Finders Keepers

Ever lose a computer file? You'll appreciate these tips for keeping things in order.
Magazine Contributor
5 min read

This story appears in the January 1996 issue of Business Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

How many times have you spent hours writing a proposal--or been up all night putting together a sales presentation--only to discover the next day that the file is nowhere to be found? You accidentally saved it to the wrong subdirectory on your hard disk . . . and now you have no idea where it is.

What about when you're working with documents on a network, and you need to quickly locate a crucial document to complete a sale? Or you have a mass of documents on your hard drive, and you need to find all the ones that contain information on a particular company?

In each case, you'll save considerable time by developing a strategy for finding your files before you actually need them. You may already have all the tools you need right in your operating system or in your application software. Or, if you often need to quickly search information by key words from a wide range of documents, you might want to consider more specialized software.

Help From Windows

Windows 95 users have access to substantial file-finding features right within the operating system. Unlike the older version of Windows, which allowed for file names of up to eight characters only, Windows 95 lets you save your files with long, descriptive names of as many as 255 characters.

A dedicated file finder utility on Windows 95 allows you to search for files and folders anywhere on a network by file name, date, specified text, file size, location or other search criteria. Windows 95 also lets you save the results of a complex search as an icon you can use over and over.

Many people who use Windows 3.1 have installed Symantec's Norton Desktop and PC Tools to replace Windows' Program Manager and File Manager. These products offer substantial tools for locating and retrieving files. Both have enhanced file managers so you can search for documents by name, type and time of creation. You can also search within documents for a particular word or phrase and view the contents of the file without even opening it.

Using Your Word Processor

If you create documents with a word processor, start by using the tools your word processor provides to help you find files. Both Microsoft Word and WordPerfect for Windows, for example, come with built-in capabilities to help you easily find saved files.

Word helps you find files by name, subject and key words by providing a Summary Info dialog box. You can specify a title, subject and key word fields for each file as you save it. Later, you can use any of these criteria to find a file stored in any subdirectory on your hard drive through the Find File command on the File menu. When the list of matching files pops up, you can sort them and display their contents.

WordPerfect for Windows provides a Document Summary dialog box for each file it creates. To find the files, use the Advanced Find command under the WordPerfect File Manager.

WordPerfect differs from Word in that you can conduct "full text" searches that allow you to match any word in your documents rather than looking only for previously specified key words. And to speed things up, WordPerfect offers a separate QuickFinder File Indexer to index documents. Like a book index, this feature allows the software to go directly to a particular word in a document rather than having to search through the entire document each time it looks for a particular word. Just select Find Files, enter the desired word or phrase, and then click on the appropriate index to find the document.

Utilities And Databases

If your word processor doesn't come with built-in features for finding files, consider an add-on utility like Worldox from World Software Corp.

Worldox works by intercepting the File/Save and File/Open commands of popular Windows applications and replacing them with dialog boxes that control the document storage and retrieval process. It allows you to use file name descriptions of up to 70 characters rather than the standard eight-character DOS names. You can save documents with a document profile that stores standard information such as the creator and the date, or you can make a custom profile that includes information such as the department name or a description of the docu-ment's contents.

Worldox also offers document viewers that let you browse through a document's contents, and it indexes documents so you can easily locate files based on their contents.

Another category of products is text databases--such as AskSam from AskSam Systems--that let you import files as ASCII text and find them again using a powerful database that allows you to search for any phrase you might remember. AskSam can handle entire documents and can search any text so you don't have to rely on key words or fields. But if you'd prefer to include key words, AskSam lets you define an entry screen with fields and field names. You can then append the document's entire text to the data-entry screen.

Overall, AskSam is great because it lets you perform very powerful text searches. However, its database origins make it more difficult to use than some of the other utilities mentioned here.

With any of these packages, the next time you lose a file, you'll no longer have to go fumbling through your hard disk. Just perform a simple search and go on with your work.

Contact Source

AskSam Systems, (800) 800-1997, http:\;

Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400;

Novell, (800) 747-5958;

Symantec, (800) 441-7234;

World Software Corp., (800) 962-6360.


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