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Understanding Files and Folders

All the information on your computer is stored in files. A file is nothing more than a collection of data of some sort. Everything on your computer's hard drive is a separate file, with its own name, location, and properties. The contents of a file can be a document from an application (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 conventions must be followed for Windows to understand exactly what file you want when you try to access one. Each filename must consist 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 consist of letters, numbers, spaces, and characters and looks something like this: this is a filename.ext.

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: c:\windows\system\filename.doc.

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, you use either My Computer or My Documents—two important utilities, discussed next.


By default, Windows XP hides the extensions when it displays filenames. To display extensions, use the Control Panel to open the Folder Options dialog box; then select the View tab. In the Advanced Settings list, uncheck the Hide Extensions for Known File Types option, and then click OK.

Managing PC Resources with My Computer

The My Computer utility lets you access each major component of your system and perform basic maintenance functions. For example, you can use My Computer to "open" the contents of your hard disk, and then copy, move, and delete individual files.

To open My Computer, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button to display the Start menu.

  2. Select My Computer.

As you can see in Figure 3.10, the My Computer folder contains icons for each of the major components of your system—your hard disk drive, floppy disk drive, CD-ROM or DVD drive, and so on.

Figure 3.10 Use My Computer to manage your hard drive and other key components.

Each folder in Windows XP contains an activity pane (sometimes called a task pane) on the left side of the window. This pane lets you view relevant information about and perform key operations on the selected item.

You can also use My Computer to view the contents of a specific drive. When you double-click the icon for that drive, you'll see a list of folders and files located on that drive. To view the contents of any folder, just double-click the icon for that folder.

Managing Files with My Documents

The documents you create with Microsoft Word and other software programs are actually separate computer files. By default, all your documents are stored somewhere in the My Documents folder.

Windows lets you access the contents of your My Documents folder with a few clicks of your mouse. Just follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button to display the Start menu.

  2. Click My Documents.

As you can see in Figure 3.11, the My Documents folder not only contains individual files, it also contains a number of other folders (sometimes called subfolders), such as My Pictures and My Music. Double-click a subfolder to view its contents, or use the options in the Files and Folders Tasks panel to perform specific operations—including moving, copying, and deleting.

Figure 3.11 Access your important document files from the My Documents folder.

Managing Windows with the Control Panel

There's one more Windows utility, similar to My Computer and My Documents, that you need to know about. This utility, the Control Panel, is used to manage most (but not all) of Windows' configuration settings. The Control Panel is actually a system folder (like My Computer and My Documents) that contains a number of individual utilities that let you adjust and configure various system properties.

To open the Control Panel, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button to display the Start menu.

  2. Click Control Panel.

When the Control Panel opens, as shown in Figure 3.12, you can select a particular category you want to configure. When the Pick a Task page appears, either click a task or click an icon to open a specific configuration utility. (When you click a task, the appropriate configuration utility is launched.)

Figure 3.12 The Windows XP Control Panel—configuration tasks organized by category.

When you open a configuration utility, you'll see a dialog box for that particular item. You can then change the individual settings within that dialog box; click the OK button to register your new settings.

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