How Can I Organize and Neaten My Windows Desktop?

April 15, 2009

in Windows

by Gabe Goldberg

If you haven’t creatively arranged your computer’s Desktop icons, they may appear in two separate alphabetized groups. (If they’re all a jumble, Right Click on the Desktop, click Arrange Icons by, and select Name.) If multiple people use the PC, different icons likely appear on each person’s Desktop.

This is less mysterious than it seems: Windows creates one group of Desktop icons which all users see (displayed first) plus a unique set of icons for each user (shown following the All Users icons). Some software stores icons in the All Users group while other installations store icons in the folder for the user doing the installation. But since all icons are stored in normal Windows folders, it’s easy to move them between groups.

Open Windows Explorer and click the Folders button to display your computer’s folders structure, then open (click the plus-sign next to) Documents and Settings. Then open the All Users folder and the folder for each user defined on the system.

Desktop folders under All Users and each user contain the icons displayed. You can promote icons from a specific user to All Users (making the shortcut available to everyone) by simply dragging it from the user’s Desktop folder to the All Users Desktop folder and you can make an icon specific to a user (not cluttering Desktops of users who don’t need it) by dragging it from the All Users folder to a specific user’s folder.

Arrange desktop icons in Windows.

Arrange desktop icons in Windows.

Another approach to Desktop icons is arranging them in meaningful groups rather than alphabetizing them. Move icons by left clicking and dragging while holding the left mouse button. Don’t double click an icon or you’ll run the program or open the file with which it’s associated. You can arrange icons into groups for utility programs, Internet applications, Microsoft Office programs, important files and folders, etc. — or whatever pattern is meaningful to you.

If a program didn’t supply its own Desktop icon, you can create it by Right clicking the Desktop, clicking New, then Shortcut. Now either enter the location (directory path and file name) of the program or file the shortcut will represent, or click Browse and navigate to the item.

You can create a Desktop shortcut for a program in the Start button’s All Programs list by clicking Start, mousing over All Programs, pressing Ctrl, and dragging the program icon from the programs list to the Desktop. (Ctrl-dragging copies the icon to the Desktop, leaving it in the All Programs list. Dragging without Ctrl removes it from the list.)

Remember that icons can either be shortcuts for (pointers to) programs or files stored anywhere on the computer, or can represent actual files stored on the Desktop; shortcut icons include a small white arrow.

If your Desktop is cluttered with icons, it’s safe to delete shortcut icons which needn’t always be visible: left click the one to delete and press Delete. But be careful deleting icons for actual files or programs, since you may have stashed them on the Desktop for safe keeping!

Gabe Goldberg (, a lifelong computer pro and technology communicator, has written three books and hundreds of articles for audiences including techies, baby boomers and senior citizens. He enjoys sharing tips and pointers that help people use and have fun with technology.