Archive for the ‘File Organization’ Category
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A crash can impact your computing life in ways that are mere inconveniences to major disasters. In this article I am going to discuss ways of limiting inconvenient data loss.
First a definition: an inconvenient data loss (as opposed to a catastrophic loss) is the loss of data which can be rebuilt relatively easily, requiring only a moderate amount of time and inconvenience to accomplish the re-build.
Catastrophic loss, on the other hand, refers to the loss of critical data that would be very difficult, perhaps even impossible, to rebuild. Some examples of critical data are business or personal financial records, family photos where a print doesn’t exist, original artistic creations, any non-trivial original work that you have created on the computer.
Data loss is a question of when, not
if it will happen; it will happen.
Catastrophic Data Loss
The only way to prevent catastrophic data loss is to regularly and frequently back the data up to a second location. How often should you back up? The more important the data, the more frequently you should back it up. A web search will turn up links to many backup applications that will assist you in backing up. Once you have decided on an application, you then need to decide what (individual files and folders) to backup, where to place the backup, and when the backup should happen.
- Choose what to backup carefully
- Choose a location that is not on the same
disk or media as the actual data
- Choose a backup frequency that will
minimize the amount of critical data
that will be lost when your computer crashes
Inconvenient Data Loss
The specific inconvenient data loss that prompted this article was a recent computer failure. In short, Windows crashed, making my computer unusable until I re-installed Windows. At the time, Office 2010 applications were my main tools. Roughly 75% of everything I do using my computer involves one or more Office applications (Word, Access, Excel, Publisher, PowerPoint.) I thought I had a reliable backup strategy in places with backup software copying my documents, spreadsheets, etc. to a backup folder that was in turned synced to a cloud location. That way, even if my computer experienced a total failure, I would still have all my files, with little or no loss.
Over the years, custom templates have become an essential part of my electronic tool box. For example I have Word templates that help me quickly create several different documents that are an essential part of my training practice. These include class lists, class evaluations, training quotations, and course outline formats. In short, whenever I recognized that I was creating documents that repeated standard information, I created a template that would include the information common to each of these types of documents.
Of course it takes time to create good templates but the invested time is quickly repaid because having a template eliminated re-inventing the wheel to create routine documents.
And so it seems, templates were the Achilles’ heel of my backup strategy. I had overlooked that fact that custom templates and page parts in Office 2010 and earlier, were not stored in a location that is readily accessible to backup software. In other words, backing up document does not back up templates.
When windows went down for the count, the crash took out of circulation the folders where my custom templates were stored. Recovery, while not difficult, has been time consuming. Because I didn’t lose my data, I have been able to open files that I had originally created from each template and delete any of the content that was not part of the generic template. The difficult part has been remembering exactly what templates I had been using.
Avoiding the Problem in Office 2010 and Prior
Obviously this is an experience I would like to avoid in the future so I have modified my backup strategy. Ironically, the solution I came up with resembles the Office 2013 approach to custom template storage, something I became aware of only after I had worked out my new strategy.
First, I created a folder, MyTemplates, in my Documents folder. Each time I create a new template, I save it to the the default templates folder and then save a new copy to MyTemplates. My backup strategy already included the Documents folder so MyTemplates is automatically backed up with every scheduled backup.
This approach isn’t ideal because it does require manual intervention whenever I create or modify a template but this minor inconvenience is well worth the bit of time it takes because it minimizes the risk of having to recreate templates in the event of a catastrophe.
How Office 2013 Handles Custom Templates
Office 2010 and prior Office versions buried custom templates in subfolders managed by Windows. The exact folder location depended on the particular Office version. In Office 2013, custom templates can become more accessible to the user. The default is a folder, Custom Office Template in the user’s Documents folders.
Given the experience I outlined above, I strongly recommend going with the default and then ensuring that the Custom Office Templates folder is included in the list of locations that you regularly backup.
The article Finding Template From Previous Office Versions suggests pointing your custom templates link to the templates folder that Office 2010 used. This approach is not a solution to the lost templates issue discussed above.
This article: Office 2013 Custom Templates Location the Custom Office Templates folder in Office 2013.
Electronic Storage is More Affordable than Ever
Personal data storage costs have plummeted over the years. I recall receiving a promotional flyer in 1985 promoting a 5 Megabyte hard drive for $5,000.00. In today’s dollars that price translates to a bit over $9200.00 according to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator. If you convert that price to a cost per 1000 bytes, it works out to about $1.84. Okay, so what does that mean in everyday terms?
