Make the Most of Win 7 Libraries

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Before your new operating system can be useful, you need to understand how it organizes your data. By Neil Randall

Windows 7 has its share of highly visible user interface tweaks. After getting past the oohs and aahs of the spiffedup taskbar, you’ll likely find the new look of good old Explorer the most dramatic difference. Click the Windows Explorer icon on the taskbar, or open Computer from the Start menu, and you’ll get a window that displays not only the standard expandable hard drive labels but also a new feature called Libraries.

Win 7 Libraries are, in effect, metafolders. The idea behind them is simple: We have massive hard drives with files scattered all over the place, and organizing our resources by hard drive and folders (which are always tied to a hard drive) is inefficient. Like Vista, Win 7 provides a Favorites system to help with organization—you drag a folder to the Navigation pane, creating a link to that folder—but Libraries carries organization an important level further.

Win 7 ships with four libraries already in place: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. Of course, Vista and XP included folders called Documents or My Documents, Music or My Music, and so forth, inside each user profile (and easily accessible from Computer or My Computer), so you might very well ask how Win 7 improves anything here. The answer is that the folder “My Music” (to use just one example) contains files and subdirectories that reside inside one big directory called My Music—and that folder exists in one specific location on your hard drive. By contrast, the library “Music” in Win 7 contains links to files, and other directories, and other subdirectories anywhere on your system. Think of the security desk in a large building: From one monitor bank you can view camera feeds from any number of locations within the building. This isn’t like metatagging files, which enables Windows to search for them more efficiently and accurately; it’s telling Windows that it should consider certain, disparate folders as a group. With Win 7 Libraries, you can add as many locations as you want to each library, and when you open that library all locations will be accessible from within it. And to top that all off, if you join multiple PCs in a Win 7 HomeGroup, you can share entire libraries as easily as you can share individual directories or files.

To show how libraries work, I’ll create a brand new one and call it “Archived E-mail.” Inside it, I want links to all folders on my various hard drives and partitions that contain Outlook data (PST) files I’ve stored over the years. Every time I install a new instance of Windows (beginning way back in the year 2000 or so), I reinstall Office as well, creating a new Outlook data file. I then import my calendar, contacts, and certain folders from the most recent Outlook PST file, but I often leave much of the data in that older file as an archive. In addition, I have numerous smaller archives and backups scattered around. This new library will let me collect them all in one place, so that if I need to find that specific e-mail from six years ago, I don’t have to do nearly as much digging. To create a library, open Explorer, rightclick the Libraries item, and choose New | Library. Name the library what you want— for me it’s Archived Email. Right-click the new folder and choose Properties. Now, click Include a Folder and navigate to a folder you want to make part of this library. Highlight that folder and click Include Folder; repeat the process for all folders you want to add. The Optimize this Library drop-down menu of the dialog lets you tell Win 7 whether you want to track this library for General Items, Documents, Music, Pictures, or Videos; it would be more useful if you could also specify file types, but this is a good start.

From this point on, Win 7 will track your selected folders and update them automatically in Libraries whenever you change their contents. In and of itself this feature is useful, but Win 7 expands on it by providing a detailed default view of the library. It expands the included folders to show the files and subdirectories within the monitored directories, letting you easily browse for the file or folder you want to open. You can add locations to the library in several ways. First, you can reopen the library`s Properties dialog and click Include a Folder again. Second, you can use Explorer to browse to a file or folder and right-drag the item to the library’s heading on the Navigation bar, pausing until it bears the caption Create Link in Folder. Third, you can rightclick on any folder and choose Include in Library, selecting the library you want from the resulting submenu. You can also create a new library by dragging a folder (not a file) to the Libraries heading itself, where Win 7 will prompt you to create the new library.

Finally, the various locations can be modified by clicking the link beside the Includes label, which appears at the top right of the Explorer window when you have selected a library. The result is the Library Locations dialog, from which you can Add or Remove additional items. In my case, by the time I added all of my old Outlook folders to the Archived Email library, I had a list of nine directories containing several subdirectories, all containing one or more PST files. Suddenly, all my old e-mail was accessible to me, should I want to search it or revisit old discussions. Of course, using libraries to track music files, document files, or all your various Photoshop files might be more helpful for most users, but for me the Libraries feature worked superbly to give me control over a very specific data type.

Source of Information : PC Magazine 2009 11

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