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  • Cleaning up Your Desktop
    By Robert Levy

    Having a messy office can be fun, especially when no one but you can find anything in it. But eventually the clutter gets to a point where even you can't find what you need. Suddenly, you're spending an hour trying to find a letter that you just know is in one of those drawers. It's annoying, but the thought of cleaning up the mess is even worse!

    We know. And what's true of your office is just as true of your virtual workspace, your computer's desktop.

    But a cluttered desktop may be worse than just inconvenient. It could actually reduce your computer's performance by snagging memory that would otherwise be used to run programs. The less stuff on your desktop to worry about, the happier your system will be. You'll be happier, too, when you actually find something as soon as you need it.

    And it's not hard to do! No hanging folders, colored tabs, or paper cuts to worry about (and your computer will do the heavy lifting).

    The Puritan Method
    If you want to get completely organized the old-fashioned way, then you should take the time to store
    the stuff on your desktop into appropriate folders, creating new ones if necessary. This makes for the neatest, tidiest, most organized workspace you can have.

    When you have the time and inclination to do that, more power to you! But in the meantime, the methods below will help you clean up quickly and almost painlessly, without spending a lot of time figuring out where to put everything. Find your operating system (Windows or Macintosh) below to get started.

    Method One: Put away the old stuff
    If you're a typical computer user, then a lot of those files on your desktop have been there since before you knew how to use a mouse. Clearing away those oldies might be all you need to get a nice clean desktop, keeping just the stuff you really use.

    Step 1: Finding the old stuff
    We're going to open the desktop as a folder so that we can see all those files in an organized list, making it easier to get a grip on them. Then we'll have Windows sort the list by the last time you changed a file (Windows 98) or opened it (Windows Me, XP, or 2000).

    To open your desktop as a folder:
    1. Right-click any folder, or the Start button, and choose Explore. A Windows Explorer window will open.

    2. In the Address box at the top of the window, type desktop and press the ENTER key on your keyboard. All the items on your desktop will appear in the right pane of the folder window.

    3. From the View menu, choose Details. You'll see all kinds of information about each file.

    4. Windows 98 users: Click the Modified heading to sort the list by the last time a file was changed. This should give you a good idea of which files you don't use anymore.

    Step 2: Putting that old stuff away
    1. Right-click anywhere in the desktop (or desktop folder) and choose New, then choose Folder.

    2. Name the folder whatever you like, and press the ENTER key.

    3. Drag the old items from the desktop to the folder you just created.

    Voil´┐Ż! Now your desktop only shows the items you really use, plus one folder containing the older stuff you're not ready to throw away.

    Method Two: Cheat!
    Like sweeping dust under the carpet, this method keeps all those icons hidden just under the surface. When you put a new file on the desktop you'll find it easily, but all the old stuff will still be together in one folder.
    1. Right-click anywhere in the desktop (or desktop folder) and choose New, then choose Folder.

    2. Name the folder Desktop Stuff (or whatever you like), and press the ENTER key.

    3. Drag everything (except the hard disk icon) from the desktop to the Desktop Stuff folder.

    You'll have a nice, clean desktop, and no desktop-related memory issues, plus all your stuff will be organized in a folder.

    Mac OS X
    If you're using the latest operating system, known as Tiger (or OS X version 10.4), then you can use Spotlight to keep track of all your files, as in Method One below.

    Otherwise, you can cheat a little by creating a new folder and dropping everything from your desktop into it. (Call it Desktop Stuff, let's say.) That'll give you a nice clean desktop without worrying about organizing it all.

    Or, check out Method Two below for an elegant and free software program that'll help out with very little hassle.

    Method One: Use Spotlight to avoid organizing (OS X v10.4 and greater)
    Using Spotlight (and a little effort), you'll never have to worry about which file should go into which folder.

    We'll tell you how to quickly add comments and search using Spotlight, but there's a lot more on Spotlight out there. For more information, visit the Apple Spotlight Web page. We recommend learning about "Smart Folders," which can save you tons of time .

    Step One: Adding comments to a file
    To add a Spotlight comment to a file:
    1. Right-click the file or folder you want to work with (or hold the CONTROL key on your keyboard while you click).

    2. Choose Get Info. The Info window for that file or folder will open.

    3. In the Spotlight Comments box, type whatever words best describe the item. For example, if it's a picture of your cat, Fred, you might type the following: cat fred calico sweet mouser fluffy.

      In the future, you'll be able to find this picture using any of the words you added to the comments.
    4. Close the window.
    The comments you've added will follow that file around no matter where you put it, so feel free to take it off the desktop and drop it in your Documents folder. You'll be able to find it again whenever you want, as you'll see in the next step.

    Step Two: Searching for your files
    The simplest way to find a file is to click the blue Spotlight icon at the top-right of your screen (it looks a little like a magnifying glass) and type a word.

    For example, type the word fred into the Spotlight box, and every file or folder with the word Fred associated with it will appear in a list. This is a lot faster than trying to organize and find all your files and folders by name or function.

    Method Two: Use "Folder Clean-Up"
    Folder Clean-Up is a free and fast little program to help you stay organized. It takes any cluttered folder (including the desktop folder) and organizes it into several folders, according to the type of file.

    For example, if your desktop has 5 documents, 7 JPG files, and 6 PDFs, Folder Clean-Up will create three folders, called docs, pdfs, and jpgs, and place each file in the right place. For more information, visit the Folder Clean-Up Web page.

    Desktop Peace
    The desktop can be a convenient place to put files and folders before you've decided what to do with them. But once you've filed away all the old stuff you never use, you'll find it much easier to work with the stuff you really need. You might even get to look at the pretty picture in the background.

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