September 30, 2004

Q: I think I have a desktop gremlin that periodically hides a document. I have Windows XP, and once in a while I will want to go to a document I had placed on my desktop and it is not there. Likewise, when I do a "Search for Files and Folders," a document I want will be found and the location states it is on my desktop, yet I cannot see it.

I know there is an option to hide desktop icons, but I never use that and when I have experimented with it, all icons go into hiding - not just one. I wonder if there is something I am doing that causes this to happen.

A: Move your mouse arrow out onto the desktop and give it a right-click. Select the Arrange Icons By command in the display that appears, then select Auto Arrange in the next menu.

Behold, the prodigal icon has returned to the file flock.

Where was this errant creature? During the course of using the desktop as a catch-all for icons, we sometimes fill up all the visible room but the icons still exist just off the screen. The Auto Arrange command forces all icons to snap to a grid, and that brings the wanderer back into sight.

Sometimes the problem is caused by using Windows to make a change in the monitor's resolution. And sometimes the hardware adjustment buttons on the monitor itself get set a tad awry. All these things can make icons disappear from view, although they are still stored in the actual folder for the desktop, as you already found out.

For other readers, one can right-click on Start and pick Explore to call up the Windows module that displays all of the contents of folders like the desktop as a directory list rather than a pretty monitor display.

And that sometimes-handy command you mentioned that stops showing all of the icons displayed on the desktop can be called by putting the cursor arrow in the toolbar at the bottom of the screen and giving a right-click. Among the commands this summons is one to hide or show the desktop. This is great for keeping your sensitive stuff from casual visitors and also is handy if you have some kind of desktop background that you want to show without it being covered by icons.

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Q and A

James Coates of the Chicago Tribune may be reached via e-mail at jcoates@

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