Warning: The following might be a waste of time if you’re already pretty well acquainted with using a computer.  Here’s how to decide whether to bother reading:  If you read the Know your Meme entry on Technologically Impaired Duck and don’t get most of the jokes, you probably should read this.

A recent comment about saving one of my essays in a Word file prompted this.  I’ll just rant a bit on generally how to keep things simple on your PC and how to do some things that I’ve been surprised that people don’t know.  Much of it is probably specific to “IBM compatibles”.

Remember that phrase?  It means what’s generally called a “PC” now.  If you use a Mac, or you’re a linux freak, you might not find much helpful here.  If you’re a linux freak, you’re probably far ahead of me in “keeping it simple”, or you actually LIKE to tinker with the system much more than I do.

Glossary for Noobs:

Add-On – an optional enhancement to an application, usually available as a separate download.

Application – software (program or collection of programs) designed to do a job that you bought the computer to do.  Examples:  word processor, web browser, game,  picture viewer, video viewer, email client.

Default – what something will do if you don’t tell it to do something different.

Directory Tree – graphic depiction of the way folders, sub-folders, and files are arranged on your computer.

Download – Copy something from a far-away computer to the one in front of you.

File Extension – the part of a file name that follows the last period in the file name.  Examples:  .txt, .doc, .pdf, .exe, .jpg, .html.  The system refers to the file extension to decide what software to use when you open the file.

Folder – (also called a “directory”) a collection of files or sub-folders.

Memory (RAM) – where data are kept while the computer is actively working with them.

Motherboard – circuit board on which the most basic hardware of your system is installed.

Save – make a copy on the disk of a file that you’re working with in memory.

Sub-folder – a folder contained in another folder.

Upload – Copy something from the computer in front of you to one that’s far away.

Utility – software for arranging things on your system, usually for general maintenance.  Examples:  Windows Explorer,  “Control Panel” and everything filed under it, Antivirus software, Disk Defragmenter, Checkdisk.


First, you need to get acquainted with the way files are kept on your computer generally.

There’s probably a “My Computer” icon on your desktop.   Right-click on it, and then left-click on “Explore”.  This opens up Windows Explorer, a very powerful utility.  (Note:  in computerspeak, “powerful” often means “dangerous”.)  It’s very useful for opening, deleting, renaming, moving, and copying files and folders.  You’ll want to be very careful about what you do here. Not a big deal, but you need to know that ahead of time.

What you see is a depiction of the arrangement of “folders” (or “directories”), sub-folders within folders, and the files that live in them.  I call this the “directory tree”.

You’ve probably seen something like this before, when you clicked “Save As” in your word processor or some other applications in which you make files and save them.  A window opens up, with a picture like a piece of this Windows Explorer thing, probably showing that you’re about to save the file in “My Documents”, or some sub-folder thereof.

Now find that “My Documents” on the left side of this display.

You’ll see that if you just click on one of the folders on the left, the folders or files that live under that folder appear on the right.  The display on the left probably also shows the subfolders within the folder you’ve highlighted.

Now in the case of “My Documents”, just to confuse you, that folder is likely to appear two or three times on the directory tree.  Once directly under “Desktop”, again under”My Computer” with the name “Owner’s Documents”, and again as:

“My Computer\Local Disk (C):\Documents and Settings\Owner\My Documents”.

(This is how the “path” of a file is written.  Biggest folder followed by a backslash and the folder or file within it, continuing on down to the smallest folder and the actual file.)  It’s exactly the same contents, and as far as I know it’s only written on the disk once, but somehow Windows Explorer seems to show My Documents in more than one place on the tree.  “Owner” might be replaced with your name, or whatever is the name of an “account” that someone set up for you on this machine.

For getting acquainted, you might want to just click one folder after another on the left and look at what appears on the right.

