Windows 7 : Understanding Libraries (part 2) - Special Shell Folders...Now Just User Folders

1/16/2014 12:24:51 AM

3. Special Shell Folders...Now Just User Folders

We mentioned earlier that Windows 7 still sports a full collection of special shell folders, and that's true, though these folders really aren't that special anymore given the prominence of Libraries. These folders exist inside your user folder, which can be found at C:\Users\your username by default, as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Windows 7 special shell folders are just folders inside your home folder.

These special shell folders are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Special Shell Folders
ContactsContacts was introduced in Windows Vista as a central database for contacts management, and it was used by Windows Mail. Contacts, alas, is deemphasized in Windows 7; it's really just there for upgraders and back-ward compatibility. Microsoft latest e-mail client, Windows Live Mail, utilizes its own cloud-based contacts scheme, and Microsoft expects third-party e-mail application developers to follow suit.
DesktopThis folder represents your Windows desktop. Any folders, files, or shortcuts you place on the desktop will appear in this folder too (and vice versa). There's one exception: if you enable certain desktop icons—like Computer, User's Files, Network, Recycle Bin, or Control Panel via the Desktop Icon Settings dialog—these icons will not appear in the Desktop folder.
DownloadsThis folder is the default location for files downloaded from the Web with Internet Explorer and other Web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox. New to Windows 7, you can add a Downloads link or menu to the Start menu and use it as a download manager of sorts.
FavoritesA central repository for your Internet Explorer Favorites (what other browsers typically call Bookmarks). The Favorites folder has been in Windows for several years. 
LinksLinks is a vestigial folder location from previous Windows versions and is there for upgraders and compatibility purposes only. Links has been replaced in Windows 7 by the Favorites locations in Windows Explorer and the Favorites bar in Internet Explorer 8.
My DocumentsThis folder is specially configured to handle various document types, such as Word documents, text files, and the like. My Documents is the default save location for the Documents library.
My PicturesThe My Pictures folder is designed to handle digital photographs and other picture files, and work in tandem with other photo-related tools such as Windows Live Photo Gallery and the Import Pictures and Videos wizard. My Pictures is the default save location for the Pictures library.
My MusicThe My Music folder is designed to work with digital music and other audio files. If you rip music from an audio CD or purchase music from an online music service such as Apple iTunes, those files will typically be saved to your My Music folder by default. My Music is the default save location for the Music library.
My VideosThis folder is designed to store digital videos of any kind, including home movies. It is the default save location for the Videos library.
Saved GamesThe Saved Games folder is designed as a place for Windows-compatible game titles to store saved game information.
SearchesThis folder contains built-in and user-created saved searches.

In Windows XP, you had to run Windows Movie Maker once before the My Videos folder would appear. This is no longer the case in Windows 7, and the My Videos folder is always available under each user's Home folder.

In Windows Vista, Microsoft removed the word "My" from many of the special shell folders. But with the migration to the Library system in Windows 7, the company has returned the word "My" to special shell folders but left them off of the related Library names. Confused? Hey, that's what Microsoft does.

If you are coming from Windows XP, there are also some differences in the way that preexisting special shell folders are organized in more recent Windows versions. For example, folders such as My Pictures, My Music, and My Videos were physically arranged below (and logically contained within) the My Documents folder in Windows XP and earlier. But in Windows Vista and 7, the new versions of these folders are found directly below each user's home folder, alongside My Documents. This won't affect typical users, who will likely access special shell folders virtually through Libraries. But more advanced users will want to be aware of the changes.

The Windows 7 home folder layout is actually quite similar to that used by Unix and Linux systems, including Apple's Mac OS X.

4. Where Is It Now?

One of the challenges facing anyone moving to Windows 7 is that Microsoft chose to change the location of many user interface elements, which might make it hard for you to navigate around the shell in some instances. In Table 2, we summarize some of the changes you can expect to see, and how to work around them.

Table 2. Where to Find Common Shell Features from Previous Windows Versions in Windows 7
Windows XPWindows VistaWindows 7
My Documents folderDocuments folderDocuments library, My Documents folder
My Recent Documents (Start menu item)Recent Items (Start menu item)Recent Items (Start menu item, disabled by default)
My Pictures folderPictures folderPictures library, My Pictures folder
My Music folderMusic folderMusic library, My Music folder
My Video folderVideos folderVideos library, My Videos folder
My ComputerComputerComputer
My Network PlacesNetworkNetwork
Control PanelControl PanelControl Panel
Connect ToConnect ToConnect To (no longer displayed on the Start menu by default)
Set Program Access and DefaultsDefault ProgramsDefault Programs
Printers and FaxesControl Panel => Printers (was removed from the default Start menu)Devices and Printers
Help and SupportHelp and SupportHelp and Support
n/aStart Menu SearchStart Menu Search
SearchRemoved from Start Menu in SP1; available via F3 or Explorer-based search boxesAvailable via F3 or Explorer-based search boxes
RunStart Menu Search (Run can still be optionally added to the Start menu if desired)Start Menu Search (Run can still be optionally added to the Start menu if desired)
Windows Explorer and Folders ViewRather than use separate My Computer and Explorer view styles, all shell windows in Windows Vista incorporate an optional and expandable Folders pane in the bottom-left corner.Via Folder Options, you can enable the Folders pane in the Explorer window Navigation pane.
Explorer Menu SystemRenamed to Classic Menus and hidden by default, but you can view it by pressing the Alt key.Same as Windows Vista
Folder OptionsAvailable from the hidden Tools menu and via Folder Options applet in the Control PanelAvailable from the hidden Tools menu, via Organize => Folder and search options, and via Folder Options applet in the Control Panel
Explorer Status BarReplaced by the Details Pane, which now sits at the bottom of all shell windows by default. Curiously, you can still enable the old status bar by tapping Alt and choosing Status Bar from the View menu.Same as Windows Vista, but you can also optionally display the old Status bar if desired
Map/Disconnect Network DriveAccessible via the hidden Tools menuToolbar button in Computer window
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