Eric Baker

Hints & tips
Files & folders

v7.1  9 March 2015  © Eric Baker

How do I view and find the files on my computer?

This is fundamental to getting in control. Win8, Win7, Vista and XP look a bit different but the fundamentals are the same.

Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Win8) is the usual way to view files and folders. Most programs (Word, photo viewers etc) have a similar folder view for finding and saving files. You can also create a desktop shortcut to your most used folders (photos etc).

It is very important to get comfortable with the idea of folders. In the Win7 graphic the My Documents folder has 4 folders directly under it (A family collection and the others at the same level of indent). The family folder has one folder for each member of the family and some of those have chosen to make further subfolders to help keep their documents tidy. In Win8 all this would be under This PC.

You can use the mouse or the arrow, Backspace and Enter keys to navigate around your folders. Double clicking a file runs it with the appropriate application. The up arrow symbol is useful for moving to the folder at the next level up. You can also click anywhere in the folder address to go there, eg you could click on OurDocs in the Win 8.1 folder address strip shown below.

Folders bar

The + or triangle to the left of folders just means it has subfolders which are not shown. Click on the +/triangle and Windows Explorer shows folders at the next level.

Once you learn to navigate, create and delete folders and how to copy, rename and move files around them you will find it much easier to keep your documents tidy and to find what you are looking for.

If you use different Windows logins for different people then you'll only see files relating to the current login - very confusing, and fiendishly hard to back up too. I've never needed multiple logins.

If you want to avoid the weird idea of Libraries in Windows 7 then you can always do like I have done for many years. I just create a folder off Computer, eg D:\OurData, and put all our data folders under there. The suggested places for your data files (Documents, Pictures etc) remain empty. That makes knowing what's where and doing backups so very much easier.

Folders tree

How do I select multiple files to copy, move or delete?

To select a single file or folder just left click on it with the mouse in Explorer. To select multiple ones click on the first then let go of the mouse, hold down the Shift key and use the keyboard arrows to highlight them. To highlight selected files hold the Ctrl key down and left click on the ones you want with the mouse.

Once the files or folders are selected you can delete, move or copy them.

The Win7 example to the right shows a few files selected - XP used to show them with far more contrast. This is an example of style trumping usability (Windows 7 is far better than XP or Vista generally but sometimes you wish they left alone what worked well). The Vista/Win7 files selected colour is so subtle that if your laptop screen is at the wrong angle it's easy to make mistakes. Win8 looks better.

How do I copy or move files or folders?

Do this in Windows Explorer, opening two copies of Explorer if that makes it easier. The quickest way is to learn the keyboard shortcuts. First select the folder(s) or file(s) to copy or move then hold down the Ctrl key. Tap C to Copy them into memory or X to delete them (and copy them into memory). Go to where you want to copy or move them to, click once Move files or folders on the right hand area in Windows Explorer and Ctrl V drops them in that place. Try it out - it's easily the quickest way.

Edit, Copy/Cut/Paste are the menu alternatives. Right click then copy, cut, paste works well too.

To use the mouse, open two copies of Explorer, one showing the origin and the other showing the destination folder, and drag a file or folder across (to the right hand area of the destination) to move it or Ctrl drag to copy it. The desktop is a valid destination for a move or copy but can make things confusing and cluttered. If you're dragging a file or folder onto a removable device, eg a music player, it will be copied rather than moved.

How do I see how large files are?

View, Details in Windows Explorer shows files in a list with size etc. In Win8 select Details on the ribbon's view tab. In Vista onwards you may need to hover over some types of file, eg music.
File list
Select files

How do I find a file from way back?

XP didn't have much to offer so I used to use Google Desktop. From Vista onwards Windows has its own indexed search facilities - just search from Explorer.

As long as all your files are indexed (which may slow the system down at times) you can find files pretty well and quickly.

Of course with music files and especially photographs this approach depends completely on the meaning of the file being in the filename. If you leave all your photos as DSC01372 or similar then how on earth can the search service know whether the content is a beach or a barbecue?

If you keep your files on a separate partition (or even disk) from your programs and operating system it all gets a lot easier, as searches stop getting spurious results from, for example, images buried deep under applications. It also makes backing up so much easier.

How to make a new folder?

Just left click in a folder in Windows Explorer then right click and select New Folder. It works in XP, Vista or Win7. In Win8 it's also done via Home, New folder in Explorer.
Create new folder
Google Desktop

How to rename a file or folder?

In Explorer left click it then pause and left click it again. You can then edit it - remember that when it's high-lit (in blue on most PCs) you will delete the text as soon as you start typing so click once more (or use your left arrow key) to amend the existing text. Try it - it's easy. F2 is the rename shortcut if you want to show off (or do a load of renames quickly).

Windows 7 introduced a good rename feature - files move to their new sort positions at once and it's much harder to zap the file type (eg .jpg).


How do I find if my hard disk's full? Disk space pie chart

Open My Computer (This PC in Win8) then right click on Local Disk (C:) then choose Properties. You can usually find My Computer (aka Computer aka This PC) on the left of Explorer.

You can do this on other drives (eg D: or E:) as well, eg a music player you're filling up with your favourites.

Modern versions of Windows often show free space for drives without having to go via Properties. The Win 8 view is shown below.
Disk sizes

How do I find out what's clogging up my disk?

In Windows Explorer it's rather difficult. With Win7 or 8 you can hover over folders to see how big they are - but that's not all that helpful if the culprits are lurking deep in the system. Windirstat

A brilliant piece of freeware from Holland is Windirstat, which graphically pinpoints which are your lurking disk hogs. It could be just a long forgotten video clip.

It's also worth emptying the Recycle Bin and your browser cache. In Internet Explorer Delete Browsing History is off the Tools or Safety menu, depending on which menu type you use.



How do I track down those duplicate files?

It's surprisingly easy to amass loads of duplicate files, especially with your photos and music. Maybe you were copying a selection of photos to send someone, burn to a CD or print. Or it is ever so common for people to download all the photos from their camera to a folder then take more photos and download to a new folder, including all the ones already on the computer.

The secret here is to have good backups, eg on an extenal drive or in the cloud. That gives you the confidence to delete the photos on your camera once loaded to the computer.

But even if you know you've got a bit of a mess, with lots of photos etc duplicated, it can take forever to sort it out. The answer? Download and install the free and very good Duplicate Cleaner program. Point it at your photos, or whatever, and set it going.

Duplicate Cleaner

When finished it shows duplicate files with colour coding. In the example below I asked it to find files with identical content, whatever the name - clever stuff!
Duplicate Cleaner

Duplicate Cleaner logo