By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
We're silly. All of us are goofy. We stare for hours at a computer screen and call it a desktop.
If Martians came down to analyze us, they'd surely return to the Red Planet mumbling to themselves. A desktop is the thing you have on your desk. You can pound on it, write graffiti on it, put your coffee cup on it, pile papers on it. It's a physical thing.
That whatchamacallit on your computer screen is something else. It's a handy place for shortcuts. If you remember only one thing from what I'm telling you, remember this: The desktop on your computer screen is a place to keep shortcuts.
Shortcuts are those things you find in the Start Menu. They're easy to make. I'll skip the boring stuff and just mention that all you have to do is drag something with the right mouse button and let go. Kabam! You can make a shortcut.
Just about everybody who uses Windows 95 and Windows 98 has this whole thing backward. It's not their fault. Microsoft should have changed the way Windows works. Windows should slap your wrists, byte your nose, maybe, each time you try to put something on the desktop that's not a shortcut.
For example, you should never put a real folder or a real file on the desktop. I mean "never" as in, If you do it you won't get through the Pearly Gates, Bill's or St. Peter's. I mean "never" as in, You can delete shortcuts all you want, but guess what happens when you delete a folder on your desktop that you think is a shortcut but is actually a folder with all your tax records from 1984 to 1997?
Crying towels are not included in the price of Windows, so listen up while I tell you why you should change your habits. I need to get just a little bit technical.
When the Windows desktop is fresh and new, it only sports a few icons. You'll see My Computer, Network Neighborhood, Recycle Bin and maybe a few others. They're shortcuts. They aren't actual folders or files. And if you click the Start button, you'll see a lot more icons. They're shortcuts, too. They aren't actual folders or files, either.
What I'm describing here may be a mystery to a lot of you. Try to follow this, even if you have two left thumbs when it comes to computing, because it will save you a great deal of grief some day.
Shortcuts are just road maps. Click on a shortcut and the computer says, "He went thataway!" That's all it is. It shows the route to something else—to a file somewhere, or maybe to an entire folder full of files. Drag a shortcut to the Recycle Bin and you toss out the map. Windows will let you make another one.
But real files and folders aren't maps at all. They're the genuine articles. They might be notes to the kids, a report for school, a dozen MIDI files you found on the Web, a half-zillion MPEG audio files you spent half your waking life downloading.
Don't put them on the desktop.
Why? It's all simple psychology. If every icon on your desktop is a shortcut, you have no worries about how to deal with them. Don't like some of them? Trash 'em. If half the icons are shortcuts and half are real things, files and folders, what if you don't like some of them? It's abysmally easy to drag the wrong thing to the trash.
Put your real folders on your hard drive, the "C:" drive (or on another one, if you have more than one hard drive). You get to your hard drive by clicking My Computer. Put your real files in folders on the hard drive. Then put shortcuts to those files and folders on your desktop.
Side benefits: Your desktop will behave better because it won't be loaded down with megabytes of stuff, and your Windows folder—the place where the desktop is stored—will be freed of some extra junk, too.