The Last File System

How many times have you downloaded a file to your hard drive and then are unable to find it again? How many times have you downloaded a file, found it, stored it somewhere, and then are unable to find it again? How many times have you looked at your "My Documents" folder and thought 'what a mess!'

It used to happen to me lots and it really grated my coconuts. I tried all manner of organizing systems, a raft of disc cataloging systems, dozens of file finder systems, hard copy systems; databases; on line and off line systems; floppy discs and mag tapes; commercial and home-grown. In the end, years later, and with the advent of high capacity hard disc drives I finally came up with a system that is simple, effective, and has stood the test of time since Windows 98.

Eyes on the Prize:

The goal of a perfect filing system is to provide a way of storing files that gives the user a better chance of finding them later, without resorting to excessive data duplication. Secondary goals would include finding a system that is free, and one that does not depend on the staying power of a third-party players.

My solution has been to find a managable group of catagories into which most of my work fits, and then apply that group to all of my computers and data storage devices. The second part of the solution is a bit harder as it requires me to stick to the system as much as possible, making changes where absolutely required but always with the goal of keep the whole system consistent.

My top level list looks like this - annotated to help me decided what goes where. Yours will probably look a bit different:

  • My Backups - Primarily user data from "C:\" like favorites, but also data from 3rd party programs that allow nominated backup locations
  • My Documents - Mostly free-standing .txt, .doc, and .pdf documents, but can also include other file types where appropriate
  • My Downloads - First port of call for everything coming into my system - from there into the appropriate storage folder
  • My Graphics - Mostly web art - third party images for web development work (this may go away shortly as most stuff is now available on line)
  • My Music - A great collection of Trance, Techno, and Electronic music
  • My Pictures - Photographs and scans taken by me, my family and friends - some day to be organized by subject
  • My Progs - See below - my collection of applications
  • My Projects - Can include any sort of file type connected to one of the "non-website" projects I'm working on at the time. (see "My Webs" below)
  • My Sounds - Sound effects for web projects, but also "books on tape" and audio pod-casts
  • My Video - I've moved my movies over to a MediaServer computer any remaining free-standing videos are here.
  • My Webs - Working space for my current web projects

The notion of "free-standing" is important here to separate items that rightly fit into a project folder from those that should not.

In the Microsoft tradition, the prefix "My" refers to files that I've added to the system, rather than files supplied by Microsoft or any other 3rd party. The only fixed second level list is under the progs and looks like this:

My Progs:

  • Comms - Network tools, Ftp, Skype, etc.
  • Disc Tools - Magic ISO, ImgBurn, etc.
  • File Mgmt - WinZip, WinRar, Duplicate finders, etc.
  • Graphics - Photoshop-like tools, Icon tools, etc.
  • Hardware - Drivers mostly
  • Office - Word processors, spreadsheet programs, Adobe reader etc.
  • Print & Scan - CD label printers and other print utilities.
  • Programming - Dreamweaver, PHP tools, etc.
  • Security - anti-virus programs and in the past, firewalls etc.
  • Sound & Music - players, makers, and enhancers
  • SysAdmin - unix-like tools, macro recorders, dotNet stuff, etc.
  • Toys - Screen-savers, etc.
  • Video & DVD - players, Dvd makers, converters, etc.
  • Web - browsers and add-ons.


This structure has also served me well under my "Start" menu.


Separate and Not Equal

The other second level folders are variable and tend to come and go as my work and interests change, grow, evolve, and occaisionally die. Some of these have turned out to be very long lived - "My Documents" has a "Finances" folder that will most likely remain throughout my lifetime, along with a "Resume" folder.

All of this data resides on "D:\" (typically) and is thus protected to some extent from system crashes, and "Big Flush" manourvers (when I re-format "C:\" and reload the OS). This protection is further enhanced when "D:\" is a Raid 5 array - but that's another story (see my article for details)

For years now I've followed the practice of partitioning off a slice of my first drive to be the C:\ drive - home to my operating system. And because Windows relentlessly loads essential files that make life easier (cookies for example) the "My Backups" folder will most likely always contain sub-folders for Bookmarks, Cookies, Registry and other stuff that I discover each time I reformat "C:\" and reload the O/S.


Step by step:

In addition to a set of folders, haveing a good system also requires a bit of discipline in the execution. The first rule is to ensure a single point of entry. In my case, it's "D:\My Downloads" -- all software, all videos, all email attachments, all screen captures, in short - everything desirous of a place in our file system must begin its journey through the "D:\My Downloads" doorway and care must be taken to ensure there is only one door. Sadly, a quick look at my current disk reveals some twenty "download" folders for me to deal with - just one of the problems Windows 7 brings to the party - but more on that later.

Once a file hits the "D:\My Downloads" folder a diligent user will make whatever use it was intended for and then carefully file away any source files remaining in "My Downloads" into their proper place in our carefully designed file structure on "D:\". The rest of us slackers will eventually notice that our "My Downloads" folder is so full of stuff that it's becoming hard to find our newly downloaded files and with a groan we will take the time required to file away all those items we thought were so important at the moment but now don't even hold enough importance for us to know why we wanted them in the first place. Hopefully, lots of junk will hit the recycling bin at this point, but in the end we should once again have a small number of files in "My Downloads" and perhaps a new folder or two within "My Downloads" as temporary holding for of files that belong together -- all of the Podcasts in a series for example. Eventually these too must be filed or deleted, but it's better to leave files with no clear destination in the Download folder than file them wrongly where they can be lost.



A major challenge these days is the number of redundant folders Windows 7 throws into the system - here is just a smattering of the "Download" folders available on a system I've tried to keep fairly clean:

Directory of C:\Users\All Users\Microsoft\Network\Downloader
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Device Metadata\dmrccache\downloads
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\AppData\Local\Temp\Free Download Manager
Directory of C:\Users\Deck\Documents\Downloaded Installations
Directory of C:\Users\Public\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\Downloaded Program Files
Directory of C:\Windows\ServiceProfiles\LocalService\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\ServiceProfiles\NetworkService\Downloads
Directory of C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\AuthCabs\Downloaded
Directory of C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download
Directory of D:\Downloads
Directory of D:\My Graphics\Web Images\Web Elements\Backgrounds\WallPaper\wallpapers-download
Directory of D:\My Music\Deck\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Downloads
Directory of D:\My Progs Library\Web\phpBB3\download

These folders may help some users, but they just frustrate me.

Another "Challenge" stems from the wonderful flexibility of computers - we can create data in hundreds of different forms - documents, audio, video, and images are just some of the major categories all of which can be mixed, merged and combined to form a single presentation. It's his flexibility makes organizing by "form" a tricky matter. You may have a folder for "video", but what if that video is embedded in a web page, which also includes text, images and sound bites? Bottom line: I tried sorting my data by type, but as the data grew it became harder and harder to find the content I was looking for.

Take this post for example - I've decided to start it in a Project folder in a "Minty White" sub-folder and each post has it's own sub-folder (this one is "Last File System") and a further sub-folder which contains any image files I might include. But "The Last File System" could also be filed under "My Documents" and my wind up in "My Webs" (as I'll probably post this on my web site eventually).



  1. Find a simple system - whether its a built in system like the Windows Library or some other
  2. Start with a logical sub-division that reflects your data and the way you use your computer(s)
  3. Implement the system across all the computers you use
  4. Make small changes to "fine tune" the system
  5. Stick with it

If you find a better system - drop me a note


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