The file vs. folder confusion diffused

Files and folders still confuse a lot of people. They are the backbone of how information is stored and structured inside computers. The details of how they work are not important but a basic understanding is helpful in understanding how computers work.

Let's use an example of taking a picture using a digital camera. The theory is the same as scanning a picture, writing a letter or balancing a checkbook.

When the shutter is clicked on the camera, the picture information, all the little ones and zeros that make up the picture data, is stored inside the camera usually on the little compact flash card or other memory device. Since each picture is a separate string of data, it is automatically given some sort of name before it is stored. Also, when we set up our camera, we tell the camera the picture format in which we want the data stored. This might be jpg, gif, tiff, bmp or raw.

When we take the picture, a FILE is created. This file might have a name like 108_0819.JPG. This is how my camera images are stored. The 108_0819 is an arbitrary, though sequential, number automatically assigned to the particular picture by the camera software. In addition, since I have told my camera that I want my pictures to be in the jpg format, a common image format, the camera software also converts the picture into this format. Now the picture is identified as 108_0819.JPG. The 108_0819.JPG is a new FILE. Each subsequent picture also is assigned to a new file.

Incidentally, a FILE also is created in Microsoft Word when we prepare a "lettertoauntjane.doc." The "lettertoauntjane" is the name we give to the file while the ".doc" is the file extension Bill Gates gives the file to signify that this is a Microsoft Word document.

We see that the camera file contains computer information; in this case, the data that makes up my picture.

We next take this information, the files, from the camera and transfer them to the computer so that subsequently we can manipulate them before either printing or sending them by email.

Before transferring them to the computer, however, we need a structured place to put them inside the computer; a place where we can find them easily.

Way back when, before Bill Gates, we could create separate places inside our computers called SUBDIRECTORIES. There was no magic to this. They simply were like individual drawers in an office cabinet labeled with names that we could use in finding things.

When Bill Gates came along with his Windows operating systems, he decided that subdirectories were too incomprehensible and replaced them with FOLDERS. Again, just separate places inside the computer to store data; new name, same idea.

Some folders come with the computer. My Documents, Program Files, and Windows were created when the Windows operating system was loaded at the factory. Other folders were created in the process of putting new programs on the computer. Adobe, Quicken and WinZip are a few of these.

Other folders we can create ourselves either using Windows Explorer or from within many individual programs. My Photos, Test Webs and My Downloads are examples of folders that I have created myself just as a place to store similar files.

The mechanics of creating folders can be found in the Windows and other program Help menus.

Now we have a place to store the picture files that are in our camera. We usually use the software that comes with the camera to affect this transfer.

The software will ask us what FILES we want to transfer from the camera and into what FOLDER we want them placed. I tell the software that I want to transfer 108_0819.JPG plus a couple other picture files and place them in my computer FOLDER called My Pictures. Click the mouse and the picture files are transferred into the correct folder on the computer.

When I am ready to manipulate my picture, I open Adobe Photoshop Elements 2, tell it to Open the folder My Pictures, I select my file 108_0819.JPG, and the picture appears on my screen.

Of course, when I finish with the manipulation, I can "Save As" the finished picture in a new file called "greatpicture.jpg" and have something I can email or print.

This may seem complicated, but we just created a FILE and stored it in a FOLDER. Bill Gates has given us a zillion ways to manipulate these files and folders once they're in the computer; Delete, Rename, Copy, Cut and more. We'll save this for later.

If you would like to hear more about files and folders or other computer topics, visit "Coffee and Computers" at the Tustin Area Senior Center, 200 S. 'C' Street, any Friday morning starting at 9 a.m. Bring your questions or just come in and visit.

In the mean time, keep the neurons happy, synapses snapping and enjoy computing.

Dr. Art Holub is a long time resident of Tustin and teaches computer and Internet courses at the Tustin Area Senior Center and the Tustin Adult School. Visit his web site at: This column is written to address the computer adventures and concerns of older adults. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future columns, Email HIM at:

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