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Front Page » February 21, 2006 » Tech Tips » Files, Folders & Formatting, Part 4
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Files, Folders & Formatting, Part 4

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Your computer contains much more than just your photos, letters and other personal documents. In fact, your computer likely contains thousands of files - many of which comprise Windows itself and the programs installed on the computer.

Generally, all files can be divided into three basic groups - user files, program files and system files.

User files are personal, user-created files. Examples may include pictures taken with your digital camera, letters you've typed, spreadsheets you've made, etc. Many refer to user files as documents.

Common File Formats
Ext. Description
.tif Tagged Image File (image)
.jpg JPEG (image)
.exe Executable (program)
.dll Program Library (program module/helper)
.doc Microsoft Word file
.xls Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
.ppt Microsoft PowerPoint
.odt OASIS OpenDocument word processing file
.lnk Windows Link (shortcut to another folder/file)
.txt Simple text file
.zip Compressed file archive
.mp3 MP3 audio file

Program files are files that comprise (make up) programs that have been installed on the computer. For example, if you've installed McAfee Anti-Virus, the files that were copied and installed to the computer during installation are considered program files.

System files are files that the computer needs for proper system operation. The files that make up Windows, for example, are system files. So are device drivers (files that tell your computer how to inter-operate with a specific device).

Virtually every file on your computer also has an extension. An extension is a suffix that begins with a dot and includes one or more characters. Traditionally, extensions were limited to 3 characters, but today extensions vary in size (although 3 is still the average).

The file extension tells Windows what type of file the file is. For example, if the file is named "file.jpg" then Windows will know it is a "JPEG image file." If the file is called "file.exe" then Windows knows it is an executable (a program). When you double click a file, Windows examines the file extension to determine what file type it is, and then passes it to a program it thinks will be able to open it.

However, Windows automatically hides these extensions from the user. This behavior can be changed through Folder Options (not covered in this article).

Each file on your computer has an address that is unique to it. This address will tell you which storage device it is stored on, and what folder (or folder(s)) it is located in. This address is often referred to as it's path.

In Windows, a file's path always begins with a letter of the alphabet, followed by a colon and a backslash. This letter represents the storage device that the file is stored on. For example, the path to a file stored on the floppy drive will begin with "A:\" The path to a file stored on your primary hard disc will begin with a "C:\".

Following the drive letter, colon and backslash, a path may contain a series of folder names that the file is placed in. For example, the path "C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\IEXPLORE.EXE" refers to a file named "IEXPLORE.EXE" which is located in a folder called "Internet Explorer." The "Internet Explorer" Folder is inside the "Program Files" folder. The "Program Files" folder is inside the "C" drive, which happens to be the primary hard disc drive in the system. This file also happens to be an executable file (a program).

Now that you've read a little bit about file systems, folders and files, hopefully the computer seems a little less complicated than it did before!

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