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The pros and cons (mostly cons) of saving files to the desktop

For years, Jocelyn Warfield saved her document files to the desktop. She asked me about continuing the process.

As far back as I can remember, no version of Windows has ever, by default, saved data files (documents, spreadsheets, photos, and so on) to the desktop. And at least since XP, it has not been a particularly safe place to save them.

But, because the desktop is always visible, some people just can’t resist temptation.

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There are good reasons to avoid saving files to the desktop. For one thing, it’s difficult to organize. Although you can sort files on the desktop by name or date, you can’t group them by a second criterion. And it can easily become overwhelmingly crowded in a way that a groupable, searchable folder cannot.

And you almost always have application windows in front of it, blocking some of your files. True, there are ways to hide or minimize all of those windows, but that adds another layer of hassle.

Most important of all, files on the desktop are not as well protected as files in libraries like My Documents and My Pictures. For instance, if you use System Restore to return Windows to its state as of last Wednesday, the feature will remove any files added to the desktop since that date. The files in My Documents will be left untouched. 

What’s more, many file-based backup programs don’t, by default, back up the desktop. You can change that, of course, somewhere in your backup program’s settings.

If you still want to back up to the desktop, you should alter Windows a bit to make it safer—and more convenient.

First of all, you need to add the desktop to the Documents library. This protects the desktop from System Restore changes and possibly adds it to backups. Here’s how to set it up:

In the Library section of Windows Explorer (File Explorer in Windows 8), right-click Documents and select Properties.

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Once in the dialog box, click the Include a folder option and select the desktop. You’ll find it near the top of the Navigation panel, under Favorites.

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If you want programs to save to the desktop by default, select Desktop from the Library locations list and click Set save location. That way, whenever you save a document, spreadsheet, or just about anything except a photo, video, or song, the desktop will be the first location where the program wants to save your file.

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