Lesson 5 Explorer & Finder

Home Computing Lesson 5         Windows Explorer (and Finder)

As we continue our home computing overview and practical approach, I ask myself how I should address instructing students further?
That might seem somewhat puzzling since I create the topics and the lessons?

Receiving no feedback and not being a regular tutor, I recognise there are many routes to individual destinations and there have been so many books written on the subject of IT, Information Technology and computing that we all have some knowledge and experience since we have grown with computers from the early days of calculators, progressing to simple bat-and-ball video games, through Commodore VIC 20 - from Sir Clive Sinclair and IBM in the 70’s and 80’s.

I can hardly think of anything we do today not having a computer somewhere in its application and though we may not have been directly involved, it HAS affecter our lives.
My problem is where are you in your personal journey, where do you want to go and how long will it take? Of course, the last question is to gauge the length of a piece of string.

When we open a word processing program, I can make assumptions, ask questions but I can easily err in their answers.
In Lesson 3, I advised you to play with MS Word and see what you could achieve.
I demonstrated how to save a program and where it could be located – somewhat.
I am tempted to teach all about menus, toolbars, constructing and inserting tables, what all the different buttons do, how to undo an action and re-do the same action. How to insert a text box, a photograph, a picture or shape and delve into publication productions but I want to focus on the technological side of computing and the extremes or word processing are quite a separate topic.

How do we store information? We have talked about compression for media and the same applies to text and other information but that does not answer the question.
Every computer has an electronic processor. Every computer also has a hard-drive, sometimes shown as HDD within it’s physical enclosure. The processor and hard drive work together. The hard drive contains data and important information. The processor needs this information to actually work, to start up. Once started, the resultant information from processing and from other sources or inputs, is returned to the hard drive which stores it for future use.

The size of the hard drive is denoted in GB - gigabytes, packets of digital information. This storage is a measure in metric units though insignificant to our knowledge requirements at this stage.

The hard drive can be divided digitally into sections so that each section can operate separately within itself or, in conjunction with the other section/s.
In the past, information was input using a device called a ‘floppy’ disk. This was descriptive to a point and typically could hold 700Kb kilobytes, of information.
The disk capacity was increased over time to 1.44Mb megabytes or twice as much as the original 700Kb and despite being invented during the 60’s, became ubiquitous in the 80’s.

Long since superseded, external disk drives can be found and information can still be accessed if there is a reason?
The physical drive for floppy disks was denoted by the letter A//: and, before hard drives were used, this A//: drive was the method of input to start the computers processor’s actions.
In efforts to speed up computing, high end and professional machines added another floppy disk drive to work separately or in tandem – this was similarly denoted as the B//: drive.

Returning to modern hard drives, our first drive available seems to be denoted by the letter C//: and this still remains the main drive of our Windows based computer.

When we divide out hard drive into sections, it follows that our next available drive will be called D, E, F, G, H and so forth.
Defining a drive is possibly not as easy as one might imagine but, it is, easy that is.
Every device we plug into our computers - be they on-board or external, becomes a drive. Therefore, an SD Card is a drive, a flash-drive is a drive, a dongle is a drive and an external hard drive is a drive – even a CD or DVD device will show-up as a drive. More on these later.

As has been explained, our main drive had been denoted, C, C//:
Remembering back to Saving As, from our drop-down menu on our MS Word document, we were taken to a box, a dialogue box which contained options that we didn’t understand? We were given choices.

Whenever we either don’t understand the choices or can’t choose the best option which could be unknown to us at any stage, there is a ‘default’ location allocated to the user. In the case of a Windows computer, known as a PC – a Personal Computer, ‘My Documents’ is the default location for this ‘Save As’ option.
My Documents IS located on the C//: drive.
Also located on the C//: drive, is the actual operating system! This can be seen as Program Files and Windows and really shouldn’t be altered unless you have sufficient knowledge and expertise.
These ‘programs’ and storage places are known as Folders and New Folders can be created very simply and added to the C//: drive.
These additional Folders can be at the discretion of the User – for example, I can create a Folder and I can name it, ‘Terry March 2016.’
If I now go back to my MS Word application, when I press the menu key for File > Save As, I will get the same dialogue box open as I did before but now I will ALSO see the Folder – Terry March 2016.
IF I highlight or choose this Folder/location and Save As ‘Job Application – Science’ it will simply be stored in the new folder C//: Terry March 2016.
When I next need to access this file to alter it, use it for another job application or add to it in any way, I will ALWAYS find it located here until I change or move it.

If you remember our lesson regarding the Windows logo button, pressing Windows + E, will automatically open the Windows Explorer function and take us to all the drives and storage information on our computer at any given time.
This is as I indicated, a view into our brain or the storage and reference library of our computer.