Don’t mess with the system files.  These are mostly in the “Windows” folder.  In fact, don’t mess with anything here unless you know for sure what it is and what it does.  Just one left-click in the left section to see its contents in the right section.  No double clicks, no dragging, no right clicks, until you want to change something (or until I tell you to).

Once you’ve clicked on something on the left and the sub-folders within it are showing on the left, this can make the display rather long.  You can shorten it again with a right-click on what you highlighted, and a left-click on “Collapse”

Notice that at the top, there’s a “Search” button.  This can be very useful if you filed something and can’t find it later.  You can search either by the file name, or a piece of it, or some character string (a word or two) that appears in the file.  Don’t click it yet, that will come later.

Now, you’ve probably noticed, if you’ve typed things in Word, or used a number of other applications, that the “Save As” defaults to saving things somewhere in My Documents, or maybe in a folder that the application made for itself somewhere,  often a sub-folder in My Documents.

This might have started as a good idea, to have all of someone’s personal data in one place, so it’s easy to find and easy to copy for backup purposes.  It became a very bad idea when more & more stuff stored by a million different commercial applications started saving things in that same folder.  Much of it is stuff that you never want to see, and probably shouldn’t have on your disk anyway, because you haven’t used it in years.  So if you have a backup routine that says “Copy the whole damn My Documents folder and all subfolders”, you might be copying gigabytes of stuff that you’ll never need.

Let’s go back to the original question now:  saving something so you’ll find it later.  A “Save As” function probably defaults to saving in My Documents, and now that you’ve seen Windows Explorer, you know how to tell it to save a file somewhere else.  That little window with the directory tree can be CHANGED.

(1) Minimize the Windows Explorer window and go into MSWord, or one of your more common applications where you make files.

(2) When you have a blank document in front of you, click “File” and “Save As”.  You see the button at the top of that window that looks like a file folder with an arrow pointing up?  Clicking it will take you to a higher level of  the directory tree (the folder within which the folders or files that you’re currently looking at live).  The highest level is “Desktop”.  Under that is “My Computer”, and under that is “Local Disk (C:)” (your actual hard disk, most likely where everything is physically written, though the directory tree might show a different logical arrangement)

(3) Double clicking on a folder shows you the contents of that folder and moves you down in the directory tree.  You can choose any folder on the whole C: disk to save something in.

Now, let’s make a new folder.

(1) Open up Windows Explorer again.  Click on something in the left section just to highlight it, like Local Disk (C:) under My Computer, for instance.

(2) Go to the top of the window and click “File”.

(3) From the menu that opens up, click “New”,

(4) From that menu, click “Folder”.

You’ll see that the right section now shows a new folder named “New Folder”, but with the name highlighted for you to type the name you want, right under the C: disk, or whatever you have highlighted on the left.  This is how you make new folders.

(5) After typing in the name you want for the folder, hit the “Enter” key, and it’s done.

You can also delete folders with a simple right-click and delete.  (Imagine how you can mess up your system with this if you delete the wrong things.)

Now that you know how to make a new folder wherever you want to, you can start saving things in places that you choose,  and have some logical arrangement for what lives in which folder.  You can also have a simple backup routine for saving certain folders onto a memory stick, or some other external device, but that’s the next section.

Once you’ve made, or identified, a folder where you save a certain group of stuff, you can even make an icon on your desktop to go directly to that folder without having to go into Windows Explorer to find it.

Let’s make a desktop shortcut for the folder you just created:

(1) Click on whatever is just above that folder in the directory tree on the left.  (For instance, if you made a “New Folder” under C:, click C: on the left,)

(2) Find the folder in the right section.  Right-click it in the right section, and then left-click “Create Shortcut” in the menu that opens up. You’ll see that “Shortcut to ….” just appeared at the bottom of the right section.

(3) Grab this shortcut, and drag it onto your desktop.  (You might need to make the Windows Explorer window smaller by dragging the corner, to expose a space to drag it to.)  If you don’t need this shortcut, just a right-click and delete will get rid of it.

