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Did you know that storing files directly on your desktop can harm your productivity? I used to be one of “those” people who downloaded files straight to the desktop. If you can identify with that, then I have good news for you: you can do better. Desktop storage is simple, sure, but it comes with hidden drawbacks you may not know about.

Kick the bad habit with these alternative file storage methods. They may not be as convenient but I promise that you’ll learn to love them in the long run.

The Downsides to Desktop Storage

desktop-storage-clutter

The urge to save files to the desktop is understandable. It provides immediate access with a single click, which means that it’s tempting to turn the desktop into a de facto headquarters for storage. But unless you are strict with maintenance, you’ll eventually succumb to these issues:

  • No file protection. As noted by PC World, certain directories are not affected by System Restore, the most recognizable location being My Documents. Files on the desktop are affected by System Restore, which can result in unexpected file disappearances.
  • No file backups. Many file backup programs 6 Safest Ways to Backup & Restore Your Files in Windows 7 & 8 6 Safest Ways to Backup & Restore Your Files in Windows 7 & 8 By now, we're sure you've read the advice over and over: Everyone needs to back up their files. But deciding to back up your files is only part of the process. There are so many... Read More ignore desktop files by default. Most programs worth their salt will allow you to change the settings and include the desktop if necessary, but all it takes is one forgetful moment to accidentally lose an important desktop file.
  • Clutter, clutter, clutter. The story is always the same. You begin your desktop collection with a few documents. Over time, the collection grows to include images, music, programs, zip files, and more documents. Suddenly, finding the right document takes more time than actually opening it.

Separate Drive Partitions

desktop-storage-alternatives-partitions

One bit of computer wisdom that you should learn is this: “Never save data on the same partition as your operating system.” In Windows, the location of the desktop on the filesystem does reside on the same partition as the operating system itself.

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Why is this important advice? Because you want to avoid putting all of your eggs in the same basket.

Let’s say that you happen to contract a mild virus or malware that attacks your operating system. It might wipe all files related to the operating system itself OR it may affect the entire partition that holds the operating system. By losing the operating system, you lose all of your saved data as well.

But if you installed Windows to the C: partition and stored all of your files on the D: partition, your files on D: would be safe even if C: were wiped clean. The only way D: would be affected is if the physical hard drive itself was wiped or damaged.

One additional benefit of having separate partitions is that you can reinstall Windows without losing your saved data. Tina has written on the subject of resizing Windows partitions How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 How To Shrink & Extend Volumes Or Partitions in Windows 7 In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, resizing your volumes or re-partitioning your hard drive has become a lot easier than in previous Windows versions. However, there are still a few pitfalls that will require you... Read More , so check it out if you want to take advantage of this feature.

Use Windows Libraries

desktop-storage-alternatives-libraries

Every installation of Windows comes with a directory called My Documents. In Windows 7, it was renamed to Documents and came with a couple of buddies: Music, Pictures, and Videos. They’re called libraries and you’ve probably seen them before, but never really used them, right? Well, you should reconsider.

In truth, these four libraries are special. They aren’t just directories; they’re collections of multiple directories. In each library, you can specify different directories to be included and that library will show the content from all included directories. It sounds more complicated than it is.

Think of it like this: You can save your videos to many different locations and link those directories to the Videos library. Then, whenever you access the Videos library, you’ll see all of those files in one place.

It’s just as convenient as storing everything on the desktop, yet infinitely more flexible and organized. For more details on how to take advantage of this feature, check out Chris’s writeup on how to use Windows Libraries Make Windows 7 & 8 Libraries Work For You Make Windows 7 & 8 Libraries Work For You Libraries, found in Windows 7 and 8. are more than a list of suggested folders for saving documents, music, pictures, and video. Customizing your libraries isn’t just tweaking for the sake of tweaking – with... Read More .

Store Files In The Cloud

desktop-storage-alternatives-cloud

Cloud storage has been a big buzzterm over the past few years and for good reason. While cloud-related solutions like DropboxG+ Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive come with privacy concerns 3 Tips To Stay Safe From The Dangers Of Cloud Computing 3 Tips To Stay Safe From The Dangers Of Cloud Computing Cloud computing is the big buzz these days and we have more choices available to us now than ever before. How many of us use Dropbox, SkyDrive, or Google Drive on a daily basis? How... Read More , they also offer many benefits and I think people are too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Here’s how it works: You set aside one or more directories that automatically sync with whatever service you’re using (comparison of cloud storage services The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More ). These files can be accessed from anywhere and they can be set to private or public.

