How to Use Long File Names to Make Your Computer Easier and More Organized

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by Laughing Squid

Article by Worth Godwin Computer Training

Have you ever been stuck in traffic behind a car with one of those custom license plates like “LUVYZ1″ and you’re scratching your head for a couple of minutes trying to figure out what on Earth it’s supposed to mean?

I was doing that earlier today on my way home and it made me think of a computer tip I thought I’d share with you to make your computer more organized and easier to use.

Back in the day when I first got into computers, the names of files on your computer were a lot like custom car license plates: you had a very limited amount of space to name the file and so you were forced to come up with weird abbreviations just like you see on license plates.

To this day I still have a few really old Word files which have names such as “MITYLIKE.DOC” where I had to try to describe what the file was in the 8 characters I was given to do so. (If you’re not sure what I mean by “characters”, that’s the term that includes letters, numbers, and punctuation) If you’re wondering, the above example is a short story I wrote in 1990 or so which was inspired by The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a classic short story written by James Thurber which also made into a film starring Danny Kaye. Knowing that, you can see why I named the file MITYLIKE, and can probably also see why I wished I could’ve given it a longer and more descriptive name?

So what does this have to do with make your computer more organized and easier you might be wondering? Well, something I’ve noticed over the many years I’ve been helping people with their computers is that most people don’t take advantage of the ability to use descriptive file names, and they’re making things harder on themselves as a result.

Now this is no criticism at all if you’re making this computer mistake yourself, but that’s why I’m writing this to help you.

You see, in the 1990s, the maximum length for file names went up a lot from the old 8 character name plus 3 character extension for DOS or Windows PCs, and the 31 character limit older Apple Mac computers had to 255 characters. (The “extension” is the end part after the dot, such as.DOC which is used to tell the computer what type of file it is, such as a Word DOCument.)

These “long file names” give you the ability to give useful & descriptive file names which can make your life easier when organizing and locating files. You can name (or rename) a file by clicking once on the name of the file (not the icon!) pausing a moment, then clicking again and you should see the name get highlighted.

Note: this is *not* the same as double-clicking the file name. This is a single click, a short pause, then a second single click with the left button on your mouse.

You can then type in a nice long descriptive file name such as “Unnamed short story inspired by “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.doc”, which I’m sure you’ll agree is much easier to recognize than “MITYLIKE.DOC”! And don’t worry about counting the letters in the name while you’re typing; your computer won’t let you type any more than you’re allowed.

I also suggest you might put a date or maybe a version number into the file name, especially if you keep different drafts of a document. If you do this you’ll want to write the date something like 7-7-2011 rather than 7/7/2011 as the / character is not allowed on Windows PCs (and I recommend this for Mac users too to make the name more compatible in case you ever send it to a Windows computer).

One last thing is, as I mentioned above, the extension (such as.doc) is there for a reason and you should leave that part as-is. Many newer computers will automatically help you avoid accidentally changing that part of the file name, but not all do. By taking advantage of the long filenames allowed by modern computers, you can help yourself more easily recognize what a file is, and it can help turn up the file you’re looking for if you do a search on your computer for information you’re needing, that photo you want to look at, and so on.

Hopefully these tips will help you get more out of your computer and make your life a little easier. I’ve used these suggestions myself for many years now and am very glad that I did.

Worth Godwin is a computer coach with over 15 years’ experience helping computer users of all levels, and has also worked for many years “in the trenches” as a hardware and software tech, solving real-world computer problems.

Worth has also been studying the human mind, and how people learn, since the early 1990s. He draws upon all of this experience, as well as his English and writing degrees, to teach people in a unique way with explanations that really make sense.

In 2006, Worth began recording audio and video computer training, carefully designed to make it easy to learn computer basics at your own pace, for an affordable price, with a system that really works.