Best practice file management in Windows 7?
May 22, 2010 3:36 PM   Subscribe

I have: A clean install of Windows 7, an external hard drive full of documents, music and video files, and zero understanding of how the new-fangled folders and libraries are meant to work. Please help me understand best practice file management in Windows 7.

For reasons beyond my control, I have upgraded from Windows XP to Windows 7 (Home Premium). I've read through various tutorials online, I've figured out how to use the taskbar, and most functions seems to work fine. But as embarassing as this sounds, I still don't understand how libraries work and I don't know where to put my files.

Under XP, I kept everything in subfolders of the My Documents folder. After years of stubbornly ignoring the default folders like "My Music" and "My Pictures", I started using them a while back and and found them surprisingly convenient. I usually accessed the My Documents folder from a shortcut on the Quicklaunch toolbar.

It seems like Windows 7 is attempting to offer some degree of intuititivity, so that if I put my files in the "right" place, the OS will make handling them easier. If this assumption is correct, how do I make things run as smoothly as they did before? What does best practice file management look like in Windows 7?

In case it matters:

- I have a lot of Open Office documents that I'd like to arrange in logical folders of some sort.

- I use VLC for playing individual audio files, GOM for video files and iTunes managing playlists and playing content from the iTunes store.

- I want iTunes to be able to access all my audio and video files, but I'd prefer to keep using Gom and VLC as the default.

- I use IrfanView and Gimp for imaging.

I normally consider myself a reasonably technical user, but I am so baffled by this simple thing that you'd better just explain it to me as though I'm your aging mother.
posted by embrangled to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what the best practices are, but I can explain libraries to you.

If you ever use "smart playlists" in iTunes, that's basically what they are. A library monitors a certain set of folders that you tell it to monitor. For example, you can tell your "Music" library to monitor "My Documents > My Music > iTunes > iTunes library". But you can ALSO tell your "Music" library to monitor "Desktop > New Music to be sorted".

Anything you do to the files and folders within the library will be reflected at the original site of the files and folders, but deleting the library does not delete the folders. It's basically a way to aggregate files without changing the actual file structure, which is actually pretty useful when you care about the file structure.

You could also think of them as "tags", and the folder they monitor as being tagged with that library. If you delete the tags, the files don't go away.

In your taskbar, the default Windows Explorer launches to the library. If you want to replicate the system you had on Windows XP, just tell the "Music", "Documents", "Videos" libraries to monitor the "My Documents > My Music" folders, etc. Alternatively, you could create a shortcut on your taskbar that points to your "My Documents" folder and go from there. I personally have created a bunch of libraries that point to subfolders within "My Documents", because I may go through periods where I work a lot with those subfolders, but pulling the subfolders out and creating a separate folder in "My Documents" messes with my file structure.

I hope that makes sense.
posted by Phire at 4:34 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're going to use search a lot, make sure you store items you search for within a library.

When you search for an item, the results will be shown to you in a list. Items in libraries are always returned faster than for locations that are not part of a library.

When you include a location in a library, you still save items to those locations, or you can choose to save to the library as a default. If you save to the library, it stores it in the "default" location, which is usually the "My" folder within the library, i.e. saving to the "Documents" library will save it to the "My Documents" folder.

I create and delete libraries for different uses. I build websites and often the assets for one are used in another, i.e. the clients are different but the assets are the same. I have a folder called "client files", but also have a library for each project that includes locations from other clients if the assets are relevant.

And if you find them too cumbersome, you can disable them.
posted by disclaimer at 5:45 PM on May 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also note this link.
posted by disclaimer at 5:50 PM on May 22, 2010

Thanks, both of you. It's starting to make sense. Does the 'My Documents' folder still exist, or am I mean to just put things wherever I like on the C drive? I understand now that libraries are virtual locations, but where should my files actually live and how do I make that location easy to access? (I'm sorry if these questions seem basic, I did google, but it seems like a lot of information online is about people joyfully upgrading from Vista, not XP).
posted by embrangled at 11:22 PM on May 22, 2010

Your My Documents folder is still there, and I recommend you continue using it as the default save location in your Documents library.

And, Vista and Windows 7 have a slightly different structure than XP. Where XP stored everything under c:\documents and settings\username. Vista and Windows stores the same information under c:\users\username.

My folder under Users c:\users\disclaimer for lack of a better alias) has these folders in it (along with some hidden folders):

My Documents
My Music
My Pictures
My Videos
Saved Games

Windows 7 also has another user directory called c:\users\public. Windows 7 has 4 default libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. Each of these libraries combines your "My" folder with the public one:

The Documents library lists the contents of c:\users\disclaimer\My Documents and c:\users\public\My Documents.
The Music library lists the contents of c:\users\disclaimer\My Music and c:\users\public\My Music.
The Pictures library lists the contents of c:\users\disclaimer\My Pictures and c:\users\public\My Pictures.

Remember that libraries don't actually contain anything, they're just pointers. So, it isn't necessary to keep these default libraries. You can delete them and make your own. If you need them again in the future, it's easy to create them again.
posted by disclaimer at 8:09 AM on May 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thanks so much! I can't believe I used this damn OS for 48 hours before realising that my username had its own folder. Funniily enough, the file structure makes a lot more sense now. Since I am the only user on my network, I have deleted the default libraries entirely. Thank you both for your help and patience.
posted by embrangled at 10:29 PM on May 23, 2010

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