Since a byte is roughly equivalent to the storage space required for a single character, and the nominal average size of a word in the English language is 5 characters, you could store roughly 200 words for that $1.84 in that 1985 megabyte drive. So, for you students the cost to store a 2000 word essay would be just over $18.00
Fast forward to 2010. These days, the storage capacities of hard drives are frequently expressed in terms of gigabytes and terabytes. A one terabyte drive has roughly 200,000 times the storage capacity of that one 5 megabyte drive. (My math skills fail me when I am working with such large numbers but I think I am in the right neighbourhood. Terabyte drives are now available retail at prices in the $200.00 (and less) range.
Using the $200.00 price, that means that the 2000 word essay that once would have cost about $18.00 to store, now costs a tiny fraction of a penny. A 200,000 word thesis would have a storage cost of around 4 cents.
So what does all of this have to do with Windows 7. Because data storage is dirt cheap (sorry there is no other word for it) we tend to store more and more documents electronically. Many people are store vast amounts of music, video, and still photographic images, desktop publications, artwork, project plans, spreadsheet, databases, and much, much more. In short, many people are storing large numbers of documents.
Finding What You Need – Staying Organized
Well, storing all this ‘data’ is find but the stored files are absolutely worthless unless you can find them, quickly and when you need them. And that’s where Windows 7 Libraries come into play.
Quote of the Day:
If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.
-Henry David Thoreau
Most windows users are at least somewhat familiar with the folder system and concept that goes back to Windows 95. To all intents and purposes, documents are stored in folders. Folders themselves may be stored in other folders. Think of the hard drive as a huge file storage warehouse. In that warehouse, there are many file storage rooms. In Windows terms, these rooms are referred to as top-level folders. Inside each of these rooms are filing cabinets (another layer of folders). Inside each filing cabinet are filing drawers (yet another layer of folders) and inside each of these folders are individual documents.
The analogy breaks down a little once you get to the filing drawer level of the physical example. You wouldn’t have a filing drawer within a filing drawer but in the virtual model any folder can theoretically contain yet more folders.
How I Organize My Documents
There are a number of possible ways that you can organize your files. Systematic organization is the key to finding that elusive Word document, or Excel workbook when you need it. The system I’m going to describe works for me. You may have a different approach. If that approach works for you, great! After I describe my current system, I will talk about how Libraries in Windows 7 helps me keep my current system yet makes it easier to find and use the important files I have stored.
I use the Documents (Windows 95 – XP, My Documents) folder as the central location for all my files. Within the documents folder, I have one folder for each type of activity that I am involved with. Part of my work involves the development of custom Access databases and Excel workbooks for clients. My business name is Argee Services so I have one folder in the Documents folder named Argee Development.
Now, when I start to work on a project for a new client. I will create a folder within the Argee Development folder, using the Client’s business name as the folder name. Within that folder, I have one folder for each project I have developed or am working on for that client. Each project folder will have a similar set of folders and documents, including an archive folder for saving interim versions of the project as development proceeds.
Getting There Isn’t Half the Fun – Windows 7 Libraries to the Rescue
While the system I have described helps keep my client files organized, using the File Open dialogue to locate and open a particular file can be a bit tedious to say the least. I need the files for work in progress project to be readily found. There is less urgency associated with completed projects. In earlier versions of windows, I had a folder named Work in Progress and that folder would contain shortcuts to current projects.
That meant having to create a shortcut to the project and then move the shortcut to the Work in Progress folder. Windows 7 Libraries make this process easier to manage.
Now I have a library named (you guessed it!) Work in Progress. When I start a new project, I add the project folder to the Work in Progress folder. The actual project folder remains ‘physically’ in the Argee Development\Client folder structure. But in the Work in Progress library the project is a top level folder. Working with this virtual folder ‘feels’ exactly like working with the actual folder that ‘lives’ somewhere else in my computer system.
To me, the Libraries concept resembles the Clipart Organizer and Windows Media Player playlists in previous Windows versions. Neither the Clipart Organizer nor the Media Player stored any actual files. A Media Player playlist was actually just a list of paths to the media files. So a playlist could include media files from several different Windows folders.
Similarly, a Windows 7 Library does not contain real folders. It contains shortcuts to the real folders that you want to include in the library. The icon is a folder icon, so it ‘feels’ like you are working with the actual folder. Once you have added a folder to a library, you don’t have give any thought to the actual location of the folder. Just use the library to find the folders and its files when you need to work with them.