NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2005
Barlow's Hard Drive Newsletter May 2005
Managing the Information Flood
by Gene Barlow, User Group Relations
Copyrighted April 2005
(click to email author)

It is said that we are living in the Information Age. This has been made possible by the widespread availability of computers connected to the Internet. This gives us access to millions of web sites containing a wealth of information. What we are finding is that we actually have an "information overload" to contend with. Finding information on the Internet or even on our large gigabyte hard drives is becoming a real problem. The key to effectively finding information is organizing our access to this information. The better organized we are on our computers, the quicker we can find and use the information available to us.

Being organized in our use of the Internet and our computers can be a real challenge without the right tools. We are faced with struggling to manage the folders in our Favorites list to keep track of where things are on the Internet. These folders are cumbersome to use and a pain to reorganize. So, instead of better organizing our Internet access points, we end up with a wildly growing Favorites list that is impossible to find anything in. Finding files on our hard drive is equally challenging. Using My Computer or Windows Explorer is not a good way to find the information on our hard drives. These tools are simply not up to the challenges we face today in organizing our access to information. There must be a better way to help us get organized!

I recently became aware of an exciting new product that has taken tabbed browsing to a whole new level and can make the task of organizing your access to the internet and to the files on your hard drive so much simpler. The tool is Optimal Desktop Pro 4.0 by Optimal Access, Inc (http://www.optimalaccess.com). The talented developers of this powerful product have put in place a single tool that you can use to easily bookmark your favorite destinations on the Internet. It is also a wonderful tool to help you organize access to the many files on your hard drive. In addition, it has some powerful function to manage your use of RSS feeds, a rapidly growing area of the Internet. I will briefly give you an overview of this product and how to use it in each of these three ways to access information.

Overview of Optimal Desktop Pro
Optimal Desktop Pro lets you access files, folders, web pages and RSS feeds in one place and uses a familiar format that all of us can quickly understand and use -- filing cabinets. You can organize your information into one or more Cabinets with Optimal Desktop Pro. So, you could set up Cabinets based on subjects like news, sports, travel or anything that meet your needs. These can include any combination of your favorite Internet access points, files on your computer's hard drive, and syndicated feeds you subscribe to or define. Each Cabinet is organized with a set of up to 32 Drawers that you define. Drawers appear as tabs along the right edge of your screen. You may want to have a Drawer that holds access to your digital photographs and your digital publishing tools and another Drawer for all of your written documents. Again, you have complete flexibility to set these up in any way that is meaningful to you. Within each Drawer you can define Sections that will contain your individual items. For example, in your photograph Drawer, you may want a Section for subject types such as pictures of grandkids, vacations, wild flowers, etc. Each Section stores a link to your information, no matter where it is stored on your hard drive or on the Internet.

Setting up and changing your Cabinets, Drawers, and Sections is very easy to do in Optimal Desktop Pro. In most cases, you just drag and drop something to create a new Drawer or Section. You can quickly identify the Drawer and the Section by name, icon, or color to make it easy to find and remember. So, setting up and tailoring your desktop makes using this product simple and fun to do. If you don't get things organized quite right the first time you set them up, don't worry, it is very easy to quickly change and modify your organization structure. Managing your Internet Links

The Internet is a wonderful source of information about all sorts of subjects. Unfortunately, the information on the Internet grew in a random, haphazard pattern with little to relate one piece of information to another. So, finding and accessing information on the Internet is a bit difficult to do. Some companies like Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com) have built indexes to the information on the Internet. By going down through their various levels of indexes, you may find the information that you want. Other companies like Google (http://www.google.com) have built search tools that let you enter a few key words about your topic and the tool will show you what's on the Internet with those key words. Using both the indexes and search tools take some skill and many steps to locate the information you want. Once you find it, you should save the link to that information so that you can use it again without having to dig for it again in the indexes and search tools.

With Internet Explorer, you can only save these links in your Favorites list. The Favorites list only offers you one level of organization, folders. So, you end up with dozens of folders and many links within each folder. Finding links in a large Favorites list is not easy to do. Tabbed browsers are becoming very popular because they allow us to browse multiple pages quickly and bookmark our favorite sites with multiple levels of tabs. Optimal Desktop Pro gives you three levels of organization to manage your Internet links. You have Cabinets, Drawers, and Sections in which to organize and store your important links. So, instead of hunting endlessly in many folders on your Favorites list, you quickly select the right Cabinet, Drawer, and Section that contain your link. Three quick clicks and you have found your Internet page. Optimal Desktop Pro also offers a Search tool for searching your Cabinet, Drawer and Sections, so you can easily use the Search tool to locate the links you are looking for.