Apple’s Mac does exactly the same thing but it does it differently. I believe the illustration in Windows is far more helpful and will aid our understanding better before looking into how Apple does things. Picturing a Library is so familiar to us that little imagination is required to see into the process; with Apple, that is to some extent, illusive but, opinions differ. Purist Apple dedicated users will argue, no doubt, but since I am the author of these lessons, I am at liberty to choose my own approach. If you as the student prefer to look elsewhere, I am sure you will not be alone - you will have many colleagues on your path to confer with – if I were to hazard a guess and state your life will be Apple or Windows, I would simply be, foolish.
Your future, your job, your life will depend to some extent on knowing the basics of both operating systems and your true versatility will be realised as a result – you will of course HAVE to add Android, Windows for Mobile Devices and Apple IOS to your repertoire as soon as you are able. Simply put, if you are less than 95 years of age, there is, NO escape!

Information About This Mac can be found under the Apple Logo in the top LHS of the screen and you will find exactly what you would expect there/here.
In the Dock, Apples’ equivalent to the Taskbar in Windows, both of which can be located at the bottom of the screen but can be moved to the top or either side, we see a blue and white, split, smiley face. This is Apple’s Finder or, explorer equivalent. Next to this we find Launchpad and Settings and from Launchpad, certain programs can be accessed and opened as the name suggests.

Items or programs can be added to or removed from the Dock as the User decides and the Dock can be hidden too.
A quick reference back to the Mouse: by default, the main, LHS button we depress or, click, is the button to open or select our options. For some reason, possibly to avoid accidental openings, MS decided to initiate programs by double-clicking this LHS button.
In our choices, we can elect to use a single-click to perform the same function – in Windows. Apple, unfortunately stands by second clicking (to my knowledge) but, with the development and emergence of quite ‘intelligent’ touch pads on laptops, sensitivity has improved terrifically and one-touch (click), on the touchpad will usually suffice.

In Windows and Finder, we can control our libraries and another image I find useful, is that of a filing cabinet where drawers represent Folders and ‘Hanging Files’ represent, Files.

Our filing system on both formats is virtually the same. The files and folders can be easily renamed to improve our filing system and my advice would be to keep things extremely simple, almost phonetic and think, “How will I return to this File or Folder in two weeks time? How will I remember where it is located?”

Looking back for ease into Windows Explorer, we have two viewing panes in front of us. On the left hand side, we can see an array of Drives, Folders and other depictions including the default folder, My Documents.
Alongside the Folders, we find an small arrow IF, the Folder contains more than one File. Clicking on the Folder arrow will produce a drop-down list of Files contained within that Folder. If there is another arrow by the side of the File, then similarly, there is more than one item involved. Clicking on these arrows simply performs two actions: a drop-down box or, sub-menu is created at the Folder or File position on the screen and an action takes place on the RHS of the viewing pane – the contents contained in the Folder or File are clearly listed.
These lists can be viewed differently as a List, an Image (sometimes), with all the recorded Details or as an Icon – go to the top of the screen/page and select View; options are present to change how you indeed view the file or folder contents.

Note: Using the RHS button of the mouse when highlighting or moving the cursor over a file or folder contents will open the Context Menu when clicked. Options for certain actions will now appear and we can change certain things relating to the file or folder (it usually has to be closed rather than, open). Renaming a F or F; Copying the contents; Printing the contents, Deleting the F or F are all possible so again, experience your options here. If you delete an F or F, it can usually be recovered from the Recycle Bin or the Trash but read the screen, some actions cannot be reversed.

The size of the viewing panes can be altered to suit the User and the information available that relates to the file on the RHS of the Viewing Pane, VP, can be selected. If you want to know what type of file it is, the size, when it was created - these details are hidden by default but are optionally available. There is always a lot to learn but trying to accomplish everything to begin with would be impractical and to focus on the basics or essentials is the most efficient use of our time. You will undoubtedly make mistakes – ‘nothing is irreversible’ would not be a true statement but most actions can be reversed and computer crashes are really quite rare and we will address this later in Windows and though, even rarer on a Mac, there is a procedure for dealing with freezes and such (Force Quit).

One of the best features of Windows Explorer is the ability to control the folders and files and this we do in three ways: on the LHS of the VP; on the RHS of the VP and across the VP centre line.
We can move, duplicate, rename, copy and paste just by clicking (or double-clicking) with our LHS button or by way of our Context Menu (RHS button) on the mouse.
If we click on the My Documents Folder on the LHS of the VP, the contents are displayed on the RHS of the VP.
Because this is the default location where we saved our files, you may find some files that had seemingly disappeared into thin air and it is always a good place to look periodically for peace-of-mind.

Accessing Windows Explorer is possible by other actions apart from Windows + E. Right clicking on Windows in the bottom LH corner of the screen will reveal an Explore command; selecting this will take you to Explorer. There are other channels of access too and a quick look on any browser search box will reveal all the numerous answers and possibilities.

On the LHS of the VP, you will also see such items as Computer and Drives.

When we click on these items, sub-menus appear and we have actually ‘expanded the tree.’ Re-clicking will ‘compact the tree’ and these actions are continuous throughout Windows and our Apple, platforms.

The Mac Finder system works similarly and it’s first primary offering is All My Files which, can be harder to arrange the longer the task is left undone and as the User, it is advisable to devise a system with which you are happy and works for you – Explorer is a great educator for this task.