If you’re really a noob, recovering from a system failure is something that you’ll want to take it to a pro for.  If you want to recover from it yourself, you’ll probably want to keep the following on file, on CD’s, memory sticks, or whatever:

(1) A system CD that probably came with your computer.  The usual thing is that this will put everything back to the way it was when you bought it.  That means any applications you loaded, or data files you wrote since you got it, will be gone.

(2) CD’s for loading any additional software you loaded since you got the computer.  You’ll probably still have them stored in the box you bought them in, right?

(3) (optional) Copies of the files from which you might have loaded software that you got off the web.  You can always go online and download these files again once your system is restored, but it might be nice to have them for reference anyway.

(4) Your personal files.  These are likely to be something like:

a.  Current files being used by your email client.

b.  pictures saved (photos you took, funny pictures saved off the web, whatever)

c.  correspondence with person #1, person #2, etc.

d.  work that you do for organization #1, organization #2, etc.

e.  Random scrapbook, games, whatever else you like to save.

You can save #4 on a memory stick every so often.

I’ve shown you how you can make folders.  You can also make sub-folders within those folders.  I recommend making a “backup” folder somewhere into which you occasionally just copy everything in categories 3 and 4 that you don’t want to lose, in addition to keeping them wherever they currently live.  That way, you not only have a second copy of it on your C: disk, in case the original gets corrupted, but you have all this in the”backup” folder, ready to copy somewhere else once a week or so.

Copying files in Windows Explorer

It can work differently on different systems, but since working in XP I’ve found that the best way is to:

(1) Highlight what you want to copy on the right side.  (You can highlight a range of things by holding down the “Shift” key, clicking the first one, then clicking the last one as they appear in the list.  You can also highlight a bunch of things individually by holding down the “Ctrl” key as you click them one by one.  If you mess it up, just release the key and click somewhere else to start over.)

(2) Right-click on what you’ve highlighted, left-click on “copy”

(3) Left-click to highlight the destination folder on the left.

(4) Right-click on the destination and left-click on “paste”

Now that you can copy files, you can copy them to a memory stick.  Last time I looked, a 4GB memory stick can be had at Big Lots for 10 or 12 bucks, and that’s probably all you’ll ever need for your personal files.  No, really.  How many times do you think you’re going to watch the same movie?

(1) Plug the memory stick into one of your USB sockets.  The system will probably recognize it by itself, and maybe ask you some nonsense about software that you want to run it with.  Cancel out of that if it does it.

(2) Look at Windows Explorer now.  It should show the memory stick as an additional disk, maybe D:, E:, or F:.  All you need to do is arrange the view so that what you want to copy is on the right, highlight and “copy”, then highlight the memory stick and “paste”.

(3) When you’re through, click on the memory stick on the left to see its contents on the right.  If it’s right, you can take it out and store it somewhere safe.  But not yet.

You might notice that when you plugged in the memory stick, a new icon appeared on your toolbar:  something that looks like the end of a cable being plugged in.  If you put the pointer over it, it will say “safely remove hardware”.

Sometimes this thing does not appear.  In that case, there’s nothing to do before unplugging except to be sure the stick doesn’t have any indicator light telling you that it’s doing something as you unplug it.  If it DOES appear, you need to do this:

(1) Double-click the icon to bring up the “safely remove hardware” window.

(2) See that something like “USB mass storage device” is highlighted, and click on “Stop”.

(3) It might take you to another screen, where you’ll highlight whatever the name of the thing is, maybe a brand name, and click “Stop” again.

Strange as it sounds, it’s really important to do this.  It’s to make sure the system isn’t actively reading or writing on the device as it’s being removed.  If it is, it can not only mess up your memory stick but actually damage your motherboard.  Rare, but I’ve heard of it.


