Mar 112010

Windows 7 LibraryThey’re one of the neatest features of Windows 7.  They’re in your face, all clickable, and …useful?  What do you DO with them? Is it just a fancy name for My Documents and My Music? How do I make Windows 7 Libraries do something new? I was right there with you when I started using Windows 7.

First, however… They are not new!

Believe it or not, the core functionality of a library (known as a virtual folder) first entered the Windows environment with Vista, where they were known as Search Folders. They operated a little differently, and were less in your face.  Couple that with the fact that next to no one used Vista, and you have all you need to know about why they feel all fresh and new.

Libraries are virtual folders that don’t actually exist in the folder tree on the hard disk. Their job is to run a constant search, index the results, and display them to you inside the virtual folder. So… what do you do with them?

Give your C:\ some room to breathe!

The simplest and best use for libraries is to allow you to store data  on another drive without having to look elsewhere to find it later. I’ll use the Music library as an example.

  1. Decide where you want to store the data.  I recommend a second internal hard drive for this task, but a portable hard drive will also suffice. (Just understand that the data that appears in your Music Library, but is physically stored on the External drive, will not be available to your computer when the drive is disconnected) Create a folder on this drive, call it anything you like ‘Music’, ‘Tunes’, whatever.
  2. Fill this new folder with all the music you want to get off your primary Hard Drive!
  3. Press the Windows Key windows-key, and E to open Explorer, then click Music to open your Music Library. Click up top where you see “Includes: 1 location”. A window called Music Library Locations will open.
  4. Click the ‘Add’ button, and browse to the folder you made in step 1. Click ‘Include Folder’, and ‘OK’.
  5. Done! This second location will now be indexed by Windows along with the rest of your Music.

This will be VERY useful as SSDs gain popularity. They are fast, reliable, but hold much less data than a typical 3.5” spinning drive. If you store just your OS and a couple games on the SSD, and any huge data folders on a secondary drive which you access through Libraries, you’ll have the best of both worlds!

Organize data that is kept in multiple locations!

Let’s say you have a folder full of photos that you want to keep separate from your roommate, but you would like to compare and browse through them together sometimes.  You can create a Library that tracks network locations also! The only requirement is that the computer you want to index must be running Windows Search.  To the best of my knowledge, this means that folders residing on NAS units, and non-Windows Operating systems cannot be added to a library.

So, back to the sharing photos with a roommate example.  (The folder you want to access will have to be properly shared first. I’ll get into sharing and Homegroups in a later post.) Get to Step 4 from the previous list. In the left pane of the window you add folders from, scroll down until you see ‘Network’. Find the computer you are looking to share with, and browse to the folder! Once the library has indexed, notice in the top right where it says “Arrange by:”  Depending on the data in the folder, you can sort by the various types of metadata the contents have to offer! (Sort your photos that are stored on multiple machines by tags, all in one window on your screen!)

Create whole new types of libraries!

You can create brand new libraries of your own! Right click on ‘Libraries’ in the left pane of an explorer window, and choose New->Library.

  • Work in an small office without a file server? Create a library called “Network documents” and share everyone’s Documents folder to get easy access to your co-worker’s documents.
  • Do you keep bits of random data all over the place, but you can’t really put it all in a folder together? (think save games, torrents) Create a library that looks at these locations, and always have them at your fingertips!
Worth Noting!

When you add multiple locations to a library, one of those locations is designated as the ‘Default Save Location’.  This means that unless you drag an item directly to a specific location in the library (or right click->Paste), it will save those items into the ‘Default Save Location’. (the hover text will tell you were the files are going if you are dragging and dropping) You can change this location by opening ‘Library Locations’ window, and right clicking on the folder you want to have as default, then choose ‘Set as Default Save Location”’.

I hope this gives you something to do with Libraries now. Happy configuring!

(man, only a nerd can say that and mean it)

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