Examining your computer — virtually

FI-Log-On-With-Larry-SchneiderDear Larry,

I am a regular reader of your column and, thanks to you, I feel as if I’ve mastered the differences between files, folders, and shortcuts. But now I’m hearing of yet another computer term, “virtual folders.” Is this basically just another name for a folder or is it in fact something different?

L. R.


Dear L. R.,

It’s the same … but also very different. (How’s that for a teaser?)

Imagine this: You’re a book lover, and your home is filled with mysteries, historical fiction, autobiographies, you name it. Being the expert organizer that you are, you arrange your bookshelves in an orderly manner: Stephen King novels in this bookcase (i.e., folder), Robert Ludlum over there in that folder, David McCullough tucked away in this folder, and so forth.

It so happens your friend from London is visiting and is interested in seeing your books that take place in England. So you walk him over to your magical bookcase and you utter the chant, “Show me my books set in England.” Lo and behold, all of the books from your collection that have to do with England magically appear in this bookcase.

Furthermore, whenever you add a new book to your collection elsewhere in your home having to do with England, it will also appear in this magical “virtual folder.” Read on to discover how you can create your own virtual folders.

A virtual folder is simply the result of a search. For testing purposes, try opening your Documents folder, then type a word in the search box (in the upper right corner of the window). Use a word that appears in several of your documents (for example, your first name). Next, press the Alt key on your keyboard to access the menu bar, then click File, Save Search to save this search as a virtual folder. Assign the virtual folder a name and click Desktop to have it saved on your Windows desktop.

If you close the search window and return to your desktop, you’ll find a new icon there with an image of a magnifying glass. This icon represents your new virtual folder. Whenever you click it, you’ll see a list of items stored in your Documents folder that reference your name.

You can open, delete, or rename these items in the usual fashion. (Of course, if you delete or rename an item, you’re not affecting the item in the virtual folder — after all, it’s not a real folder — but rather you’re affecting the item in its actual location. That’s why Vista won’t allow you to explicitly save a new item in this virtual folder since it’s only a looking glass that peers into the contents of other real files and folders on your computer.

Like Alice in Wonderland, you, too, can create your own magical looking glass and reveal what’s hidden away on your hard drive.

This is Larry Schneider, logging off.


Larry Schneider is the owner of Accent on Computers, a Greenwich-based consulting firm now in its 15th year of business catering to individuals, businesses and professional offices. PC and Mac services include computer setup, training, troubleshooting, virus resolution, networking, Internet, database and programming. Call 203-625-7575, visit Accentoncomputers.com, or send email to [email protected]

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