Windows 9x - Locate files on a multi-gigabyte drive

All PC users, especially newbies, are so thoroughly inundated with data that it's easy to lose files in the labyrinth that is your hard drive. Fortunately, Windows can help you manage the deluge with tools that make it easy to find and open the files you need. Some of the operating system's tools are obvious, but some aren't. Here are my favourites.

Get organised - To avoid losing things in the first place, arrange your files and folders in a logical, hierarchical system. It's the best way to ensure that you'll be able to find one file among the hundreds - or thousands - on your hard drive. Limit the number of files in each folder, and group subfolders in a way that's easy for you to remember. For example, you can store documents in folders for specific projects, by date, or by topic. Once you've created your filing system, stick to it.

Be document-centric - If you work with files of multiple types - such as those in Microsoft Excel (.xls) and Word (.doc) - that you store in one folder, don't waste time opening each by launching its application from the Start menu. Instead, open a folder window (via Windows Explorer) and navigate to the folder that holds the files you want. Double-click the files to launch the applications and open the documents in one step.

If the application is already running, click and drag the document you want to open (or -click to select more than one) from the folder window to the application's title bar. If the application is minimised or hidden by other programs, drag the files to the application's icon on the taskbar, and when the application window comes to the front, drop the files on the app's title bar.

Type your way there - When presented with a long list of files in Windows Explorer or a Find or Search Results window, you can select the first name in the list that begins with a particular character by typing that character on your keyboard. If the list contains multiple files beginning with the same letter, type the first several characters of the file name, or even entire words. Windows will select the first item that begins with the characters you type. If you pause too long between characters, however, Windows will think you're starting over again.

Learn from history - For quick access to a document that was opened recently, select Start-Documents. Chances are you'll find the document listed there and you can then open it in its associated application with a single click. Unfortunately, if you work with many documents or download many files from the Web, you may not find the document you want.

Drag-and-drop drag

Windows 98 and the Desktop Update feature of Internet Explorer 4 introduced the ability to move items in any Start menu by dragging their icons. If you change your mind mid-drag, you may inadvertently put the menu icon somewhere you don't want it. If you begin an accidental drag, press to return your pointer to normal and the icon to its original position. Windows can warn you with a sound effect whenever you drag an icon.

To block this drag feature in Windows Me, choose Start-Settings-Taskbar and Start Menu, or right-click an empty area of the taskbar and choose Properties. Click the Advanced tab and scroll through the Start menu settings. Uncheck "Enable dragging and dropping" and click OK.

Note: once you restart Windows you won't be able to drag menu items to new positions. You also won't be able to right-click an icon to see its context menu, nor will you see the context menu command to sort menu items by name. That could be inconvenient, since by default Windows will still add icons to the bottom of menus rather than sorting alphabetically.

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