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Back to basics: a Windows XP refresher guide

Working with files and folders
Manage your files and documents with the help of Windows Explorer

FEATURE INDEX
Introduction
A quick introduction to Windows XP
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The Desktop
Get to grips with XP's user interface
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The Taskbar
Take the Windows XP taskbar for a spin
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Files and folders
Learn to use these essential filing tools
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Control Panel
Change the most important options in Windows XP
Click here to view

More help and links
Find some more help and tutorials
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W
indows Explorer is the part of Windows that gives you access to the contents of any drive that's attached to your PC. At its most basic level you double-click the My Computer icon - either on your desktop or your Start menu - and then navigate it by double-clicking drives and folders to view their contents, or files to load them in whichever program they're associated with. Navigation buttons enable you to go back without having to close the window and start again.
 
   Files are copied or moved by dragging them from one window to another, but they don't always follow the same behaviour. Windows automatically copies items between drives, but moves them between folders on the same drive. To ensure a file is always copied, hold [Ctrl] as you drag it from one folder to another; to make sure it's moved instead, hold [Shift].

Step-by-step: Quickly copy and move files


1. SELECT TARGET FOLDER


2. PICK FILES TO TRANSFER


3. MOVE OR COPY?



Viewing files and folders
A Windows Explorer window contains two elements: the contents of the drive or folder are displayed on the right, while a task pane on the left contains options relevant to the current folder or selected file.
 
   What information you see depends on how you're viewing your folders and files - typically tile view is chosen by default, but there are four or five others available from the View menu: Thumbnails, Icons, List and Details, plus Filmstrip if your folder contains pictures - this is a good option for previewing images at a reasonably large size.
 
   Tile view lets you see particular details depending on what kind of file you're looking at - file size, what program the file opens in by default and when it was last modified, for example. For more detailed information, switch to Details. At first, all it shows is size, file type and date, but right-click any of these column headings to select more detail to show. You can also resize the columns by clicking and dragging their handles left or right.
 
Organise by groupings
You can rearrange files and folders by a certain criteria - for example, name or date - using the View > Arrange icons by option. Files are arranged in descending order - to view them in ascending order you must switch to Details view and click a column heading twice.
 
   A feature that's new to Windows XP is grouping: this enables you to sort your files and folders into groups depending on the way they've been filed. This works best when you arrange your files and folders by type, as it enables you to segregate Word documents from digital photos, for example. Switch it on by selecting View > Arrange Icons by > Show in Groups.


Annotation: A tour of Windows Explorer


Windows Explorer view
If you right-click a drive or folder and choose Explore you'll see the task pane replaced with a folder bar (alternatively, select View > Explorer Bar > Folders). Your drives and folders are displayed in a tree-like fashion down the left-hand side of the page. Click a folder to open it in the left-hand window and reveal its contents in the right.
 
   By default, clicking a folder once in the Explorer Bar will open it. Click on another folder and the original folder closes. If this behaviour annoys you, select Tools > Folder Options and switch to the View tab. Untick Display simple folder view in Explorer's Folders list and click OK.
 
   One of the advantages of this approach is that it makes it possible to copy files and folders to another location on your PC without opening a second window - the step-by-step guide below shows you how it's done.
 
See what's hidden
Files use the following naming convention: filename.ext, where ext is a three-letter extension that helps Windows XP identify the file's type - for example, DOC is linked to WordPad or Microsoft Word, while GIF will be associated with your image editor.
 
   By default, Explorer hides this extension from view, so you can't accidentally change it and confuse XP in the process. As the file's parent application is usually clearly labelled - either by its icon or by the Type (displayed in both Tiles and Details view) - it's deemed unnecessary.
 
   However, what happens if you save a file in a different format using the same filename (for example, you save a high-resolution TIF file in JPEG format to email to a friend)? Both files will appear with the same name and open in the same application, making it hard to differentiate one from the other.
 
   Another problem is viruses that add .exe or .vbs to the end of an innocent-sounding filename, so picture.jpg.exe appears to be picture.jpg. If you're wondering, you can use full stops inside a filename - it's the last three letters that determine what type of file it is.
 
   Switch this feature off from the View tab of Folder Options - untick Hide extensions for known file types. You can also make hidden files and folders visible by selecting Show hidden files and folders from here, but until you need to access such a folder we recommend leaving well alone. Click OK when you're done.

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