up menu.

You can define a keyboard combination that automatically launches any shortcut stored on the desktop or the Start menu. This is an especially effective way to make your favorite accessories or Web pages available. To create a keyboard shortcut, right-click the shortcut icon and choose Properties. On the Shortcut tab, click in the Shortcut key box and then press the specific key combination you want to use (see Figure 3.8).

Figure 3.8 Use a keyboard shortcut to automatically launch a shortcut.

The shortcut key must consist of a letter or a number plus any two of the following three keys: Ctrl, Alt, and Shift. (If you simply press a letter or number, Windows defaults to Ctrl+Alt+key). You also can use any function key (F1—F12) with or without the Ctrl, Alt, and Shift keys. You cannot use Esc, Enter, Tab, the spacebar, Print Screen, or Backspace, however. To clear the Shortcut key box, click in the box and press the spacebar.


Shortcut keys you create take precedence over other access keys in Windows. Be careful that you don't inadvertently redefine a systemwide key combination or one that you use in other Windows applications.

Using Folder Shortcuts to Organize Files

Windows Me includes a new, completely undocumented class of shortcuts that are similar to those found in Windows 2000. If you create one accidentally, you'll be startled by its strange behavior. However, after you learn how the special folder shortcuts work, you can use them to great advantage.

Normally, when you create a shortcut that points to a folder, it works just like any other shortcut: Its icon includes the small arrow that identifies it as a shortcut, and when you double-click that icon, you jump to the folder window it represents. If you right-click this shortcut, its properties are editable, just like any other shortcut. And if you click the Up button on the Explorer toolbar (the one that shows a folder icon with two dots and an arrow), you go to that folder's parent, just as you would expect.

But if you drag a folder icon and drop it on the Start button, you get a completely different type of shortcut. The folder icon appears at the top of the Start menu, and when you click it, the folder's contents appear as a cascading menu. Big deal, right? Here's where it gets interesting.

Drag that shortcut off the Start menu and drop it in the My Documents folder. Now, open the My Documents folder and look at the shortcut you just created. It's different, in the following intriguing ways:

  • It doesn't include the shortcut arrow. In fact, if you look at the Folders bar, you'll see that this icon acts similar to a regular folder and appears in the folder list at the top of the list. Normal shortcuts are mixed in with other files below the list of subfolders.

  • The file type is different. Right-click the folder icon and choose Properties, and you'll see that it's a Folder Shortcut, whose properties cannot be edited.

  • The folder acts as if it's part of the location where you moved its shortcut, although the files remain in their original location. When you open that folder, you see its contents, but the Up button takes you to the location where the shortcut is stored.

As far as I know, the only way to create a file of the Folder Shortcut type is to drag a folder icon onto the Start menu and then drag it to a new location.

The upshot of these curious shortcuts is that you can create the equivalent of a distributed file system, where files are scattered in various locations on several hard drives (or even across the network), but they appear to be in one place. For instance, if you add a new hard drive to hold your burgeoning collection of MP3 and Windows Audio files, you could add a folder shortcut in your My Documents folder. Windows allows you to manage the files as if they were in one location, on the same drive.


Folder shortcuts are an undocumented feature of Windows Me. As such, you run the risk that Microsoft will remove this feature at any time through an update to Internet Explorer or Windows. Use this feature at your own risk, and be sure to keep thorough backups!

Copying Disks

Trying to copy an entire hard disk or CD-ROM requires third-party software, but copying a floppy disk is easy. Windows includes a utility that handles the whole process in two passes–one for the source (original) disk and the second for the destination (copy) disk.

To copy a floppy, make sure you have a formatted disk that's the same size as the original you plan to copy. Then, insert the original disk in the floppy drive, open the My Computer folder, right-click the floppy drive icon (normally A:), and choose Copy Disk. Follow the prompts in the Copy Disk dialog box to complete the copy (see Figure 3.9).

If you have only one drive that handles the selected disk format, the same drive letter appears in the Copy From and Copy To areas of the dialog box. If you have more than one such drive, select the destination drive in the Copy To box; if the destination drive is a different drive, insert the destination disk in that drive.

If you're copying from one physical drive to another, Windows handles the operation in one pass. On single-drive systems, Windows displays a prompt when the Copy From phase is complete. Remove the original disk, insert the destination disk in the drive, and click OK.

Figure 3.9 Follow the prompts to duplicate a floppy disk.


Windows automatically erases any data on a destination disk without prompting you. That can be disastrous if the destination disk contains important data. If you store important files on floppy disks, always use the write-protect tab to prevent accidental erasure.

Undoing Changes

In Windows, you can undo the last four actions you perform when working with Windows Explorer. If you inadvertently delete a file, move it to the wrong location, or make a mistake when renaming a file or folder, click the Undo button on the Standard Buttons toolbar or press Ctrl+Z. Within an Explorer window, look at the top of the Edit menu to see what Windows can undo. Likely choices include Undo Delete, Undo Move, and Undo Rename.


The Undo shortcuts also work if you make a mistake on the Windows desktop. If you accidentally move or delete a desktop file, press Ctrl+Z immediately to recover it.


It's not always easy to tell exactly what Undo will accomplish, and no Redo option is available to restore your original action, either. In fact, if you press Ctrl+Z while the focus is on the Windows desktop, Windows might undo an action you took in an Explorer window hours ago. You get no feedback; although the effect might be to restore the original name of a file you renamed, or to move a file back to a folder where you don't want it stored.


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