One of the questions that I am asked frequently has to do with all of the icons on the typical Windows desktop. "Aren't they slowing things down? I never use most of them, so can't we get rid of them?"
I usually answer by explaining that most of the icons on the average desktop are not slowing the computer down at all, but are actually more like "speed dial" buttons on a phone.
Most desktop icons are just shortcuts to programs buried deeper in the system, and are on the desktop so you don't have to navigate through all sorts of menus to launch a program.
If you look closely at the icons on your desktop, you may notice that some icons have a little arrow in a little white box at the lower left corner of the icon. The arrow itself is kind of curvy and will point to the top right corner of the icon. You may also notice that other icons (like the My Computer icon, the My Documents icon, the Recycle Bin Etc.) do not have the little arrow. There is a big difference between the two types of icons.
The icons with the little arrows are actually just shortcuts and not the actual program or file. Shortcuts are really, really tiny and don't slow the computer down at all!
"But what about the icons that don't have the little arrow? Are they safe to get rid of?" That question is a little harder to answer.
You see, any icon on your computer that does not have the little shortcut indicator is either a user file or a system file and messing with it can cause problems. Icons on your desktop that are not shortcuts are either files that have been saved on the desktop or system files that have been set there by the operating system, and care should be taken when manipulating them.
Another point that I want to make is that people have different ideas as to what the phrase "get rid of" means.
When someone asks me to get rid of all of the unused icons on their desktop, what they are invariably asking me to do is to delete them. Now if you have been reading my column for any length of time, then you know how I feel about deleting things from your computer - it's not something I do casually.
In fact, I have a saying: "If I were King, I'd have the delete button stricken from the keyboard."
My idea of cleaning a Windows desktop by "getting rid of" a bunch of stuff is not to delete everything but leans more in line with the phrase "out of sight, out of mind."
People will watch with a puzzled look on their face as I create yet another icon on their desktop (a new folder), name it something like "Desktop Clutter" and then drag all of the unused icons into the new folder. Then, once the desktop is down to just the icons that actually get used, I drag the Desktop Clutter folder and drop it into the My Documents folder.
Then I usually spend the next ten minutes of so explaining why I went through all that trouble rather than just deleting everything. My explanation really boils down to habit. One of the worst habits people get into with their machines is the habit of deleting stuff every time they tidy up. Sure it's great to have a tidy desktop, but if you are in the habit of casually deleting stuff then eventually you are going to delete something you actually need.
Even worse is the habit some people have of emptying the recycle bin every time they delete something. That's just a disaster waiting to happen.
My philosophy is "out of sight, out of mind." Tidying up my system by sweeping a bunch of unused shortcuts, and actual files for that matter, into a folder and then moving the folder out of sight ensures that if I accidentally do "get rid of something" that I need, I can recover it easily enough by digging into the folder where I moved it.
Does this mean that I am completely against deleting everything? No, of course not. Some things are indeed trash and I have no problem deleting them. I just have a real problem with the habit of deleting things with barely a second thought. I've seen too many people delete their way into too many problems.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).