Windows

Tap into the power of Libraries in Windows 7

Greg Shultz introduces you to the new Libraries feature of Microsoft Windows 7 and shows you how to get the most out of it.

As you know, Microsoft Windows 7 is just right around the corner. On October 22, you'll be able to finally get a copy of the new operating system and install it for yourself. When you do, you'll be able to experience firsthand all the new and enhanced productivity features that you have been hearing so much about, such as the XP Mode, Jump Lists, Taskbar, Aero (Peek, Shake, and Snap), Search, or Location-Aware Printing just to name a few.

But there is another dramatic new feature that really hasn't received as much notice as some of the others, but it will definitely change, for the better, the way that you think about, access, and organize the data files on your computer -- this new feature is the Libraries.

In this edition of the Windows Vista & Windows 7 Report, I'll introduce you to Windows 7's new Libraries feature. As I do, I'll show you how to get the most out of the Libraries feature as you move into Windows 7.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a free TechRepublic download.

What are Libraries?

You won't have to look far to encounter Windows 7's new Libraries feature. Just open Windows Explorer. When you do, you'll see the four main Libraries in Windows 7: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video, as shown in Figure A. When you first encounter these Libraries, it is all too easy to simply brush them off because at first glance it would appear that Microsoft simply renamed the existing main folders to Libraries. However, Libraries are much more than just renamed folders.

Figure A

When you launch Windows Explorer, you'll encounter Windows 7's new Libraries feature.

In fact, Libraries are actually a super refinement to the Search Folders Feature introduced in Windows Vista, which as you may remember started out as Virtual Folders back during the development stages when Vista was known as Longhorn. The new Libraries feature is essentially what the Virtual Folders feature was supposed to have been. (Keep in mind that even though the Libraries are the main focus, Windows 7 system still has Documents, Music, Pictures, and Video folders.)

In any case, you can think of Libraries as collection points for files of a certain type that can exist in any number of locations. For example, I can customize the Pictures Library on my Windows 7 system to display all the pictures in the Pictures folder (or anywhere else) on my computer, on my wife's computer, on an archive folder external hard disk, and in a folder on our home server. In this way I have a one-stop access point for all the pictures on our network regardless of where they are located. I no longer have to go searching in multiple locations for the one picture that I want.

Now, while I've used Pictures and a home network to illustrate the Libraries concept, this new feature will work in a business environment as well. For example, you could customize the Documents Library such that it is a one-stop access point for all the documents on your computer, on your team member's computers, as well as on the server.

Taking a closer look

Now that you have a good idea of what a Library is, let's take a closer look. When you open a Library, you'll see a header that tells you how many locations that Library is currently configured to monitor. For example, the Pictures Library, shown in Figure B, is by default configured to collect files from two locations.

Figure B

By default, each of Windows 7's Libraries is configured to collect files from two locations.
When you click on that link, you'll see the Pictures Library Locations dialog box, shown in Figure C. As you can see, the two default locations come from the Pictures folders in my user account and the Public account. You'll use the Library Locations dialog box to add and remove locations, as well as keep tabs on which locations are in the Library. (Each of the other three Libraries has a similar Library Locations dialog box.)

Figure C

The two default locations come from the Pictures folders in the current user account and the Public account.
When you click the Add button, you'll see the Include Folder in Pictures dialog box where you can add folders from any location to which you have access, as shown in Figure D. However, it is important to keep in mind that for folders to be successfully added to a Library, they must be able to be indexed by the local machine, indexed by the remote Windows machine, or located on a server with files that are indexed by Windows Search. Folders that cannot be indexed cannot be successfully added to a Library.

Figure D

The Include Folder in this dialog box allows you to add folders from any location to which you have access.
As you can image, the Libraries will also show up as the default location in the Open and Save As dialog boxes for applications that are designed for Windows 7. Figure E shows the Save As dialog box for WordPad.

Figure E

Libraries will also show up in the Open and Save As dialog boxes for applications that are designed for Windows 7.

What's your take?

