How to keep your desktop organized

12/01/2014 01:45:00 PM
This is my desktop right now
What a medieval mess!
If you are like me, you like to have files you are currently working on on the desktop for easy access. But that strategy only works if there are few files on the desktop--no good if you still have to hunt for the files you want! Few economists have addressed the issue of overwhelming computer desktop clutter; this post fills a much needed gap in the literature.

Specifically, this post explains how to write a program that will run once every week, moving all of the files off the desktop and into a notated and dated folder in My Documents. I'm going to do this all with the programming language C# only because that is what my employer uses, but this is very similar to how you would do it in C++ or Java. I'm also only doing this for Windows 7 because that's what I use. But, you can do everything below for free, and you can download the finished C# code file at the end, which can be compiled and run with only minimal editing to change filepath names. This post is written for the absolute beginner programmer.

The first thing you need is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE), which is just a piece of software that helps you write code. We will use Visual C# 2010 (the express version can be downloaded for free here, and is sufficient for our purposes). I'm only using 2010 because this is the version my employer uses, but the version isn't important.

When you open Visual Studio go to file->new->project, which will take you to this screen:
You can also get to this screen by selecting "new project" on the Visual Studio start page. When you get to this point, select "console application" and give your project a name at the bottom. If you'd like to change the directory where it will save your application, change it here.
Select "console application" and give it a name at the bottom before clicking "ok."

Once it's done generating your "solution", you'll see this:
Make sure you add "using System.IO;" at the top of the code.
Most of that code should already be showing in your version. However, notice how I've added using System.IO; near the top of the code. This tells the compiler we'll be using some code from the System.IO namespace, and some of our code below won't work without this statement at the top. This is a good point to note that C# is case-sensitive, so for example, "" is not the same thing as "System.IO". Also, note that every statement ends with a semicolon--one of the most common sources of errors for beginners is a missing semicolon somewhere. Below that, there are three object levels visible in our code so far: the namespace (which is named after whatever you put in as the name of the solution), a class called "program" and a static method called "main."

A note on terminology: technically there are no functions in C#, unlike in C++. Instead, everything is done with "methods" which are really just functions that exist inside classes. A class is a grouping of variables and methods that, together, define a "type" of object used in the program. The "static" keyword lets us access things stored inside a class without creating an "instance" of that class. See here for more about "instances" but for our purposes everything will be static, and will take place inside the "program" class. The keyword "void" tells the compiler that a method does not return any data--if we wanted to write a method that outputs some text, for example, we would instead use the "string" keyword to tell it that the method returns text.

The first thing we want to do is get a list of all the files and folders on the desktop. This is an important step because there are some things on the desktop, such as the recycle bin and My Computer icon, that we do not want to remove. So I'm going to insert a static method above the "main" method called "getListOfFileNames" that will make a text file containing the file names for all the folders and files on the desktop (we aren't returning any values here, so the return type is "void"). Here's my method:
This method creates a list, grabs all of the information for all the files on the desktop and stores them in the list, iterates through the list to extract the file names and saves those to a different list, then saves the list of file names to a text file on the desktop.
This is a good time to note that in C#, two forward slashes denotes a comment, so that everything to the right of the slashes until the end of the line are ignored by the program. We use this to insert commentary about the code, which is immensely helpful whether we are writing code for someone else--to explain to them what each part of the code does--or are trying to figure out what our code does when we revisit it three months from now. In the code above, notice that I've specified a file path three times: twice in side of the "new DirectoryInfo()" constructors, and once inside the "File.WriteAllLines()" method. The first two should be replaced with whatever the file path to your desktop is, and the last one should be replaced with where ever you want the text file to be saved to (this one must include both the path and the name and fileextension of the file itself--if a file with that name at that location does not exist this will create one, and if it does exist this will overwrite it). All filepaths throughout our code must be inside quotation marks and preceded by the @ sign.

Our code does not yet do anything. That's because when we execute the code, the computer starts inside the "main" method follows all instructions inside the "main" method in order from top to bottom, then closes the program. Thus, we need to insert "getListOfFileNames();" into the "main" method like so:
Calling a method.
Our program is now ready to run. Just click the little green arrow at the top of Visual Studio:
Click the green arrow shown here to run the program.