Why is this better than storing straight on the desktop?

  • Immediate backups. Due to automatic synchronization, you rarely need to worry about lost files. If your computer gets wiped somehow, those files still reside on the cloud and you can always retrieve them again.
  • Revision history. Not every cloud service offers a revision history, but most do and it’s an important feature. Basically, the service will track every change that’s made to the file (it may be limited to the last X changes) and allow you to instantly revert to a past version if necessary.

One Drive (aka SkyDrive) comes integrated with Windows 8 SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App SkyDrive For Windows 8: The Cloud Storage And Modern File Explorer App Got Windows 8? Then you have SkyDrive and in combination with a Microsoft account, you get 7GB of free storage. SkyDrive is a cloud storage solution and also doubles as a modern file explorer. Read More  and can help you keep your files synced How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 How To Keep Your Files Synced With SkyDrive In Windows 8.1 Storing data remotely and syncing them across devices has never been so easy, especially if you're using Windows 8.1. SkyDrive received a significant update, improving its integration with Windows and adding interesting new features. Read More .

Need Quick Access to Files?

Sometimes convenience wins out over practicality and reason. The desktop is great because it allows for immediate access, right? With one small compromise, you can maintain that convenience. The answer is to use shortcuts.

Creating a shortcut is as simple as dragging a file using the right mouse button to where you want the shortcut to appear, then selecting Create shortcut here from the menu. Even if a shortcut gets wiped, the actual file will still be safe.

But instead of putting the shortcuts on the desktop, why not take it one step further?

Right click on any file shortcut and select either Pin to taskbar or Pin to start menu. It’s a self-explanatory feature that works just as well as, if not better than, traditional desktop shortcuts. I use it day in and day out and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Conclusion

Ultimately, personal preference will always win. For those of you who have been “desktopping” for years, you’ll probably find it near impossible to break the habit. I still do it from time to time, though I try my best to clean up after myself when I realize what I’m doing. It just doesn’t make sense to store everything on the desktop anymore.

Do you clutter up your desktop with files and folders galore? If so, are you convinced enough to try a safer method of file storage? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

  1. Barbara
    March 25, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Crass novice here. I am afraid to delete the My Documents folder on my desktop so I can use the shortcut I have there, too, now. How do I get it to go where it should be w/o losing all of it?

  2. Al Barol
    March 7, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    the Desktop is part of each user's local profile which is loaded into memory at each login so having lots of files/folders on the Desktop clutters up memory which can be a nightmare on a machine with small amount of memory.
    My cousin had an XP machine that literally took nearly 30 minutes to boot up to a point where he could use it. The machine had 2 gig of RAM but 4 Gig of data on the Desktop! After moving that stuff off the Desktop to another non-profile location, that machine booted up fast!

    • Rani Kheir
      April 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

      I am not sure about XP, but newer Windows does not load everything on the desktop to RAM. I had over 4 gigs of files on my desktop, only about 2 gigs of RAM being used at the moment.

  3. Arbaz Khan
    August 29, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Yeah I am a little lazy with the so I tend to go the easier way and I store my important files on the Drive, easy and convenient.

    Arbaz,

  4. Uri.goldberg
    July 8, 2014 at 9:42 am

    its important to differentiate between Sync folders and Backups.
    Sync Folder works like http://www.dropbox.com , you delete a file, and its deleted everywhere.
    Backup means you choose what to backup from your computer, and it cannot be deleted from the backup (only from your computer) , thats why its a backup.
    you can actually enjoy them both look at https://www.dupplica.com/start-now
    you can find it under the pro version.
    it will both , back your computer up + give you an extra 512 Giga Sync folder (as like Dropbox ).. and it all for 2$ / month.. recommended

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

    • keren
      July 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

      Yeah, me too I use dupplica, It's actually the cheaper online backup I found on the net. Cheers

  5. Swapnil
    June 27, 2014 at 6:42 am

    Yes I am also too lazy and always save files on desktop for easy access, I think Cloud storage is one of the best way to store files, and no doubt it is the future of file storage.