What do you think about Windows 7's Libraries feature? Do you think that they will, once in for all, solve the problems associated with keeping track of your files? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

27 comments
wpshore
wpshore

I might be what MS considers a know-nothing but.. I'm not sure how the idea of "Libraries" does anything but confuse/conflict the idea of "tags" and "search". All the user needs right-click ability to add tags to a folder (and optionally sub-folders) and, separately/optionally, to add tags to individual files. The word "Library" does imply a "collection" but has multiple other connotations/denotations implicit/explicit meanings as well so why add a layer of "virtual folders"? Why not just call it "tagging" and "tag searches"? By contrast - I use Everything Search and it has saved me enormous amounts of time for it's simplicity and speed (for finding things I haven't used Windows Explorer in awhile) - and I can access most right-click items to perform functions on found files - and there's no sense of yet-another layer of obscuration added to file management (as there is with "Libraries"). I want to like Microsoft, really, but have they ever said "No" to any feature one of their programmers suggested?

emailforsid
emailforsid

Elsewhere on this very helpful thread there is a comment about dropping a file into a "library" which in turn puts the file into "the default" folder . . . . (The concept is "smoke and mirrors"). Here is the question: Consider two PDF files, one of a picture and the other of text both in "My Documents" ~ the my documents folder has been "made available to All "Libraries". . . How does windows "know" in which which library to show them? (Sorry that is not good English but I hope you get the drift)

carlsf
carlsf

I find the whole WIN7 interface confusing. We use XP and VISTA (32 and 64bit mostly VISTA) and all systems are set to the "CLASSIC" option that MS has decided we dont need and REMOVED. SORRY MS we have decided we DONT need WIN7

carlsf
carlsf

I find the whole WIN7 interface confusing. We use XP and VISTA (32 and 64bit mostly VISTA) and all systems are set to the "CLASSIC" option that MS has decided we dont need and REMOVED. SORRY MS we have decided we DONT need WIN7

gitmo
gitmo

but it would take discipline to maintain it. Suppose every project on my department server has a subfolder called "Server Configurations". If I maintained a library that included these subfolders I would have a collection of all Server Configuration diagrams and documents. But it would require diligence to add the new folder every time a new project was created.

blackepyon01
blackepyon01

Personally, I've always been a nut about proper file management, so I always know where what I'm looking for is kept. But for people who aren't good at file management (98% of my flock) this could come in handy.

john3347
john3347

Really, Libraries only adds to the confusion and disorganization that is Vista Windows Explorer. Libraries is intended to "catalog" the disorganized user files and folders, but fails miserably do do so. The addition of more "junk" doesn't organize anything that is disorganized from the core.

davyandjane
davyandjane

Great libaries tip,just added more folders to the libaries folder which were on a dock on desktop.Davy from scotland

vidhyarthi
vidhyarthi

I use everything (voidtools.com) for indexed searching in windowsXP and it's a very nice little must have portable application.

mytmous
mytmous

In my experience, the libraries feature is a nice addition for people who are at least partially "savvy". Sadly, for those who are not, it seems to only build more confusion - especially when trying to back up their own files. Since most users simply don't pay attention to all of the info on screen, they tend to miss many important details that help alleviate the confusion.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

Can I search my library pics using for multiple tags, keywords or comments? Or is it just a convenient storage point for documents? As a concept I like it, but I'm not clear on what it does. Since library folders have to be in an indexed folder, will the libraries work if Windows Search is disabled?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What do you think of the Libraries idea? Will you take advantage of this new way to organize your files?