Provided that you used the code above and correctly specified the file paths, there is now a file on your computer listing all of the files and directories on your desktop. Open it and copy all of the names for the files and folders that you want to remain on the desktop into Visual Studio, and save them to a string array called "prohibited"--these will tell our program to skip these protected files:
Paste the file names that you don't want the program to move off the desktop inside the curly {} braces. Each filename should be inside quotation marks preceded by @, and separated by commas. Don't forget the semi-colon at the end of the statement. Remember: this program will move every file from the desktop except for the ones listed here.
While you are at it, go ahead and comment out the call to the getListOfFileNames method--we won't be needing it again now that we have all the names of the files we want to exempt.

Next, we will add four statements inside the main method. The first three tell the computer to grab all of the file information for all the files and directories on the desktop and save them to a list, while the forth removes the protected files discussed above from that list:
Creating a list of all the files to be moved. In the "DirectoryInfo" constructors, be sure to replace the filepaths shown with the correct path to your desktop, and remember the @ in front and quotation marks.
The next step is to create a directory in My Documents (or whereever you want) where we will move all of the files to. To do this, we create another method.

As we did before with getListOfFileNames, create a new method inside the "program" class but before the "main" method. We will call this one "createDirectory" and it will take one argument of the "int" type, and will return a string value:
An iterative method finds a directory name based on the date that is not already used, creates the directory, and sends the name of the newly created directory back to the "main" method.
That may seem like overkill given that all we are doing is creating a directory, but the point of this method is that it checks to make sure the folder we want to create does not already exist, and if it does exist, picks a different folder name until it finds one that does not exist. Without this step, if a folder with our desired name did already exist, then the program would merge all of the files we are moving into the existing folder, possibly overwriting any files with the same names as the ones being copied.

But again, we need to call this method from inside "main." Before when we did that the method did not return a value, but this time is different--when we call the method it will both create the folder in My Documents and return the name of the folder which we want to save to a variable in "main." Also unlike before, this method needs an input argument of the int type, so we will pass the integer 1 as the input. We do all that at once by writing the statement string folderName = createDirectory(1); This passes 1 to the method, tells the method to execute, and saves the text returned by the method to a variable called "folderName." But we won't just insert that statement directly into "main"--we don't want to create the directory unless their are files to copy, so we will put the statement inside an if statement--if there are any files to copy, then call the method, otherwise do nothing. The condition to check here is desktop.Any() which returns true if the list "desktop" has at least one element, and false if it is empty. While we're inside this conditional, we'll go ahead and move all the files as well:
The rest of the code is inside an ifstatement. When the program runs, it first gathers all the files on the desktop into a list, removes from the list the ones we want to keep on the desktop, and if any files remain on the list creates a directory in My Documents and moves the listed files into that directory.
That's the end of the code. C# has different methods for moving files versus folders, so for each item on the list of things we want to move, we need to determine whether it is a file or folder and use the appropriate method to move it. The File.Move() and Directory.Move() methods take two arguments separated by commas, with the first being the origin of the file (on the desktop) and the second being the destination (in our new folder in My Documents). We've specified the latter in such a way that each file keeps the same local name in the new directory (ie, C:\Users\username\Desktop\mydocument.txt becomes C:\Users\username\Documents\moved from desktop on 1-12-2014\mydocument.txt) by using the .Name method.

All together, this is the whole program (you can download it here):
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;
using System.IO;

namespace cleanDesktop
    class Program
        static void getListOfFileNames()
            //create a list variable where we will store all the file information
            List<FileSystemInfo> desktop = new List<FileSystemInfo>();

            //add all of the file information to the list
            desktop.AddRange(new DirectoryInfo(@"C:\Users\username\Desktop").GetFiles());

            //add all of the folder information to the list
            desktop.AddRange(new DirectoryInfo(@"C:\Users\username\Desktop").GetDirectories());

            //create a list variable where we will store all of the file names
            List<string> allFiles=new List<string>();

            //loop through all of the files in our "desktop" list and save their names to the "allFiles" variable
            foreach (var file in desktop)

            //save all of the file names to a text file on the desktop
            File.WriteAllLines(@"C:\Users\username\Desktop\allfiles.txt", allFiles);

        static string createDirectory(int numberOfTries)
            //place to store the name of the folder we are creating
            string outputName = @"";