    Swapnil

  6. Juan Savaroni
    June 4, 2014 at 12:28 am

    1. Always copy important files to an external drive. I do this at the end of every computer session.
    2. Make a full disc image backup every month. I use Acronis with a Western Digital drive. You can access any file from this image.
    3. Keep your backups offsite.
    Cheers Sav

  7. Joseph P
    May 16, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    @Joel L. - You should clear some space off your Windows partition if at all possible. Last I heard, Windows file systems still have issues with file fragmentation which can significantly affect performance. This is much worse when a partition is almost full.

    I used to use one defragmenter that wouldn't even try to run if there wasn't at least 10% free space on the partition.

    I also imagine (but do not know for sure) that having more free space on your partition will make the drive last longer because with less fragmentation, there should be significantly less writes and seeks for any given file update - especially if you have large files like music and video.

  8. Ben
    May 13, 2014 at 6:29 am

    A problem with creating a separate partition is that programs always save to the C drive by default (at least in my experience).

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Yeah, that can be inconvenient. I've had to manually reassign new programs to my E: drive but you get used to it after a while.

  9. gene ryack
    May 12, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Personally, I like a second hard drive in my workstation to store files.
    If your OS craps out, the files on the second drive are unaffected in most cases.

    I'm also looking for some cloud storage that will accept uploads of folders for backup.

  10. Bin Dar Dundet
    May 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    There are no perfect solutions, only a series of trade-offs. Assess your risks, your needs, and/or what works best for you. Then, just do it!

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

      Definitely a good point. :)

  11. Joe
    May 9, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Oops, my touchpad got me. That should read, "Filling up a data partition ..."

  12. Joe
    May 9, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Another reason not to store your data on the same partition as your operating system is that it's easy to fill it up and then your operating system has no place to work and starts to fail. Fem hard to backilling up a data partition is annoying, but doesn't cause any system level problems.

    Also, operating system partitions have a lot of data on them that is always changing. This makes them hard (or impossible) to backup reliably while the system is running.

    You have a lot more control of a data only partition and can usually make reliable backups just by checking that none of your user level applications are writing to the partition while the backup is running.

    • Joel L
      May 15, 2014 at 11:10 pm

      I'm struggling with something similar. I gave 40GB to my Windows partition and it's been hovering at 39GB. Every once in a while, it'll give me an error due to lack of space, forcing me to go on a hunt to clean it up...

  13. Godel
    May 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Never forget the security risks of storing unencrypted files in the cloud.

  14. John W
    May 6, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    I used to beat my audio and video editors every week for putting enormous media files on the desktop. Most of these files are bigger than the pagefile and they always end up calling tech support moaning about their workstation stuttering and freezing.
    Eventually I made a desktop background image warning of their immediate demise if they called support and we found media on the system drive.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Oh man, thinking of that makes me shudder!

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      I used to have mining engineers doing this on NT4 workstations in an NT4 network. All of these huge files (AutoCAD drawings, hi-res aerial shots of the pit or current expansion projects, [unauthorized] .PST files, etc.) were being stored on the desktop or in their profile directories and they just couldn't understand why it was taking so long for them to log in or out of the network each day. A few workstations were attempting to sync GBs of profile data at every log in/out on a 10/100 switched network with only 1 shared file & database server for that group of engineers.

  15. GadgetDude
    May 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    There is yet another alternative to consider that is a variation of the Cloud:
    Personal Cloud.
    Western Digital has created what is essentially an external HD configured to be your own Personal Cloud.
    Therefore, you can use either an online cloud and/or your personal cloud located on a drive external to the computer.
    Personally, I like the Personal Cloud because it has none of the hassles of an online cloud.

    • Yodi C
      May 7, 2014 at 3:13 pm

      I can RDP into my 4 TB EHDD from any computer. How is that different from WD's Personal Cloud?

