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Computer Files: Naming, Organizing and Emailing

Part of being online is learning certain basics so that are not only informed and perceived as an individual who understands the technology in which you are participating but to also ensure those you communicate with have a pleasant and easy experience. This article will help you accomplish that by covering the basics of how to name and organize your files and send them via email.

Not knowing these basics, and folks, these are the basics, could cause you lost opportunity with potential customers whose email you shutdown and who are aware of and practice these basic skills. For personal emails it is more a courtesy thing and so that you reflect an understanding of the technology you are using.

Learn How To Name Files Properly:

There are several basics when naming files that you should make an effort to follow. This is important in keeping files cross platform and ensuring that when they arrive on the other side that the intended recipient is able to open them.

LENGTH OF FILE NAMES: This K.I.S.S. principle applies: Keep It Short & Simple.

Computers are Built on Short Filenames

Did you know that MS DOS, which requires an 8.3 pattern, lurks in many computer systems, including most Windows (PC) systems? By an "8.3 pattern" this means eight letters in the filename followed by the three-letter file extension. Extensions are needed for browsers and programs to "recognize" a file and engage or display the proper program/utility. Examples are: .doc, .wps, .gif, .txt, .jpg, .png, .rtf, .tif, .ppt. So now you know why computer files are use the 8.3 pattern. But what has that to do with how you should name files?

NAMING FILES: Mentioning the 8.3 pattern as a good rule of thumb to follow anytime you are naming computer files is just a guide. Even though you can use a longer filenames on your computer, (I received a file just this week that broke every rule and was 106 characters, including spaces, in length!) keeping the 8.3 convention (8 or less character name with a 3 character extension such as “yourpage.doc” or “mypic.jpg”) in mind will help you create more concise file names. It’s an easy way to remember that shorter is better.

If the files themselves are going to be used on your website, the filenames become part of the page’s URL or the code to display the file so picutureofmykidsfifteenthbirthdayboywasitfun.jpg is simply not a good idea – shorter is better! Example: johns15.jpg. Don’t name files with sentence-long names. Keep file names short and sweet.

Yes, of course you can use longer names. I’m just providing a frame of reference for you as to why file names are what they are and how you can avoid any potential conflicts. As a matter of fact, I use longer file names on occasion — but I keep brevity in mind and generally use no more than 10-15 characters. Using more is the exception, not the rule. For folks who work with files as part of their job, having to scroll to read the entire file or determine the extension is a real pain. As with everything we discuss — discretion is key!

The 3 Main File Name Considerations

  • Never put any spaces in the name or the extension.
  • Name files in all lower case to be safe. While Macs and PCs are not case sensitive, your website hosting server is case sensitive. When typing in the filenames of your HTML files and related image files (.GIF or .JPG vs. .gif or .jpg) may require that they be renamed in order to ensure they are useable/viewable. If not, your visitors will get a “file not found” message. Just get in the habit of all small case and you never have to worry about this issue.
  • Only use alpha (abc) or numeric (123) characters. Punctuation or other special characters should not be used. You cannot use any of the following: " / : * < > ? ?.    A period can only be used before the suffix, which must be three characters long.

    Special characters are used in the code that makes your website, computer and software run. To avoid conflicts and errors, these characters are not allowed in file names. Why? Here’s some technobabble for you:

    / is a switch (and also a directory separator).
    \ is a directory separator.
    : is a drive designator.
    * and ? are wildcards used in code and searching.
    ” is a way to allow spaces in parameters.
    < and > are redirection that allow input and output of a program to come from, and go to, something other than screen/keyboard.
    | is a pipe that allows output from one program to be used as input to the next.

SIDEBAR: For your digital camera, you want to rename the file to be descriptive of each specific photo. All this requires is that when the file is opened on your system, you click on File then Save As and rename that file to be descriptive of the subject.

Camera file names are not descriptive at all. In addition, if you do not rename the camera generated file name, you do run the risk of overwriting previous files with the same name if you download to the same location. Use descriptive file names that note the content of the file. You can even include dates: johns15-091317.jpg

To just rename camera images to photo1, photo2 or photo3 requires that the recipient (and you in the future) open them to determine what it is a photo of. And in the future, you may not remember what the photos are of either! Descriptive file names are a great help for those who receive attachments from various sources. They then at a glance know what the file contains. If you receive files by email you will appreciate this as well!

DOCUMENTS AND SPREADSHEETS: People from different countries may speak completely different languages. Similarly, different computer programs store their files in different formats. A file created with WordPerfect might not be intelligible to Word for Windows and may lose formatting in translation. A file created with Lotus 1,2,3 might display gibberish when viewed with Excel or may not be openable at all.

