Spring cleaning for your desktop

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2008

Nothing says more about a person's cyber-personality than the shape of their desktop. In my case, it becomes the storage closet for all sorts of things and requires the same spring cleaning that I give my garage every year.

For most normal people a desktop is the wooden or vinyl surface on which they distribute bills, notes and books. But for computer users, the desktop is the screen that is presented after you log onto the computer. When we first purchase a computer the desktop appears rather trim and neat. For Windows XP, it is almost totally barren. Most of us are familiar with "My Computer" and "My Documents." But somehow it gets cluttered up with all sorts of stuff.

How does this happen? By accident? Actually, yes. Ever noticed that just about every program that is installed seems to assume that you and everybody else in your household must have a shortcut deposited onto your desktop? My son obtained "Battlefield 1942" and my wife and I were suddenly besieged with six icons featuring tanks, airplanes and helicopters. Apple places icons for QuickTime on everyone's desktop, as well as iTunes. Gee - does everyone have an iPod? And Adobe Reader - how often do we use that one?

The pictures that appear on the desktop are often referred to as icons or shortcuts. In fact, all the items that appear on the desktop are icons, but not all icons are shortcuts. Shortcuts are "link files" which automatically start a program located elsewhere on the computer.

Some of my icons are photographs, others are actually folders that contain other files, and still others are the programs themselves. You can delete unnecessary icons by right-clicking on each one and selecting "Delete."

Experienced users usually create shortcuts to frequently-used databases, spreadsheets and documents. Others create shortcuts to programs that are not normally placed on the desktop, such as a tax program, or a paint program. My desktop has shortcuts to an audio editing tool, a web design tool and Skype. And, being a system administrator, I have numerous shortcuts to geeky sorts of programs. Deleting shortcuts you never use is another way to unclutter your desktop.

What you might not realize is that the desktop is actually a folder in your personal folder. It is just like any other folder on your computer. Since it is a directory, it can be the reason why some folks observe their computer operating very slowly or running out of disk space during a backup procedure.

You can manage your desktop using Windows Explorer - copying, deleting and moving files. In Explorer, navigate to the "Users" folder - in "Documents and Settings" for XP. There you should find your account.

In Windows XP you will also find a folder called "All Users;" which in Vista is called "Public." If you select this you will be presented with a number of folders, one of which is "Desktop." Clicking that folder will present the icons that are automatically presented to everyone who uses your computer.

Further cleanup can involve moving pictures to the "My Pictures" folder and moving downloads to a special folder.

In the end, you can have a desktop that is neat, contains what is important to you and is efficient to use.

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