            //get the current date which we will use to name our new folder
            DateTime currentDate = DateTime.Now;

            //create a text string that will be the path & name of our new folder
            //the folder's name will look like "moved from desktop on DD/MM/YYYY" with the date being the day the files were moved
            string newFolderName = @"C:\Users\username\Documents\moved from desktop on " + currentDate.Day + @"-" + currentDate.Month + @"-" + currentDate.Year;
            //we don't want to overwrite a directory if it already exists, check if it exists
            if (numberOfTries == 1 && !Directory.Exists(newFolderName))
                Directory.CreateDirectory(newFolderName); //if it does not exist, create it and save this name to outputName
                outputName = newFolderName;
            else if (numberOfTries > 1 && !Directory.Exists(newFolderName + @" (" + Convert.ToString(numberOfTries) + @")"))
                //if it does exist, construct a new name with (2) at the end.
                Directory.CreateDirectory(newFolderName + @" (" + Convert.ToString(numberOfTries) + @")");
                outputName = newFolderName + @" (" + Convert.ToString(numberOfTries) + @")";
                //if that also exists, we increment from (2) to (3) etc & try again until we find a folder that doesn't exist
                createDirectory(numberOfTries + 1);
            return outputName; //return the name of the directory we just created

        static void Main(string[] args)
            //instruction telling the computer to go to getListOfFileNames and execute that code before continuing

            //store list of files that you don't wan the program to touch
            string[] prohibited ={@"C:\Users\username\Desktop\Clarity Data Dictionary - Epic 2012 IU4.chm"

            //initialize list to store all the file info in
            List<FileSystemInfo> desktop = new List<FileSystemInfo>();

            //add all the desktop files to the list
            desktop.AddRange(new DirectoryInfo(@"C:\Users\username\Desktop").GetFiles());

            //add all destop folders to the list
            desktop.AddRange(new DirectoryInfo(@"C:\Users\username\Desktop").GetDirectories());

            //remove the protected files from the list
            desktop.RemoveAll(f => prohibited.Contains(f.FullName));

            if (desktop.Any()) //execute only if there are some files to move
                string folderName = createDirectory(1); //create the folder and save it's name here

                foreach (var file in desktop) //iterate over all the files to be moved
                    if (Directory.Exists(file.FullName))
                        //if the file is a directory, move the directory
                        Directory.Move(file.FullName, folderName + @"\" + file.Name);
                    else if (File.Exists(file.FullName))
                        //if the file is a file and not a directory, move the file
                        File.Move(file.FullName, folderName + @"\" + file.Name);
And here's my desktop post-run:
After running the program, the files I specified are still on the desktop, but the rest are in a dated folder in My Documents.

Ok, the program works now. We're down to the final steps. First, build the release version by selecing "release" and going to Build->build cleanDesktop in the menu:
Select "release" in the circled dropdown menue on the "standard" tool bar, then go to the "build" menu and click "build cleanDesktop" (or whatever you named your solution)
The compiler optimizes release version in ways that it doesn't for debug versions, though the difference for such a small program is probably trivial.

The final step is to schedule the task to run weekly. The task scheduler can be found by going to the control panel->system and security->administrative tools->task scheduler on the right side select "create basic task." Go through the wizard and when you get to "which action do you want to perform" select "start a program" and the next screen will ask for the file path to the program. Click browse and navigate to your application. If you chose the default directory setup when you created the solution for the program in Visual studio, this will be in My Documents->Visual Studio 2010->projects->cleanDesktop (or whatever you named it)->cleanDesktop->bin->release->cleanDesktop.exe. The direct filepath should be similar to "C:\Users\username\Documents\Visual Studio 2010\Projects\cleanDesktop\cleanDesktop\bin\Release\cleanDesktop.exe" with that file selected click next and on the next screen check "open the properties dialogue..." and click finish. When the properties dialogue opens, go to settings and check the box "run task as soon as possible after a scheduled start is missed"--your computer has to be on for the task to run, so if your computer is off at the scheduled time this will cause it to run the task as soon after that time that the computer is on.

Congratulations! Your desktop will never be cluttered again!