Fortunately, many of the newer programs have built-in translators for common file formats. Word for Windows will automatically try to translate a WordPerfect file, and vice versa. Often, the internal translators work fine. Occasionally, there are wacky errors that will make the file unreadable to the other party.

When exchanging files you cannot be completely sure that whatever program the other person will use will be able to read the file created by the program you use. Just as different versions of the very same program may not be able to read each others files. Frustrating, right? Avoid this unnecessary frustration by asking what programs the other person uses and if you both have the same program and version – no problem.

If you do not use the same programs, or if you simply don’t know what the other person is using, the best approach is to translate your files to an intermediate format that both programs will most likely understand. Your word processor (or other program) will usually have an option called “Save As…” which allows you to save a file in a different format.

A program’s default format is usually called its "native" format. In Word for example, that is a .docx extension. Often, different file formats are associated with different filename extensions. That is how your computer knows what software to use to view/open the file.

Every word processing program (and most other programs) can read files in "text" format (sometimes called "ASCII" format), which is signified by the file extension .txt. Text format, unfortunately, does not preserve special layouts like margins, underlining, bolding, italics, etc.

Fortunately, there is a format that preserves all your formatting — Adobe PDF. Most devices now have the functionality to open PDF files which will preserve your content layout and images within.

SIDEBAR: I can hear you Mac users – what about us? Well, as you are well aware PCs are the majority online and that is whom this article is targeted.

That said, PC users can get software that converts Mac files so they are readable on PCs. You Mac folks know that Macs allow you to save files in PC format, which still may not make the file viewable in any or all software on the other person’s PC but at the very least it is an effort worth making. Or, yep, save as a PDF!

Learn the RIGHT WAY to Send Files Via Email:

ATTACHMENTS: It is easy to attach a file to an email. Almost too easy! It shields you from the basic information you need to know before you send your attachment to the other person. Specifically size and format.

For size you can view the file’s size in Windows Explorer. Make sure the LIST option at the top is set to DETAILS. There you will see a SIZE column. Any file over 500K, either ask permission first to send the large file so the recipient is expecting the file, zip it up or reduce its size.

To include a large attachment someone didn’t ask for is the epitome of lack of courtesy for those you are emailing and your actions will most certainly have a negative effect on your reputation. Common courtesies go a long way online when trying to foster relationships of any kind. Include an overly large attachment that is not compressed or in a format that requires one have the same software as you do (don’t count on the fact they do) is narcissistic.

Files should only be sent in a format that you know the other side has the appropriate software to view – because you asked first! (No, not everyone has MS Publisher, Excel or Power Point.)

SIDEBAR: When it comes to graphics, just assume the file is gargantuan. Whether it is business or personal you need to compress either the file’s size with one of the many compression utilities available or reduce the physical size of the graphic itself.

Learn how to resample/resize the graphic to no larger than 1000 pixels in width. That size is large enough for the majority of uses – especially if you are just sharing photos with friends or family. For use on your website, they need not be larger than this either unless a larger size is designated by your design layout. Photos thousands of pixels wide easily get up into the 2-4M range – Yikes!

Learn How to Organize Your Files:

GETTING ORGANIZED: I read a study recently which claimed computer users typically spend up to 30 percent of their time searching for previously stored documents and data. Most computer users do not know where their files are! This unproductive and frustrating activity ranks among the most time-consuming when working with computers. No time like the present to learn! Here are some basic tips to help you get your files organized:

  • Before you save a file, either write down or make a mental note of the folder or location on your hard drive where you saved the file. When downloading files or programs off the Internet create a “Downloads” folder and make a point of pointing to that directory for all downloads. This will ensure the files that you download, some of which may take quite a long period of time depending on your connection, are available at a later date if you need them and you won’t have download them again. Also, having all you downloads in one in one central location is pretty darned convenient!
  • Organize your files into folders, such as "My Documents." For your website, create a folder called "website." For your photos – "My Photos". Whatever works for you so that you will remember what you put where.
  • You can create folders within My Documents for each program, e.g., Docs (Word), PPT (Power Point), Excel, Photos, Taxes, Home, Office, etc. This is a great idea to keep all your printed materials in one location.
  • When you want to save a new file, go to File; Save As and not only name the file properly but save it in the appropriate location right off the bat!
  • Name your files so they are short, descriptive and intuitive so you know what they contain at a glance in the future.

By following the above guidelines you’ll be more organized, appear tech savvy and folks won’t cringe when they see your name in their inbox. Win-win don’t you think?

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