The Computer Helper: Mastering My Documents

Odd as it may seem, one of the biggest problems many computer users face is knowing where their documents are - and how to move or save them. Without this fundamental knowledge, it can be tough to locate important documents when you need them - or to feel like you're in control of your own computer.

The good news is that becoming a master of the My Documents folder is not as tough as it seems.

Q: I use Windows XP and understand that my Word documents are kept in My Documents. But when a colleague told me to copy the My Documents folder to a CD, I didn't know how. Where is My Documents?

A: To find My Documents, open the Windows Explorer file manager by holding down the Windows key on your keyboard and tapping the letter E. Locate your C drive (usually labeled Local Disk) in the left-hand pane, and select it. In the right-hand pane, you should then see a list of folders. Among those will be one labeled Documents and Settings.

Double-click the Documents and Settings folder, and then locate the folder that carries your user name or the name you supplied when you first installed Windows. Double-click that folder.

When you do, you will see a list of folders, and among those will be one called My Documents. That's the folder that contains all of the documents that you save with word or other office applications.

Since the location of this folder is easy to forget, you might want to create a shortcut to it on your Windows desktop. To do so, right click the folder, and from the resulting pop-up menu, select Send To...Desktop (Create Shortcut).

When you do that, a folder called My Documents will appear on your desktop, and you'll be able to double-click that at any time to see the documents that you have saved.

Q: Isn't it dangerous to store your documents on the same drive that your operating system is installed on? How can I move the default My Documents location in Windows?

A: Yes, the conventional wisdom has been that you should separate your documents from your operating system files by placing the documents on a different drive, if possible. That way, if something should happen to your system drive or you decide to reinstall Windows, you won't lose your documents in the process.

But most people have only one drive in their computer. It's true that you can configure a single drive with partitions to make it look like more than one drive to the computer, but few do that - and it still means that if your hard drive goes south, all of your data will go with it.

If, however, you want to hook up another drive to your PC and move the default My Documents folder to that, you can. Click the Windows Start button, and locate the My Documents entry in the Start menu.

Right-click My Documents and choose Properties from the resulting pop-up menu. In the My Documents Properties dialog box, there is a text box labeled Target, displaying the current location of the My Documents folder. You'll also see buttons labeled Restore Default, Move, and Find Target.

If you wish to move all of the documents you have currently stored in My Documents to another location, which is what most folks will probably want to do, click the Move button, and navigate to the folder where you'd like your documents to be. You even have the option of creating a new folder on the fly in the Move dialog box.

Once the move is completed, all of your documents will be in the new location, and even your applications that save documents in the My Documents folder by default will begin storing documents in the new location. You can restore the documents to their original location by clicking the Restore Default button in the My Documents Properties dialog box.

Just remember that no matter where your documents are stored, you should have a daily backup plan in place. Off-site storage is best, and for this you may want to consider using a free Internet storage and backup service such as

Q: On Windows XP, all of the documents I have viewed or worked on recently are visible to everyone in the Start menu through the My Recent Documents menu. How can I remove this?

A: To remove the My Recent Documents list from the Start menu, right-click the Start menu, and select Properties from the pop-up menu. The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box appears. Click the Customize button, which will bring up the Customize Start Menu dialog box.

Select the Advanced tab, and then locate the check box labeled "List my most recently opened documents." Select that to clear the check mark, and click OK twice until you're back to your Windows desktop. The My Recent Documents entry should no longer appear in your Start menu.


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