  16. Dan S
    May 6, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    I do a lot of the above. Most of my files are located in onedrive. Some files (apps) are pinned to the desktop and some are pinned to the start menu. However, for portability, I also move the files that I work with frequently to my web page storage area in a folder I named TRANSIENT. This way, when I visit elsewhere I can simply download the files from the transient folder to their computer. As an addendum, adding folders to TRANSIENT for each main folder in My Documents area, you can keep data in these folders empty until a change is made. Then, move the changed file to that sub-folder and you can easily determine which files have recently been changed. This also acts as a file backup system.

  17. Jack A
    May 6, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    You mention that having the data in a separate partition protects it should the OS partition get attacked or corrupted. What if that happens to the data partition instead? Then your OS is fine but you just lost all your data. There is no truly safe strategy using the same hard drive. The only real safety net is backing up your data on an external drive or in the cloud or both. I do the latter because a fire in my house would destroy the computer AND external hard drive. Including the cloud in your solution is the best strategy.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:36 pm

      Yeah. Truth is, there's always a chance for ANY sort of backup to be lost. Traditional wisdom says to keep at least 3 different types of backups (computer, external, cloud) but it's possible for all 3 to be corrupted. The only thing we can do is be diligent and redundant to minimize (not eliminate) those risks.

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 12:57 pm

      You don't necessarily need to include cloud, but you must have some kind of off-site solution as part of the backup. The only stuff I allow to be saved in the cloud is all relatively unimportant. It's loss would not matter much at all. Off-site storage of important data and long-term backup copies (all of which are encrypted) are stored at relative's houses (and those rotate as well). If it is important, there will be a MINIMUM of 3 copies of it, normally at 3 different locations. If it is absolutely critical, special backup procedures are in place to maintain at least 3 copies of its current state as well as at least 2 copies of the last 4 generations of the data and, in some cases, there are even more generations of diffs (instead of point-in-time complete copies) of some material that can be applied to revert to previous versions of the data or to bring an older copy up to date in the event intermediate copies were corrupted.

  18. Davey126
    May 6, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Great (and often repeated) guidance but sidesteps the reality that many individuals will typically do whatever is most convenient regardless of potential risk - until they get burned. People opt not to use seat belts, smoke cigs and do a vast number of other things that someone, somewhere has deemed 'risky'. Until there is a low to near-zero alternative to storing files on the desktop they will likely remain there for a great many folks.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Unfortunately, there's truth to your statement. All we can do is keep warning and guiding people. Each time we do, there's at least one person who changes their ways. (I hope.)

  19. DieSse
    May 6, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Storing files on the desktop also uses resources and so slows the system down - particularly on older systems, and especially if they're large files (eg music, pictures, videos).

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      This is especially true for Windows XP, but since support for XP was recently discontinued I think it's less of an issue these days. Thanks for making note of that.

  20. Antonio N
    May 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    I have too many drives at home and all my files are messed up... yikes

  21. Tom S
    May 6, 2014 at 12:26 pm

    "But unless you are strict with maintenance"
    kind of self explanatory?

  22. anil
    May 6, 2014 at 11:45 am

    well get a upgrade..

  23. PrIyAnGsHu BG
    May 6, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Yes, I'm also too lazy to store files on my desktop instead of placing it in the drive partitions. But I have recently started using Fences. It's a great program to make boxes for different kinds of items, it helps to keep everything on the desktop organized.

    PrIyAnGsHu, Tech Audible

  24. Scott Hedrick
    May 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

    I didn't realize the Desktop is affected by System Restore. I tend to keep lots of items in folders on the Desktop. Guess I'll have to put those folders somewhere in Documents and just put shortcuts on the Desktop.

  25. andrew m
    May 6, 2014 at 1:15 am

    'Fences' is wonderful on win7. Not only does it allow you to keep different types of links, icons and files in their own 'box', but it has a default 'box' where all files dropped on the desktop go. Thereby confining the clutter.

    • Scott Hedrick
      May 6, 2014 at 2:06 am

      I have used Fences on XP and Vista and liked it. Didn't know it worked on 7.

    • Joel L
      May 7, 2014 at 10:32 pm

      I like the concept of Fences but it has never really worked for me in practice. It just enables my clutter and makes me even lazier, haha. But if it works for you, that's great!

  26. epiquestions
    May 5, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    You don't lose saved data when reinstalling the operating system (windows 7 and up). Every folder that you create in the OS partition is retained, and old windows files and folders (user, program files, windows folder etc) are put in windows.old folder of your new install.