You will also see Applications, Desktop, Downloads, Pictures, Music, Movies and other folders that have been created by the User and some Software applications that may have been downloaded like Skype for instance. Here you can start to sort and move your files around to suit your filing system, you can also create new folders and place relevant files into their correct places though they will also remain as duplicates in the All My Files list.

Reverting back to Windows Explorer, under Computer, the Drives are listed. Obviously we will no longer see A//: or B//: but we will definitely see, C//: since our operating system works from here and all our basic storage is also located on the C//: drive.

Next up, where one is present, we usually find the CD or DVD drive or, drives. Sequentially named D//: drive (and possibly E//: drive) any other on-board active drives will appear as F//:, G//: and H//: etc..
When we plug a USB Flash-drive into our computer, connect a camera or camera card (SD Card) to our computer, the computer will sense the connection and automatically name the drive in order.
Windows ‘tells us’ that it is a plug-and-play device which, essentially it is. This means that at our discretion we can plug a drive or attachment, a printer in when we choose and remove is also when we choose.

Going back to our earlier lesson when I gave the analogy of a Librarian’s chaos in placing each book back into its correct placement before the library re-opened (switch off – switch on the computer), Windows professes, plug-and-play but doesn’t always like it!
In the bottom RHS of the computer (Windows), access is possible to a small icon that looks like a small drawer with a green arrow. This is the ‘Remove Hardware Safely,’ command and should be exercised when disconnecting external physical drives of any description. If you forget, all may be well but if you remember, it will be well!

Ejecting this external drive allows windows to know that there is a vacancy now for that drive name and inserting another device means that drive name can be allocated accordingly though it, Windows, may simply allocate the next drive ‘up’ the alphabet.

A the end of the session, Remove Hardware Safely can be exercised on all active external drives although, turning off the computer will effect the same outcome.
Apple has a CD drive type icon that has to be ejected in the Finder section under Devices.

If the Printer is detected and shows up in the Remove Hardware Safely window, ignore  it and switch off the PC in the normal way.

As with many of us, moving around globally is more a way-of-life than ever before; for work for pleasure for vacations. Carrying our ‘home-on-our-back’ like a tortoise is not very practical; neither is taking our home/desktop computer. Obviously, taking a laptop is better but even its size is a hindrance sometimes and its capacity is limited as is the power availability.
To get around this problem, using a cross platform (Windows and Apple OSX) device would be a good solution. Most solutions require some compromise and PSUs have been limiting factors in the past. Progress has improved storage device capacity, access speeds, write-to speeds and reducing the size has remained one of the biggest problems.
Enter the External Hard Disk Drive (HDD)!
Operating on any computer’s 5Volt electrical Bus (supply provision), be it laptop or desktop, the hard drive can be attached to any set-up, anywhere in the world, in minutes!
Having these drives formatted to work on Apple or Windows requires some separation UNLESS, the file extension (type of document or application) is the same. Bearing in mind the compression factor we spoke of earlier, taking photographs as our example, a JPEG photo is a JPEG photo on a Mac or a Windows computer. A MS Word document is exactly that on either platform so can be opened on either machine.

Observing these rules gives rise to possibilities and answers to true portability as these drives measure approximately four inches square, are lightweight and literally, fit in the pocket.

There are other ways we can use these external HDDs with both formats but it is unnecessary to explain this now but dual formatting on one HDD is possible and there is a format converter that allows both Windows and Apple files to be view, used and stored.

Operating systems can also be installed on these drives and effectively, ‘boot-up’ or start a computer into action. The other major advantage of external HDDs is security and storage space.

Virtually every electrical action on a computer takes power and the processing slows down - a small amount. With very thin laptops, the on-board HDD is often small in its storage capacity and acts often as a ‘quick’ drive or ‘flash-drive.’
As heat is another problem, keepings devices small but cool is our aim and electrical processing produces, heat. If we use an external storage and operating device such as an external HDD whose capacity has increased to an admirable 2TB recently (if not more?) without requiring a separate PSU, we can securely take our information and data with us, on-the-go, and simply plug it into a device at our destination be it our laptop or a family machine or an Internet café or someone’s desktop – the possibilities are almost endless.

Of course, for data, information and media storage, we now have the CLOUD!

Companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Dropbox and many others, offer ‘cloud’ storage. The idea is the server, the ISP or these other Parties, store your data online, in cyberspace.. All your photos, videos, files and music can be uploaded by the subscriber to a ‘data-bank-in-the-sky.’

This ‘cloud’ storage is accessible anywhere in the world with an Internet connection on any of the subscriber’s devices so you could upload a music file from your home computer and play it on your phone in a different location or country so long as you can connect to the Internet.
Of course, there has to be a disadvantage and, there is – depending upon your perspective? The cloud providers allocate free storage space to a certain level; this is not always well disclosed or clear but, once that allocation is used, a subscription service follows and you will have to pay for further data storage or, find another cloud provider and start again though having different providers for different media, could work.

Businesses usually have to purchase multi-user accounts and pay an annual fee from the beginning but worldwide sharing of information securely and with access so easily available, is an important solution to numerous practical problems and cloud suppliers usually add in another level/s of security.


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