For all its supposed sophistication, the Windows desktop does not provide a way of grouping icons into logical sets. This means that most people’s desktops are covered with a random scattering of scores of icons, and the difficulty of finding the program or file that you want defeats the whole point of icons in the first place. If you want to group icons logically, this is something that you have to do for yourself, and whenever you install a new program, new icons appear having no respect for any layout scheme that you might have devised.
Icons on the desktop usually ‘snap’ into an invisible grid. The easiest way to separate groups of icons is to leave blank rows or columns in this invisible grid. The smartest way to group icons is to have a custom-designed wallpaper which sits behind the invisible grid and reserves different areas of the screen for icons representing particular types of program. You then arrange your icons manually over the top of the background grid. The only problem is that you might run out of space for a particular category, and then it becomes necessary to redraw the background grid to enlarge that category at the expense of others.
Another neat solution is to use ‘virtual desktops’, in other words several different desktops and a way of quickly and easily switching between them. It takes some time to get used to this kind of arrangement, but if you’re prepared to learn then you can have an almost unlimited number of desktops, each of which can hold a large number of icons. This way, you can have a word-processing desktop, a drawing desktop, and so on.
Sometimes Windows forgets the layout of your icons and messes them all up. The obvious solution to this problem is to put them all back where you carefully positioned them in the first place. However, this is an extremely tedious exercise and it can be difficult to remember exactly how you had all your icons laid out. The smart solution to this problem is to use a program that saves the layout of your desktop items before the system unhelpfully rearranges them, then use the ‘restore layout’ feature of the same program to put everything back where it should be. The only work you have to do is save the current layout every time you add a new icon to the desktop, to keep the record up to date. A good program for doing this is ‘Desktop Restore’ by Jamie O’Connell, which is available from http://www.midiox.com/desktoprestore.htm.