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

I read posts about issues such as this and can't really refrain from chuckling to myself. There already exists an almost endless variety of methods to do some sort of proper file keeping. Geez ... long, long ago I developed the habit of creating certain folders on the root of the drive. i.e. On my work laptop right now I have a folder named "Jobs". Within that folder are sub-folders, each bearing the name of a customer business. Within each such sub-folder are a series of additional folders, one for each job number associated with each individual contracted job done for that customer. Plus a few additional folders such as "Master", "Contact Info", etc. Within each Job folder are additional folders. "Dwgs", "Docs", "Correspondence", "Programs", "Materials", and so forth. Within each of those are the actual information files. Which may be of most any kind. (.Doc, .XLS, .DWG, .PNG, .PDF, or whatever) There is, after all, such a thing in Windows as file association. There is no particular reason that one must save a file to the stupid default places automatically selected by Windows apps. Therefore, whenever I'm dealing with anything associated with a particular job, be it an email, fax, .Doc, .html ... whatever I save/copy it to the appropriate folder. So I can find the darn thing at some later date. BTW, I save the items with a descriptive name, in plain English (my native language). Actually I use a shorthand sort of methodology that includes a standard abbreviations and etc to reduce typing. I'm not imagining that I'm telling you anything new. Which you did not already know about. My point is that I use a logical filing system, and take the couple extra seconds it takes as I work with each item so as to maintain it consistently, so that I can actually find stuff in the future. And if I must employ a search, I can limit it to a much smaller group of folders and files as versus checking the whole of my primary hard drive, the secondary, plus networked drives. Emphasis on the point that I consistently USE a system to keep files so that I can locate them quickly and easily. Which method isn't really important. The major problem I see with people getting files (information) organized, findable, and so forth is that those folks with the most troubles now, will still be the same folks with the most troubles later. Its simple, they have a means to organize things now and don't use it, or at least not consistently. And some new method made available to them in a new OS ... is just yet one more thing they probably won't use, or won't use consistently enough to improve their problem. Its like many years ago, back in the 80's when a lot of folks were buying TRS-80s, TI 99/4's, C-64s, etc, etc. At the time as a sideline job thing I was running a computer user club and also working as a salesman in a retail store that was selling such machines and software for them (after working hours of my regular job). One of the kinds of software with the biggest demand at the time was budget management and accounting software. It seemed as if everyone and their brother who had the cash wanted to buy a home computer and some sort of budget management software. Seemly thinking that this would solve all the budgeting problems. One evening I had a regular and valued customer come in. A lady who owned a small but successful business. She mentioned that she'd been reading about and hearing about budget software. And was interested. She asked me what I thought, was it worthwhile? Would it benefit her? I just smiled and asked, "Do you already keep and maintain a formal, written budget plan? And follow it?" She said she did, indeed. "Of course !" So I told her it'd probably be worth her money and time. Then told her, "The biggest problem is that I keep having customers come in here to buy such software thinking its gonna somehow MAKE them keep to a budget and keep their finances straight. When the truth is, most of them could've set up a budget with a pencil and some paper and didn't, or they did but did not stick to the budget plan. So budget software, no matter how good, isn't gonna help those folks whatsoever. Its a waste of time and effort for them. Since the computer can't MAKE them stick to the budget, consistently and always keep the entries up to date and so forth. In short, the folks who had budgets that were a mess before they got a computer and budget management software virtually without any exceptions STILL had budgets that were a disaster after buying the computer and budget software. My gut feeling is that people who are disorganized and can't find anything now ... or who have great difficulty with such now ... will still be the very same folks with the same problem later after installing Win 7, regardless of this so-called new feature. Chuckle, its just like right now. Of the folks I know and deal with, I know of several who're pretty much disorganized messes who're always grumbling about not being able to find this or that important file, or the latest revision of whatever, and so forth. Amongst this group are included managers (some of them very senior managers), programmers, and even a smattering of IT guys. As a group, the folks I know who have the least problem with finding stuff? The file clerks, admin assistants, secretaries, etc. Who, as part of their training and work experience have long ago developed good habits of taking the time to consistently and properly file things away in organized fashion. Whether dealing with paper docs or digital ones. This last group MAY benefit from this new Win 7 feature. I doubt very much if any of the folks I know in the former group will. Just my thoughts and opinion on the subject. Nothing more and not worth the price of a cup of coffee.

