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October 2016

More dirt on the Recent Documents list

This material was cut from the book for length. It originally appeared Chapter 7, "Gosh! This is Embarrassing!"

Recent Documents in Windows 98

Recent Documents in Windows XP

Where the recent files really lurk in Windows 98/Me

The My Documents menu is merely a list of shortcut files. Windows creates these shortcuts every time you open a document with the FileOpen command. Only the most recent 16 files are kept; older ones are deleted.

The shortcut files are kept stowed away in a hidden folder called Recent, which is located in the Windows folder. Here's how to display its contents:

Open the My Computer icon on the desktop.
Open drive C.
Open the Windows folder.

(Select the option to display the folder's contents, should Windows ask you.)

The Recent folder is a hidden folder. If you've directed Windows to display hidden folders, then skip up to the next step. Otherwise you need to direct Windows to display hidden files (which is a good thing for troubleshooters anyway):

    In Windows 98, choose ViewFolder options; in Windows Me, choose ToolsFolder options.

    Either way, the Folder Options dialog box appears.

    Click the View tab.
    Locate the Hidden files area in the list.
    In Windows 98, choose "Show all files"; in Windows Me choose "Show hidden files and folders."
    Click the OK button.

    The hidden files show up along with other icons in the window, though they have a faint, ghostlike appearance.

Open the Recent folder.

This is where Windows stores the shortcut icons that end up as items in the My Documents sub menu. If you've just cleared that menu, then this folder will be empty. Otherwise it's full of shortcuts, which you can freely delete to remove specific items from the My Documents submenu.

Close the Recent folder when you're done.

The My Documents folder now reads "Empty" when you display its contents. But, alas, remember that this is a temporary solution; the next time you go to open a document or even preview an image, there the filename goes!

A sneaky way to clear the folder

Now here is a trick you can use to create an icon that automatically flushes the contents of the Recent folder, which therefore clears out the My Documents submenu. The following steps create an old fashioned DOS batch file, which can be used to— in a flash — dump the contents of the Windows\Recent folder and immediately clear the My Documents submenu. Pay careful attention to these steps:

Start the Notepad program.
Type the following lines carefully:





Double-check what you typed.

Fix any errors as necessary.

Yes, that's At-sign, then ECHO OFF.

The letter C and a colon.

Backslashes before WINDOWS and RECENT in line 3.

Note that the last line uses the pipe character, |, which you get by pressing Shift+\ on your keyboard

Choose FileSave As.
Choose "All Files" from the Save as type drop-down list.
For the file name type Clear the My Documents Menu.bat.

Remember to end the filename with .BAT (period BAT). There is no period at the end of the filename.

From the Save in drop-down list, choose the Desktop.
Click the Save button.
Close Notepad.

Now you should notice the Clear My Documents Menu icon on the desktop, which you can use to manually clear the My Documents menu.

Double-click on the Clear My Documents Menu icon.

The program should run and finish, clearing the My Documents menu for you. It does that by deleting any shortcut files it finds in the \Windows\Recent folder.

Close the window.

This program saves a few steps over having to fumble through various dialog boxes to get to the Clear button. But it is complex; if it doesn't work, then carefully compare the text you were supposed to type (above) with the text you find in the file on the desktop. That's usually where the mistakes will happen.

You'll notice that the Clear My Documents Menu window stays open after the program is done. To fix that, first close the window. Then right-click the Clear My Documents Menu icon and choose Properties from the pop-up menu. Click the Program tab. Then put a check mark by "Close on exit." Click OK.
An MS-DOS PIF file might be created when you run the Clear My Documents Menu program. If so, delete it. The file appears because you've changed the MS-DOS program's settings. But it's not really needed.
You can copy this icon into the StartProgramsStartup menu to have it run every day when you start your computer. That way the My Documents menu is always cleaned when the computer is first turned on.

The ugly truth about recent documents in Windows XP

The sad part about removing the My Recent Documents list is that it's superficial only. Windows XP still continues to track every dang doodle document you open, all the time, without hesitation. It's ugly. And as far as I know, it cannot be turned off.

For each account in Windows XP, a record is kept of links to all files opened. This is kept in your account's folder on drive C, in a secret folder named Recent. Here's how to get there:

Open the My Computer icon on the desktop.
Open drive C, the disk drive Windows XP is installed on.
Open the Documents and Settings folder.
Open your account's folder.

On my computer, the account is named Dan Gookin. This is weird, because that just happens to be my name.

The folder contains other folders which hold information specific to your account. There is your own Favorites list, for example. As well as custom items you've added to the Start menu or Desktop. It's your private stash!

There are hidden menus in the folder as well, and you need to see the hidden folders if you plan on continuing. If you cannot see the hidden folders (Application Data, My Recent Documents, SendTo, and so on), then follow these steps to show them:

Choose ToolsFolder Options.
In the Folder Options dialog box, click the View tab.
Locate the Hidden files and folders area in the scrolling list.
Click to select "Show hidden files and folders."
Click OK.

Open the My Recent Documents folder.

(It doesn't look like a folder, but it is.)

And there is the complete list of recently opened files, all appearing as shortcut icons. Dang!

Delete any files that vex you.

Yes, they're all shortcut icons so you can freely delete them and not cause any catastrophes to you, your computer or your love life.

Close the My Recent Documents window when you're done destroying.

Of course, you don't have to delete any of the files. They only show up when the My Recent Documents list appears on the Start menu. Of course, other users on the system can snoop into your folder if they're clever enough. Hmmm. Better delete them if you fear your reputation will be compromised!

I'm uncertain as to whether there is a time limit on the file's kept in the Recent folder. The files in my test machine's folder go back a few months, but I noticed that not every file I created is still in that folder. Weird.
I recommend keeping the hidden files and folders option checked. It's good to see all the files if you plan on doing much troubleshooting.
If you'd rather keep the hidden files and folders hidden, then repeat steps A through E above, but choose the "Do not show hidden files and folders" option instead.
The shortcut icons may stick around despite their original files being long gone — yet another flaw in the system.