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Organizing Files and Information : Working with Libraries

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3/19/2011 9:54:45 PM
Windows 7 introduces a new organizational element called libraries, which make it easier to view, sort, search, and filter similar items, even when those items are stored in multiple physical locations. A library is, in essence, a virtual folder that aggregates the contents of multiple folders stored on your computer or on your network. You can sort, filter, group, search, arrange, and share the data in a library as if it were in a single location.

If you look only at the four default libraries included in a user profile, you might have trouble seeing the point of libraries, especially if you have a single user account and your computer isn't connected to a network. The true advantages of libraries don't become obvious until you customize the default libraries or create new, custom libraries. Consider the following scenarios:

  • Large digital media collections You keep your favorite music and pictures in the My Music folder on your notebook so that you have it available when you leave home. The bulk of your collection, including large high-definition movie files and albums you don't listen to regularly, are stored on an external hard drive. By arranging content on the external drive into Music, Pictures, and Videos folders and then adding those folders to the corresponding libraries in Windows Explorer, you have full access to your entire collection when you're home and connected to the external drive.

  • Workgroup projects You and some coworkers are collaborating on a project. Your drafts are stored in a subfolder of the Documents folder on your local hard disk. You also need access to shared graphics on a network file server, and final drafts from you and your coworkers will be saved in another shared network folder. By adding the local Drafts folder and the two network folders to a custom library, you can search and browse through all those files from one virtual location.

  • Homegroup projects At the end of every year, you create a holiday newsletter to send to friends and family. You create a custom library that includes one local folder where you copy photos that will go in the newsletter. You also save the draft of the newsletter here. With two clicks, you can share the custom library with your homegroup so that other family members can add their own files and photos to the project.

  • School-related or work-related projects You keep documents, notes, spreadsheets, and other files organized in subfolders, one for each client or project you're working on. Adding those subfolders to a custom library allows you to quickly browse a single subfolder or search through all folders at once. Searching for proposals, contracts, or homework assignments can help you find a document you did for a previous project, adapt it for a new project, and save it quickly in the correct subfolder.

Figure 1 illustrates two of these scenarios in use. The computer is a notebook with limited storage on the main drive (C) and a large external USB drive (D) with a large collection of MP3 and WMA tracks in a Music folder. We've added the Music folder from the external drive to the Music library and created a custom School library with three folders for class notes and homework. The search results show files from multiple locations within the search folder, all containing the search term tulip.

Figure 1. The custom library shown here includes three folders on two local drives. Search results cover all three locations.

To create a new library, click the Libraries heading in the navigation pane and then click the New Library button on the toolbar (or right-click Libraries and click New, Library). Give the new library a descriptive name and then press Enter. Your newly created library appears in the navigation pane. Click the Include A Folder button to populate the library.

Using the Include Folder dialog box, select the folder you want to use as the default location for saving files in this library and then click Include Folder. That opens the library and lists the contents of the folder you just selected. At the top of the contents pane is the Library pane; the link below the library name lists the number of locations it includes—in this case, only one:

Clicking that link leads to the dialog box shown here, with Add and Remove buttons that you can use to change the lineup of locations that contribute to the library's content:

What locations can you add to a library? The most important consideration is that the folder must be indexed so that it can be included in searches. Folders and network shares in any of the following locations are eligible for inclusion:

  • The system drive.

  • An additional volume on an internal local drive formatted using NTFS or FAT32.

  • An external USB or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) hard drive, formatted using NTFS or FAT32.

  • A USB flash drive, but only if the device appears in the navigation pane, under the Computer heading, in the Hard Disk Drives section. If it appears under Devices With Removable Storage, it is not eligible.

  • A shared network folder that is indexed using Windows Search; this includes any shared folder from another computer in your homegroup.

  • A shared network folder that has been made available offline and is therefore available in your local index.

You can also add a folder to a library by opening the folder location in Windows Explorer and choosing a library from the Include In Library menu on the toolbar. When you add a folder from a local drive to a library, Windows checks to see whether that location is in the search index already and adds it to the index, if necessary. For additional customization options, right-click the library name in the navigation pane and then click Properties. Figure 2 shows a typical properties dialog box.

This dialog box offers yet another way to include a folder in a library (or remove a folder). It also allows you to change the save location, which is the specific folder where files and folders are copied or moved when you drop them on the library icon in the navigation pane. The check mark indicates the current save location. Choose a different folder from the Library Locations list and click Set Save Location to make a change. The Shown In Navigation Pane check box indicates whether a library is visible in the navigation pane. If you've created a library specifically for sharing or for use with backups, you might want to hide it from the navigation pane to reduce clutter.

Inside Out: Where are library settings stored?

Libraries are per-user settings and are not shared among user accounts on a Windows 7 PC. Each library in your collection is defined by an XML settings file (with the file name extension library-ms) and is saved automatically in a hidden subfolder within your user profile (%AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries). You should never need to edit the files stored here directly. Any changes you make to the contents or arrangement of a folder are saved here automatically, and the corresponding XML file is deleted when you delete a library from within Windows Explorer.

Figure 2. All customization options for a library are available in this dialog box.

The Arrange By list at the right of the library pane allows you to change the way the contents of the library are displayed. By default, each library initially shows its contents arranged by folder, with each folder listed in alphabetical order, with a subheading and a separate file list for each one. From the Arrange By list, you can choose a different option, which applies the selected sorting or grouping to the aggregated folder contents. The exact choices available for each library are determined by its properties; look at the selection in the Optimize This Library For box in the properties dialog box. For the default Music library, for example, you can choose Album or Artist to combine all tracks from all locations into a single list grouped by the field you chose.

Inside Out: Open a file or folder location from a library

Because libraries are virtual folders, it's sometimes difficult to perform operations directly on their contents. If you want to see a file or folder in its actual location in Windows Explorer, right-click and choose Open File Location or Open Folder Location from the shortcut menu.

Other -----------------
- Mastering Windows Explorer (part 2) - What's What and Where in a User Profile
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- Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 3) - Basic Search Techniques & Searching from the Start Menu
- Configuring Search and Indexing Options (part 2) - Monitoring the Index, and Tuning Indexer Performance & Other Index Maintenance Tasks
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