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

In Linux, it's called a "Hard Link" - see the "ln" command. "A hard link creates an indistinguishable link between two file names. A hard link allows two (or more) file names to point to the same inode number." No funky ".lnk" extension, just two directory entries pointing to the same file. Create a folder of hard links. Call it "My Pictures" if you must. What a concept! 20 years late.

dave
dave

I use a tool that's not well known but it's been around for years and makes finding files, emails, etc. FAST. It's called X1; more info at: http://www.x1.com/

QAonCall
QAonCall

You were kidding? You said: 'In my experience, the libraries feature is a nice addition for people who are at least partially "savvy". Sadly, for those who are not, it seems to only build more confusion - especially when trying to back up their own files.' and your title indicate 'IT Department Mgr'? After the recent failure to backup in the news, I would seriously hope you were jesting, ALOT! 'That aside, failure to know how to do something is not a failure to act upon the need to do it.' Mama always said, 'life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get'

gitmo
gitmo

In the example in the article, the Pictures library references two folders. If you SAVE AS and select the library, where does it go?

awarren2002
awarren2002

As I read your total comment, I think you are 100% correct.I also think you are a left brain like my husband. I worked with paper docs for years with no problem, then with WinXP. I can't seem to understand Win7 libraries and use them for my benefit. Oh well, I bought a book and will keep trying. I wish you could come to my house. *smile*

emailforsid
emailforsid

I just wanted to say: 1. I like coffee too 2. You are correct ~ messy people are beyond help. (I have the scars.) For myself, I think that I will perhaps adopt the "Remove Libraries from Windows Explorer in Windows 7" technique in Greg Shultz's blog. An aside: Does anyoune know where there is a "primer" on filenaming strategies / hints? I have a "handout" of my own which I use for my "messy" associates but their eyes glaze over as soon as I use the phrase "Put it somewhere approprite and give it a sensible name!" How do you explain to someone that "Letter 1", "Letter2", "Letter3" etc is not optimum? Sid

eHC1019
eHC1019

I so very well agree with you! I have never had anyone so very well state the issue, but your so very right about this! Like my wife says, "you can't fix stupid!"

s31064
s31064

Maybe you should switch to decaf. And incidentally, you're missing the point. It doesn't organize the files on your machine for you, it allows you to more easily find files that might be on other people's machines, a server share, etc. by looking in one place. It's really not that difficult a concept to grasp.

Northlite
Northlite

with out at least one reference on how Linux does "it" better then Windows. Personally I don't use this feature because of the way I organize my files it is easier for me to keep the folders shared a separate view so I edited it so it doesn't show other locations. I have everything organized in a way that I don't have to search for things really, just open the folder that relates to what I am looking for. Pretty much all the group I support that have slowly started fazing in Windows 7 as they need a new computer or adding an extra don't share folders so they haven't even see it.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...it goes to the default folder. So, when you save a photo to the Pictures Library, it goes to the My Pictures folder.

raybiz60
raybiz60

I like long posts. They reveal a depth of thinking. And, I hate Win 7.

