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Front Page » February 7, 2006 » Tech Tips » Files, Folders & Formatting, Part 3
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Files, Folders & Formatting, Part 3

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During this series, we've been discussing topics like file systems, files & folders, and how to format a storage device. This time, we are going to further explain formatting, and how it is done in Windows.

Before a storage device undergoes a format, it is much like unspoiled, untamed land. There are no property boundaries, no fences - no distinct separation from one area to the next. For residential or commercial use, however, the land must be divided into properties, which have clearly defined areas (i.e. "boundaries"), and are carefully set so properties do not overlap. This is done so the governing authority (city, county government, etc) knows who owns each property, and what each property is zoned for (residential, commercial, etc). The property boundaries do not change the land itself, they simply define ownership of areas.

Formatting is very similar. Before formatting is done, the storage medium is like an open expanse. Information can be stored on it, but there is no way to determine where one piece of information stops, and another starts. Like property boundaries, formatting creates a system that divides the area into smaller, more manageable pieces. Like property boundaries, formatting does not physically alter the storage area; it simply defines specific areas on the device, and how they will be used. But these areas, called clusters, are allocated to files (i.e. "documents"), not people.

You can format a storage device through "My Computer." Open up "My Computer" and then right-click the storage device you want to format. For example, to format the floppy drive, right-click "3� Floppy (A:)" and click (don't right-click) on "Format." (Note: you cannot format optical drives, like CD-ROMS and DVD-ROMS. They use file systems also, but those things are taken care of by the CD/DVD burning software).

A box should appear with various options. In nearly all cases, "Quick Format" should be selected. If you are concerned a storage device may be going bad, you may want to uncheck "Quick Format" which will instruct the computer to do a regular format. A regular format does everything a quick format does, but it also checks the entire storage area of the device, and marks any bad or problematic areas as "unusable" so that they won't be used to store important documents! On some devices, a regular format can take an hour or more to complete.

Using a label is optional. If you use a label, it will be displayed in "My Computer" when the device is inserted or plugged in to the computer.

When you're ready, hit "Start" or "OK" and the formatting process will begin. Formatting may take some time, so be patient! Do NOT remove or unplug the device during the formatting process! If you do, you will have to re-format the device.

Please take a note of caution, however, that formatting ERASES all files currently stored on the device. And because formatting is largely undo-able, any files lost in the process are gone. If you lost mission-critical files from a format, there are 3rd party programs and specialty organizations that can help you get much of your data back, but don't expect it! Once the format is complete, the device can be used to store computer files!

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