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How many times have you downloaded a file to your hard drive then could not find it again? How many times have you downloaded a file, found it, stored it somewhere, then couldn’t find it again? How many times have you looked at your “My Documents” folder and thought ‘what a mess!’.

The sad truth is that having a great collection of things – be it software programs or even garden tools – is useless if you can’t lay your hands on an item in a timely fashion.

Take the item above – is it a picture? a graphic? some clip art? Is the subject police? traffic? female police? buses?

I used to collect a lot of stuff like this and I used to lose a lot of it and it really grated my coconuts. I tried all manner of organising systems, a raft of disc cataloguing systems, dozens of file finder systems, hard copy systems; databases; on line and off line systems; floppy discs and mag tapes; commercial and home-grown. In the end, years later, with the advent of high capacity hard disc drives I finally came up with a system that is simple, effective, and has stood the test of time since Windows 98.

Eyes on the Prize:

The goal of a perfect filing system is to provide a way of storing files that gives the user a better chance of finding them later without resorting to excessive data duplication. Secondary goals would include finding a system that is free, and one that does not depend on the staying power of third-party players.

My solution has been to find a manageable group of categories into which most of my work fits, then apply that group to all of my computers and data storage devices. The second part of the solution is a bit harder as it requires me to stick to the system as much as possible, making changes where absolutely required, but always with the goal of keep the whole system consistent.

My top level list looks like this – annotated to help me decided what goes where. Yours will probably look a bit different:

My Backups – Primarily user data from “C:\” like favourites, but also data from third party programs that allow nominated backup locations
My Documents – Mostly free-standing .txt, .doc, and .pdf documents, but can also include other file types where appropriate
My Downloads – First port of call for everything coming into my system – from there into the appropriate storage folder
My Graphics – Mostly web art – third party images for web development work (this may go away shortly as most stuff is now available on line)
My Music – A great collection of Trance, Techno and Electronic music
My Pictures – Photographs and scans taken by me, my family and friends – some day to be organised by subject
My Progs – See below – my collection of applications
My Projects – Can include any sort of file type connected to one of the “non-website” projects I’m working on at the time (see “My Webs” below)
My Sounds – Sound effects for web projects, but also “books on tape” and audio pod-casts
My Video – I’ve moved my movies over to a MediaServer computer. Any remaining free-standing videos are here
My Webs – Working space for my current web projects

The notion of “free-standing” is important here to separate items that rightly fit into a project folder from those that should not.

In the Microsoft tradition, the prefix “My” refers to files that I’ve added to the system, rather than files supplied by Microsoft or any other third party. The only fixed second level list is under the progs and looks like this:

My Progs:

Comms – Network tools, Ftp, Skype, etc
Disc Tools – Magic ISO, ImgBurn, etc
File Mgmt – WinZip, WinRar, Duplicate finders, etc
Graphics – Photoshop-like tools, Icon tools, etc
Hardware – Drivers mostly
Office – Word processors, spreadsheet programs, Adobe reader, etc
Print & Scan – CD label printers and other print utilities
Programming – Dreamweaver, PHP tools, etc
Security – anti-virus programs and, in the past, firewalls, etc
Sound & Music – players, makers, and enhancers
SysAdmin – unix-like tools, macro recorders, dotNet stuff, etc
Toys – Screen-savers, etc
Video & DVD – players, DVD makers, converters, etc
Web – browsers and add-ons

This structure has also served me well under my pre-Windows 7  “Start” menu.  The Search facility for finding executable programs does a good job and this reduces the need for a tight structure.

Separate and Not Equal

The other second level folders are variable and tend to come and go as my work and interests change, grow, evolve, and occasionally die. Some of these have turned out to be very long lived – “My Documents” has a “Finances” folder that will most likely remain throughout my lifetime, along with a “Resume” folder.