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

I used to drink a lot of coffee. But I have cut my consumption of it drastically. I'm down to about 3 pots of it a day. BTW, nearly everyone who actually knows me personally has at some point or other commented that I'm one of the most laid back, easy going, relaxed people they know. Oh, perhaps you're talking about the length of my posts? Sorry about that. An old, bad habit. A tendency to try to make a point by story telling and giving examples. And since I am both a fast typist and a speed reader, I tend to forget that long posts annoy others. My apologies. As far as my grasping the concept of libraries in Win 7. LOL ... I read every post in this thread concerning it, the MS articles about it, and probably at least 2 dozen other web sites that described and discussed it. Such is a habit of mine. I take no single person's, or single source's word and opinion about something without a healthy dose of doubt and reservation. Not that I necessarily disbelieve whatever someone is asserting. I just tend to classify a lot of stuff in my mind as "asserted but not proven by real facts and real world application". I'm originally an engineer by training, experience, and inclination. In several decades of experience, I've seen a lot of stuff that looked good on paper ... or sounded good as some lecturer/speaker explained it. Where even the math worked out nicely. Which just didn't work out as expected and touted. For any one of countless reasons. One of the most frequent causes of failure of something is simple. The USERS of whatever, did not use that whatever as it was intended to be used, within the design specifications and criteria, and did not maintain it properly. IOW ... the human factor. Which seems to have the limitless ability to screw up virtually anything no matter how well thought out and designed and built. Anyway, I did not say that libraries under Win 7 were not useful. In fact I stated that they'd probably be helpful to those who're inclined to spend the time and effort to stay at least somewhat organized in the first place with some consistency. For the habitually disorganized, it won't do much. Chuckle, it's much like one fellow I know. My boss, as a matter of fact. He does both a local save and a network save to one of our servers of EVERYTHING. The problem is that while he does have a sort of half-a**ed system worked out that he uses, he's not even consistent about using that. Not to mention the fact that since he does save every darn thing, even useless trivial cr*p, the shear number of files to be searched are daunting. i.e. Let's take emails. In his position and job he likely receives and sends at least 50 and sometimes upwards of 200 emails per day. Business related ones. Now, he has the best intentions. He does have a KINDA file system, with a main folder and subfolders for his emails. Into which he stashes ALL of them that he's ever received or sent. For the past several years. The problem is that while he does have a kinda logical sub-folder filing system, not very good, but its there. He often doesn't take time to file a particular email away in the appropriate place. Instead he saves it his generic default "File Away Later" folder. Only, more often than not, he never gets back there to do that. As a result, that folder contains literally many thousands of files. To make matters more interesting, they're saved with default names given them by his email app. Yep he can pull up a list and easily see the name of the sender, subject line, and date in a nice list view form. But its a very long list. Sorting/searching by sender name sometimes is problematical. Sometimes he can't remember the name, or how its spelled. Or if he searches for my name, he'll get a couple thousand hits, for example. Subject line has the same problem. Some people refer to the same subject using different terms, misspell things, use abbreviations. Or a subject line referring to a particular topic that'd just been discussed might read something like, "Oh, by the way ..." Date? LOL ... sometimes when he's looking for something he might be able to pin it down to the month. But sometimes he can't even pin down the exact year. And sometimes what he's looking for isn't even in the body of the email, its in an attachment which might be anything from a .DOC to an .XLS, a .DWG, a .PDF, digitized fax, to whatever. Given enough time, he'll find whatever. But commonly he'll give up, decide he hasn't the time or just get frustrated, and he'll do something like call me. "Remember when we were discussing job X issues as raised by ABC's project design engineer? What's his face ... I don't remember his name. You know who I'm talking about, right? Okay, you sent me an action item list update and project status, right? Yeah, I remember that, but have no idea what I did with it. Do yah have a copy handy? Could you send it to me again?" ROFLMAO ... this is common. And he's certainly not the only one. I get much the same on a regular basis from several folks. In this case, the example above, I told him it was a "no sweat" thing. No problem. Found the file on my system in about 30 seconds, even tho a year or so had passed since the time I'd originally sent it, and resent it to him. Chuckle, for that matter, a copy of MY files is on our network server. I make sure that's done at the end of every project. And I could have just told him where to find the file in question. I don't lock access to those files. It was just easier and simpler for me to just send it to him direct. Took no longer, and perhaps less time, than to explain it to him as to where it was. I could easily give countless similar examples. FWIW, I am in the IT trade, and this sort of thing is common place. I maintain that Win 7 libraries might be beneficial to those inclined to be and stay organized in the first place. But its not gonna help the perpetually disorganized very much.

dcovill
dcovill

Osiyo53 is still correct. Having ALL the pictures accessible from one place has advantages, but it won't correct a lack of basic organization. If you don't have some system of folder naming and organization, just blasting through 5,000 .jpg files isn't going to find what you want. If your pictures are organized, wherever they are stored, then a Library will be useful. Besides, MS is dead wrong, wrong, wrong in pushing you to organize everything by file type. Like Osiyo53, I define a Project folder and EVERYTHING for that project goes there. Not in some "shared crap" folder. Dan Covill San Diego

Realvdude
Realvdude

TR has a habit of posting old articles in new emails. With that, I do have to say that with my recent move to Win7 at home, it was a good refresher that libraries can contain non-local content.