Playing hide and e-seek
By Charles Wright
Generosity is not a word you find in the Microsoft lexicon. Since Bill Gates famously declared in 1981 that "640kb of memory ought to be enough for anyone", the company has been rationing things.
Take the available list of recently used files in Microsoft Word, for instance. The default setting is four, and the most you can get by resetting the number (under Tools/Options/General) is nine. With typical parsimony, Windows XP offers you a My Recent Documents selection of 15 files. It isn't nearly enough.
Most of us are busy to the point of harassment. We forget little things like file names. We give them labels that are less than obvious, and we save them in the wrong directories - through inattention or because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Days or weeks later, when you try to find them again, you discover that the list of recent documents has been over-written by files that you probably opened while looking for something else, and you have no idea what you called the one you really want, or where to look for it. You can try using the Windows search function but it's slow, and if you use the wrong search word, it won't help. There are some files that seem to disappear into some digital elephants' graveyard. Did you delete them by accident? Do they know how to play hide-and-seek?
A program called TaskTracker possibly isn't very well named, but it's a real bloodhound when it comes to finding those files you could have sworn you'd saved, somewhere.
It's a free download from wordwisesolutions.com, and if you like it, you can register it for $US25 ($A34). We liked it.
Once installed, TaskTracker lives in your System Tray. When you click on it, two small windows open, one of which gives you a list of file types on your PC. Click at the top, and you can sort them alphabetically, by frequency of access, or by the most recently accessed. In our case, it gave us 22 file types, including deleted or renamed files, which is a clever thought. One of the most powerful in that list is the file folders you've been working on. That gives you access to something called virtual folders, of which more later.
Click on a file type, and in the second window appears the list of files you've opened. That's possibly the most surprising thing about the program. We expected it would track the files we'd worked on after we'd installed it. Instead, it picked up quite an extensive recent history. Under Microsoft Word alone, for instance, it gave us 78 documents.
That means it draws on some function of Windows that tracks exactly what you've been doing, but shows you only a tiny percentage of what it knows. That stimulated our ever-present sense of mild paranoia. Why does Microsoft's operating system know a lot more than it's letting on, we wondered, and couldn't that knowledge be misused? Useful, perhaps, to keystroke loggers?
In TaskTracker, when you right-click on any of those files, you get a context menu that allows you to open, copy or rename the file, or open the containing folder, among other choices. You can filter the list of files according to when they were last worked on, or by name. You can also do a Windows search in the directory of each file.
Those virtual folders are a great idea. One problem with relying solely on the Windows file system to sort and arrange your documents is that, unless you want to waste hard disk space and run into version control problems, you can have a file in only one place.
This has limitations - what if, for example, if you want to keep your images in one folder, and your Word documents in another, or arrange files for a particular project?
Organising files by type makes it hard to find all the files for a particular job, and organising by job makes it difficult to find files by type. TaskTracker's virtual folders solves the problem in a particularly clever way.
The only thing Bleeding Edge didn't like was TaskTracker's configuration menu. Indeed, the entire user interface could be done a little better. It would also be useful if it could be more integrated into Windows. Virtual folders would be even more powerful if they appeared in Windows Explorer. But no doubt Microsoft thinks that would be far too generous.
Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.
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