    Anyway it is still better to create a separate partition for the data. One thing I do is to move the Desktop,Downloads, My Documents, Saved Games, My Pictures, My Videos, My Music of the users folder to a users folder I created in the data partition. Ie: Rightclick c:users{username}Desktop. Choose properties and go to location tab. Click move button and choose where to move or just type the new location in the bar and apply

    • Bruce E
      May 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm

      This only applies if you are not doing a clean install. Most people who end up needing to reinstall the OS are doing so because there is too much damage to repair and don't want the extra crap hanging around. That means formatting the OS partition and installing, in which case it all goes away.

      You are better off keeping the OS and data on separate partitions, or better yet, on different drives.

  27. Frank Leespeaking
    May 5, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    I don't trust anyone else's cloud, so I roll my own with a Synology NAS. More than likely if you're on this site, you should know better.

  28. Abhishek R
    May 5, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Another great article for managing files and folders in windows

    Thanks

  29. Gavin R
    May 5, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Another option is to put a shortcut to a folder on your desktop. You might already have a shortcut to Documents but you can right-click on any folder and Send to > Desktop. This can give you quick access to important folders (including drag and drop into them), and hopefully producing less clutter than you would by adding shortcuts to a lot of programs or files.

    • Joel L
      May 5, 2014 at 6:45 pm

      Yeah, folder shortcuts are important. There's still the danger of cluttering the desktop with a million folder shortcuts, but it's definitely a better alternative than sending all program shortcuts directly to desktop.

  30. Akash D
    May 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    well i create a folder named startup and put all my program shortcuts in that folder and use fences to hide that folder :)

  31. Arup Ghosh
    May 5, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    I use every method you mentioned here, but condition getting the same.

  32. D Black
    May 5, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I use to do what you said "pin shortcuts to the "taskbar" until I learned that all those shortcuts pinned to the taskbar are always running in the background, ultimately slowing your computer down. It's better to place the shortcut to the program on your desktop.

    • Howard B
      May 5, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      Items pinned to the Taskbar are *not* always running in the background; they are running *only* if they have an outline around them. If they have multiple outlines around them, there are multiple copies (or multiple windows, or multiple documents) active.

    • Ignacio C
      May 5, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      Where did you learn that? AFAIK (As Far As I Know), pinning to the taskbar only creates a shortcut to the item.

    • Achraf A
      May 5, 2014 at 5:56 pm

      As Howard said, pinning to the taskbar doesn't make programs stay running in the background, they are only running if they have a glowing outline on them that shines a "orangish" color when you hover on them.

    • Craig S
      May 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      This is definitely not true, but it'd be horrible if it was.

    • D Black
      May 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm

      I was told that by the IT guy where I worked. He said if it is on your desktop you have to double-click to open - not running; 'pinned' in your taskbar - single click- it's running. Windows that are minimized show in taskbar yes are running but disappear when window is closed.

    • D Black
      May 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks. I stand corrected.

  33. Rick Shortt
    May 5, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    "If your computer gets wiped somehow, those files still reside on the cloud and you can always retrieve them again."

    I have almost everything in the cloud one way or another, and love it, but aren't there some caveats to that statement? If in Windows I delete a local file or folder by accident that is syncing to Google Drive or Dropbox, it gets deleted from the cloud too. Though perhaps you were thinking about the fact it can still be recovered from the Trash there. I know that with Google Drive, you can retrieve files from trash for 30 days. Not sure about the specifics for Dropbox.

    • Achraf A
      May 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm

      Dropbox offers a much better and more powerful solution, it stores a File History that you can use to restore a different version or the latest version of the file you'd get deleted, and yes, the file history copies doesn't count against your Dropbox storage limit.

    • Rick Shortt
      May 5, 2014 at 6:07 pm

      Of course, any of these syncing cloud storage options are a guaranteed saving grace if you hard drive flat out fails. Even with a scheduled backup program on your computer that is backing up to an external drive, if your hard drive dies between backups you will probably lose something...

    • Uri.goldberg
      July 8, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Sync folders are good for extra cloud storage , but will not provide you with a backup
      I am a happy user who combines them both with Dupplica online backup
      look at https://www.dupplica.com/start-now

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