First off, one good resource for freeware is If you don’t seem to have the software for something you want to do, try the “Search” there and you might find something.  Lotsa general advice on that site about how to do things.


What do you want to write, and who will read it, and how?

(1)  If it’s just a note to yourself or an email that you want to take some time composing offline, with no need for fancy formatting and less than a million words or so, the answer is that you want to write in plain text, so you use Notepad.  If you don’t already have a Notepad shortcut on your desktop, it’s easy to make one:

Go into Windows Explorer,

a. Click to highlight “Local Disk (C:) on the left, and click the “Search” button

b. At the top-left,  Click “All files and folders”.

c. In the box labeled “All or part of the file name:”, type “notepad.exe” and click the “Search” button.

This will find it for you.  It probably lives somewhere in the Windows system.  Maybe in more than one place.

To make a shortcut,

a. Make a note of the path where it lives.  Probably in “C:\Windows”.

b. Click the “Folders” button at the top to go back to the normal Windows Explorer view.

c. Find notepad.exe in the directory tree according to the path you noted for it.  Right-click on notepad.exe.  Left-click on “Create Shortcut”.  This will add a shortcut to the list of things in that folder.

d. You can now drag this item from the list onto your desktop, and there you go.  Henceforth, whenever you just want to write something simple, you double click that shortcut on your desktop, and save what you write wherever you want to.

(2)  If it’s a snailmail letter, a flyer, or something else that you plan to print out on paper, you use a word processor.  There are many word processors, but Microshaft has managed to make MSWord by far the most commonly used.  It is probably not the best for most purposes.  Still, if your boss bought it as part of the package on the office computer, that’s probably what you’re used to, and it has lots of bells & whistles for doing fancy formatting.

If you’re buying and setting up a computer for your personal use, that’s a whole different story from one that’s given to you.  Many people speak well of OpenOffice, a freeware suite of applications comparable to what’s in MS Office that won’t cost you hundreds of bucks.  I haven’t used it myself, for reasons not worth explaining, but it’s free at  It seems to have applications comparable to Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access.

I mostly use MSWorks for personal reasons.  It came free on the first computer I bought, and that’s what I’m used to.  If you buy it, it’s a small fraction of the price of MSOffice.  Not much for bells & whistles, but it’s all most people need for any ordinary purposes, and guaranteed to be able to read whatever Microshaft formats were in use at the time that you bought it.  MSWorks is much smaller and simpler than MSOffice.  That means less space taken up on your disk, less time waiting for it to open or close, faster response to any command you give it, etc.  Maybe you think you have such a hot computer that it doesn’t matter, but just wait a couple of years.  See digression below.  I also have MSWord for occasional use.


With each year that passes, processors, disk drives, and communcations get faster.  In theory, that is.  All this is counteracted by software bloat and data bloat.

Software Bloat
Programmers tend to have the latest & greatest of equipment because that’s the tool they use for their job, right?  So they test the software they write on the latest & greatest equipment.  Most of us DON’T buy a new computer, or upgrade our hardware, every year.  As time passes, new applications, and updates to old applications, demand more and more system resources.

The general trend in software is always to try to make the software do more thinking for you, and to add more features.  That makes it more complex;  adds a lot more data being saved, and more programs running, that you’re not aware of.  All this can slow things down.

As time goes on, you also might find more different software that you like having on your machine, and might have more things trying to run, or just taking up space in memory.  That could also slow things down.  That’s quite a story in itself, as commercial software likes to install and run itself, often without your knowledge.

Data Bloat
Aside from new software taking up more & more space and saving more & more data that you’ve never heard of, people trend toward wanting to do fancier things on their machines, right?  Years ago, it was a big treat to me to be able to go to the Project Gutenberg and download some classic book in plain text that I could read on my computer.  Now, it’s pretty common to stream real-time video on this contraption, a difference of many orders of magnitude in the volume of data you’re dealing with.