Since Optimal Desktop Pro is so easy to use, it will be easy to get your current Internet links organized. I would start with your current Favorites set of folders and build on it from there. You may want to set up a Cabinet just for your Internet links. Then define 4-6 Drawers that would define the general types of links that you use most. For example, you may want to have a Drawer set up for your Travel links, another for your Account links, and still another for your Shopping links. Within each Drawer, you can set up Sections that will contain the various links that you need. For example, in your Travel drawer, you may have an Airline Section, a Hotel Section, and a Car Rental Section. You can also set up Sections for National Parks, Ski Resorts, or any other category that makes sense to you. If you get too many Sections in a Drawer, set up another Drawer to contain some of the Sections. Optimal Desktop Pro comes with some sample Cabinets that you might want to start out with and merge in the links from your current Favorites list.

Managing your Hard Drive
The computers we use today are very powerful tools. They have hard drives that can contain many gigabytes of information and programs. It is not unusual to have a computer with close to a million files on the hard drives. The information on a computer's hard drives is organized into hard drives, partitions, and many layers of folders in each partition. The tools that come with Windows to find and gain access to any of the files on your computer is either Windows Explorer or My Computer. Both work about the same way and let you point to the hard drive, the partition within the hard drive, and the various folders in each partition. So, finding a file on your computer is a matter of stepping down through the Tree on Windows Explorer or My Computer till you find the file you want. It may sound easy, but in practical use, it is not all that easy to find stuff on your computer. Similar files get placed in many locations on your computer and finding all of these locations is what makes finding information on your hard drive difficult. There is a search tool in Windows that you can use to find a file by its name, but this is slow and not convenient to use.

The biggest problem with this organization approach of hard drives is that in order to change the organization, you must physically move the files. Moving data files is fairly easy to do, but when you move them, references to those files are lost. So, when you move a file to better organize it, references to that file's location are broken and your computer may not find it easily. This is even more difficult to do if you try to move your application programs to different locations on your hard drive. Special software utilities must be used to do this and they often don't work very well. You may end up having to reinstall your application programs just to better organize them on your hard drive.

With Optimal Desktop Pro, you can completely organize your hard drive access without having to physically move files around. So, if you have your digital photos located in four or five different locations on your hard drive, you can use Optimal Desktop Pro to place the access to all of these in one Drawer and get to all of them very quickly. This will make them seem as if they are all bunched together in one location on your hard drive even though they are physically scattered on the drive. Not only that, with this exciting tool, you can access the same file from multiple Drawers or Sections. Again, using the digital photos example, you may want to have access to a photo by the month it was taken, another access by the subject matter, and a third access by the names of the individuals in the photos. All of this is possible with the power of Optimal Desktop Pro.

Managing your RSS Feeds
The Internet is also evolving. The latest development is syndicated feeds. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a web format for delivering news-like content to your computer. They are designated as XML links on most of the popular web pages today. It has become very popular with the rapid expansion of weblogs (or blogs) that are showing up in large numbers on the Internet. Blogs are web pages comprised of usually short, frequently updated items and web links. Blogging is fast becoming the way that news and commentary are being delivered over the Internet. Perhaps you are already a dedicated follower of certain blogs. To read these RSS feeds, you need to use a news aggregator (also called a news reader). Optimal Desktop Pro is such a news reader and can handle the input from these RSS feeds. Using Optimal Desktop Pro, you can organize your blogs and other news feeds into convenient Cabinets, Drawers, and Sections.

Optimal Desktop Pro also lets you define your own syndicated feeds. A query wizard lets you define filters based on user defined key word filters, headline filters, stock ticker symbols, category filters, industry source filters and location filters, so you can define your own news and have it delivered to your desktop. You can also see many popular web portals like Yahoo, New York Times, NPR and others offer syndication feeds to various segments of their content. You can use another wizard in Optimal Desktop to connect to a library of feeds and subscribe to any you wish!

Obtaining Optimal Desktop Pro
Optimal Desktop Pro is a powerful tool that you will enjoy using on your computer. It will not only help you better organize your access to information sources, but will make retrieving this information fast and easy to do. Optimal Desktop Pro lists for $60, but you can purchase the same product at the user group discount price of just $39. Look for it in our User Group Store at http://www.usergroupstore.com. Click on any of the yellow "Buy Now" buttons to get to our secure web order form. Complete the form including the special user group code of UGNL0505 and submit it. We will receive it shortly and normally ship your order the following morning. We ship via the Post Office and delivery is usually in 2-3 days. You may share this discount offer with your immediate family and close friends. These prices are not available to others not involved with a user group.

I hope this month's newsletter has made you aware of how you can better organize your access to information using the Optimal Desktop Pro utility from Optimal Access. Let me know if you have questions about anything in this newsletter by sending a note to gene@ugr.com. Thank you for your attention.

Gene Barlow is the president of User Group Relations, a consulting firm specializing in promoting computer products to the user group community. He has over 40 years of experience with computer systems. He worked for IBM for 34 years and managed IBM's user group support organization for 14 years. He helped hundreds of user groups get started and is sometimes called the Father of User Groups for his involvement. When he left IBM, he set up his own consulting firm and has represented many software vendors to the user group community the past 9 years. He is an outstanding speaker, writer, and helper of end users and loves working with user groups. You may contact him at gene@ugr.com.

Gene Barlow
User Group Relations
PO Box 911600
St George, UT 84791-1600

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