The key is to find descriptive names that provide

All of this data resides on “D:\” (typically) and is thus protected to some extent from system crashes, and “Big Flush” manoeuvres (when I re-format “C:\” and reload the OS). This protection is further enhanced when “D:\” is a Raid 5 array – but that’s another story (see my article for details)

For years now I’ve followed the practice of partitioning off a slice of my first drive to be the “C:\” drive – home to my operating system. And because Windows relentlessly loads essential files that make life easier (cookies, for example) the “My Backups” folder will most likely always contain sub-folders for Bookmarks, Cookies, Registry and other stuff that I discover each time I reformat “C:\” and reload the O/S.

Step by step:

In addition to a set of folders, having a good system also requires a bit of discipline in the execution. The first rule is to ensure a single point of entry. In my case, it’s “D:\My Downloads” — all software, all videos, all email attachments, all screen captures, in short – everything desirous of a place in our file system must begin its journey through the “D:\My Downloads” doorway and care must be taken to ensure there is only one door. Sadly, a quick look at my current disc reveals some 20 “download” folders for me to deal with – just one of the problems Windows 7 brings to the party – but more on that later.

Once a file hits the “D:\My Downloads” folder a diligent user will make whatever use it was intended for then carefully file away any source files remaining in “My Downloads” into their proper place in our carefully designed file structure on “D:\”. The rest of us slackers will eventually notice that our “My Downloads” folder is so full of stuff it’s becoming hard to find our newly downloaded files and, with a groan, we will take the time required to file away all those items we thought were so important at that moment but now don’t even hold enough importance for us to know why we wanted them in the first place.

Hopefully, lots of junk will hit the recycling bin at this point. But, in the end, we should once again have a small number of files in “My Downloads” and perhaps a new folder or two within “My Downloads” as temporary holding for files that belong together – all of the Podcasts in a series, for example. Eventually, these, too, must be filed or deleted, but it’s better to leave files with no clear destination in the Download folder than file them wrongly where they can be lost.


A major challenge these days is the number of redundant folders Windows 7 throws into the system. Here is just a smattering of the “Download” folders available on a system I’ve tried to keep fairly clean:

Directory of C:\Users\All Users\Microsoft\Network\Downloader
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Device Metadata\dmrccache\downloads
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\AppData\Local\Temp\Free Download Manager
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\Documents\Downloaded Installations
Directory of C:\Users\Public\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\Downloaded Program Files
Directory of C:\Windows\ServiceProfiles\LocalService\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\ServiceProfiles\NetworkService\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\AuthCabs\Downloaded
Directory of C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download
Directory of D:\My Graphics\Web Images\Web Elements\Backgrounds\WallPaper\wallpapers-download
Directory of D:\My Music\Deck\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Downloads
Directory of D:\My Progs Library\Web\phpBB3\download

These folders may help some users, but they just frustrate me.

Another “Challenge” stems from the wonderful flexibility of computers. We can create data in hundreds of different forms – documents, audio, video and images are just some of the major categories, all of which can be mixed, merged and combined to form a single presentation. It’s this flexibility that makes organising by “form” a tricky matter. You may have a folder for “video”, but what if that video is embedded in a web page, which also includes text, images and sound bites? Bottom line: I tried sorting my data by type, but as the data grew it became harder and harder to find the content I was looking for.

Take this post, for example – I’ve decided to start it in a Project folder in a “Minty White” sub-folder and each post has its own sub-folder (this one is “Last File System”) and a further sub-folder which contains any image files I might include. But “The Last File System” could also be filed under “My Documents” and may wind up in “My Webs” (as I’ll probably post this on my website eventually).

I wish I could predict that “the next big thing” in computing will be a universally accepted classification methodology


* Find a simple system – whether it’s a built-in system, like the Windows Library, or some other,
* Start with a logical subdivision that reflects your data and the way you use your computer(s)
* Implement the system across all the computers you use
* Make small changes to “fine-tune” the system
* Stick with it

If you find a better system – drop me a note.

About Deck Hazen

A computer user since 1976, Deck enjoys testing new software and reconfiguring his equipment to squeeze the most out of it. "Computing has come a long way since those early days" Deck recalls "I get a real kick out of watching the industry grow - getting paid to write about it is just icing on the cake!"

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