Forget about Picasa and Learn Files and Folders

In Windows it’s called ‘Explorer’, in Macintosh it’s called ‘Finder.’  It’s the computer’s way of storing and organizing files and folders.  Picasa is software that sits on top of the files and folders.

“Picasa does not store your pictures, it is a tool for working with the pictures that exist in your computer’s folders.”

filedrawersWe’ve said those words literally thousands of times in teaching Picasa over the last 6 years.  We’ve written articles about it, we’ve recorded videos to explain it, we’ve taught it in hands-on classes and in seminars for hundreds of people all across the country. Yet, after every class, after every seminar, and after every article, we still get questions like, “How do I use Picasa without duplicating all the Pictures in My Pictures?”  or “I only wanted a few pictures in Picasa, so I deleted the rest, why did Picasa delete them from my Hard Drive?” or “If I lose some photos from my computer but they are in Picasa can I retrieve them from Picasa?”

We weren’t born knowing this stuff!

We finally realized that we were assuming people understood how their computer stores files in folders and how to view and understand that folder structure, all we were teaching is how Picasa works with pictures in their computer’s folders. You all know what happens when we assume right?(we make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’) It’s like we are teaching how to take the short cuts to drive to your destination without realizing that the student didn’t yet know how to drive.

For those of us who started with computers back in the DOS days, it’s hard to understand *not* knowing about files and folders.  But, if you got your first computer in the 21st century, it’s very possible that you skipped right over all that basic stuff!  Before you’re allowed to drive a car, you have to take driving classes and pass a test showing that you understand the rules of the road.  There is no similar class/test for your first computer. Nowadays people just dive right in and start clicking away!  But, I’m here to tell you that it is important to understand the basics!

car-accident“Trying to organize your pictures using Picasa without first understanding your computer’s filing structure is like trying to drive a car without first understanding the rules if the road. You’re going to have a wreck!”

How Picasa Works

Picasa (and all modern software) tries to hide some of the complexity of files and folders.  For example, it will search your entire computer for pictures and then display them all for you to see in it’s ‘Library.’ You don’t have to know where on your computer any picture exists to be able to see that picture in Picasa.  You might assume (there’s that word again!) that Picasa is showing you just the My Pictures folder – that is where all your pictures should be, right?

Picasa will show you the folder of original wedding pictures that you stored in the My Pictures folder.  It will also show you the copies of those wedding pictures that you resized for using on the Web and put in the My Documents/Blog/ folder and the backup copies you have stored on an attached USB drive.  If you understand those folders, you will simply tell Picasa not to show the resized-for-web folder, or the backup folder, by using Picasa’s Folder Manager to exclude them.  If you don’t understand folders, you may decide to delete duplicates.  I’ve heard this tale too often, where people mistakenly choose the originals to delete rather than the resized-for-web duplicates because they didn’t check the folder locations.  That’s the car wreck! Now your original photos are gone … and you blame Picasa.  Picasa was just following your orders.

Picasa also has capabilities that your files and folders system doesn’t have.  It can show you groups of pictures that are gathered from multiple folders and make them appear to be in one folder all together – it calls that an ‘Album.’  But an album only contains pointers to the actual pictures that still reside in your computer’s folders.  This is a wonderful feature but only if you understand what it’s doing.  I know so many people that thought Picasa stored those pictures in the Album, so they deleted the pictures from their original folders.  Guess what? Those pictures are gone!

I will concede that Picasa is not blameless in these car wrecks – see my past article “Picasa, I Love You … Now Change! – but these are your precious pictures.  It behooves you to understand exactly how they are stored on your computer.  And, it won’t be just your pictures you’re learning about, but all the files and content of your computer.  Having a computer and not understanding files and folders is like taking a suitcase traveling and not knowing what’s in it!

How do you Learn?

So, if you are not already conversant in the language of files and folders on your computer, it’s time to learn.  A few times during the year we teach a hands-on Computer Bootcamp.  If you’re lucky enough to get in on one of them, it will be good, but it’s still just a start.  Our Geeks on Tour Member’s Learning Library has a few videos on Windows Explorer (Basics #27-31) and our Boot Camp workbook has one section devoted to it (pages 23-35), but It’s a big topic,  Macintosh users can start with this Apple Tutorial on The Finder for Macintosh Files and Folders.

Although you can start learning by watching videos, reading, or taking classes, it’s important that you get help on *your* computer with *your* files.  Modern computers are extremely customizable, so the files and folders on your computer may look very different than any teaching samples.  See if you can find a knowledgeable friend or a computer tutor that will sit with you as you find your files and practice moving them, copying them, and just locating them.  If anyone reading this has recommendations for a good book or tutorial, please leave a comment.

You should be able to find and understand:
 My Documents / My Computer / My Pictures / as well as different drives for Disks or USB drives
 View, Create, Delete, Rename, Move folders
 Know the difference between files and folders, how to put files into specific folders and how to nest folders
 File Save vs. File Save As
 Finding files with Search
 File Extensions – know how to see them and how to interpret them
 Backing Up!

And, probably the first thing you should learn – and do – is make a backup!  If you want an easy way to do that before you start experimenting we recommend the ClickFree USB hard drive automatic backup.  You just plug it in to the USB port, click OK a couple times and it starts backing up all the data files on your computer.

This tip brought to you by Geeks on Tour

Geeks on Tour is a membership website with hundreds of Tutorial Videos on topics of interest to travelers, such as managing digital photos with Picasa, Route-Planning with Streets and Trips, and sharing your travels with a website using Blogger or with friends on Facebook. You can subscribe to our free e-newsletters, or become a paid member and be able to view all of the videos in the Learning Library.

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