One of my pet peeves is the noob who doesn’t seem to know or care about the size of the file he’s sending you as an email attachment.  This can really slow down communications.  Then there are all the ever-more-elaborate flash animations & such on web pages that you visit.  Some web developers need to be sent away for re-education


Ok, you found a great article on the web that you’d like to email to somebody.  If you try a copy & paste from the web site into Notepad, there might not be any line breaks.  The same goes for pasting from word processor files & such.

Pretty tedious, placing the cursor where you want the line to end and hitting “Enter” again & again.

There are other plain text editors that have a feature for this.  I use PEdit myself:  It allows you to set a “Wrap Mode”, and just hit “Enter” at the end of the first line of each paragraph, setting the margin for the whole paragraph at once.


If you’re running Norton or McAfee, stop reading right now and uninstall it.  I’ll wait.  It’s probably slowing down your machine quite a bit.  Bloatware City.  There are many free or cheap alternatives to choose from, but I’ve never heard anything bad about AVG’s free download:

For spyware, I use Spyware Terminator, but there are many choices out there, many free. is a good place to shop around.


The most commonly used thing for this seems to be Adobe Photoshop, which costs big bucks if you acquire it legally.  There’s an open-source freeware application called Gimp  I’m only beginning to get acquainted with it myself, but it might come into very common use.

Your system probably came with Windows Paint, but nobody seems to like it.

It’s likely that some photo manipulation software came with your digital camera.  If that’s what you’re used to and it does what you need, go with it.


I’m a noob to this myself, and have only played around with Windows MovieMaker a little because it came with my system.  Manipulating video requires a lot of system resources, so you’ll probably want a pretty hot machine to do it.  If there’s some good freeware available for this, somebody tell me about it.


This is not really for noobs, but it’s something you might be thinking about already.  First, you need a hosting service, and free hosting for a very minimal web site is easy to find.  MakeUseof has an article about it here:

They’ll probably give you templates to work with, and you won’t need any special software for composing a web page, like Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or a freeware thing I’ve played with called NVU.

Technical considerations for putting up a web site are overshadowed by CONTENT considerations:

–  What do you have to say that isn’t being said somewhere else?

–  Will you keep on posting new content so that people have a reason to keep coming ….back to it?

–  Will you keep checking it regularly to make sure everything is still working and  ….up-to-date?

III.  HOW DO I COPY THIS PICTURE OR VIDEO FROM A WEB SITE TO MY OWN DISK, so I can use it for my own purposes?

The easiest way to save a picture from a web site is with a simple right-click on it and a “Save Image As” (in Firefox) or “Save Picture As” (in Internet Explorer).  If that doesn’t work, it might be something other than a plain old picture.

Maybe it’s a flash object (something with .swf as its file extension).  In Firefox, you probably can save it by going to “Tools”, “Page Info”, click the “Media” tab, and then find it on the list and click the “Save As” button.  This method might also work when someone (maybe an artist) tries to put obstacles on his web site to keep people from copying too easily.  Another method is:  “File” and “Save Page As”.  This will copy the whole dang web page, along with folders from which it draws its images.

Sometimes the “Tools”, “Page Info” “Media” method will work.  Other times, you might want to use one of a number of utilities available for this.

Firefox has a couple of Add-Ons called “Ant Toolbar” and “Down Them All” to make it easier to copy things from the web.  Go to, search and explore.

There are also web sites that will try to download a video for you. is one such.

Ok, what am I not covering here?  Let me hear from some noobs.

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  1. Pat Alviso says:

    Wow Mudge- you should publish this! Very clear and I loved the way you put the directions in the format you did. I haven’t gone through all the steps, but am saving it. Very helpful. Thanks, paz the Classic Noob. paz

  2. Mudge says:

    Thanks to Pat, who reviewed and critiqued an early draft of this entry.

  3. Pingback: Not a Techie | kitchenmudge

  4. Pingback: Not a Techie | kitchenmudge

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