Patrick Marshall answers your personal technology questions each week.
Q: I am an accountant, and organization of my paper and digital information is very important to me. I need to be able to retrieve stuff even years after it was created. Most of my work and personal information moved from the paper to the digital world beginning in 1989. The volume of data has grown exponentially since then. I don’t use the cloud except in limited circumstances, using “air gap” backups to rotating external media for data security.
My first use of Windows, sometime in the early ’90s, allowed me to set up a DATA folder on my C drive. I then created subfolders for each of the various purposes in my work and personal life. I rely on Windows Explorer to see my organization of folders containing the files I need.
At some point Microsoft modified Windows to use Libraries, Homegroups, Owner, Computer and Network folders, apparently as a way of “organizing” what is on my computer. I was advised that I could ignore them and could move my Data folder and all of its subfolders and still be able to locate them in my old way, which I did.
I wonder if it is time to change my practice to using the Libraries, etc., instead of a folder under “C” for all of my work and data storage. Today I am contemplating acquiring a Windows 10 Dell Optiplex 5060. The data residing on my Windows 7 Lenovo ThinkPad will be moved to this new computer. Is this a good time to change my ways? Or does it matter?
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— Mary Hollen, Greenbank
A: Good question! I have recently had several people — all relatives — contact me asking for help in organizing their data files. What I tell them is to use whatever organization makes the most sense to them. If you try to force your data into a structure that doesn’t feel right it’s going to be a lot harder to remember where you put things.
As it happens, I structure my data files just like you do … with one exception. Like you, I have always organized my data in subfolders and files under a single folder named “Data” on my C drive. Then when I need to back it up, all I have to do is copy that Data folder to backup media.
The one change I’ve made is that I now replicate that Data folder to the cloud. That way, whenever I make a change to a file it is automatically backed up. At the same time, if anything goes wrong with cloud storage I also have it stored locally.
The one potential drawback to be aware of is that most cloud services do not keep older versions of your files. As a result, if you are afflicted with ransomware — malware that encrypts your files until you pay ransom to unencrypt them — your backups will also be encrypted. The solution is either to subscribe to cloud storage that retains versions or to do periodic backups to media that are then disconnected.
And yes, you can continue to use your storage scheme and ignore homegroups and libraries. If you’re sharing data with other computers on your network you will, of course, have to manually share those folders.
Q: I’m currently using McAfee Live Safe as the anti-virus program on my desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone, but am completely frustrated by the program’s firewall, which puts my Dell desktop into such a slow reaction mode on the web that I’m getting downloads rejected because of the delay. I’ve been turning the firewall off for 15 minutes or a half-hour when it gets really bad.
Since my McAfee subscription ends next month, I’d like to know if there are any alternatives you’d recommend. — Duston Harvey, Kirkland
A: I understand your frustration. I don’t recommend specific products unless I’ve recently done a comparative review. That said, I can point you to a couple of options.
First, you can simply turn off the McAfee firewall, then reboot the computer and the Windows firewall will take its place.
A second option is, yes, to uninstall the McAfee software. If your internet service provider is either Comcast or CenturyLink you can download and install Norton Security Suite for free. If you have another ISP, check with them to see if they offer anti-virus/firewall software. If your ISP doesn’t offer protective software and you don’t want to purchase any, just use Windows Defender. Windows Defender may not “win” in the comparative reviews, but it is capable software that will provide the protection most users will need.