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Organizing with Windows 7 Libraries

Updated: August 21, 2009

Applies To: Windows 7

 

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Libraries enable you to organize files by using metadata about the file, such as author, date, type, tags, and so on—instantly. You’re not limited to just browsing files by folder hierarchy. When you save files in a Library, Windows® 7 indexes the files. You can use Library features like the Arrange By control to instantly browse the files in the Library by metadata or use the Search Builder, which is built into the Search box in Windows Explorer, to instantly search the files in the Library by metadata.

These features are only available in Libraries and are real productivity boosters. For example, Libraries can help you find a file based on something you remember about it such as what type of file it is, who wrote it, or when it was last modified. Libraries can prevent the need for you to drill into many levels of folder hierarchy to find a file.

This article is for IT pros who use Windows 7 at home or who support friends and family who use Windows 7. You’ll learn how Windows 7 Libraries can make finding, organizing, and accessing files fast and easy.

Also see the following related documents:

noteNote
For a complete view of Windows 7 resources, articles, demos, and guidance, please visit the Springboard Series for Windows 7 on the Windows Client TechCenter.

For a downloadable version of this document, see the Organizing with Windows 7 Libraries in the Microsoft Download Center (http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=161914).

File and Folder Drama

Suppose you want to explore in Windows XP your music collection—which is scattered across different folders on multiple systems. You open each music folder in Windows Explorer, bouncing back and forth between them, drilling down folder after folder, just to see the cover art. This tactic isn’t very efficient, and it’s probably a bit frustrating. Eventually, you give up and focus on just one album folder. The others are lost to you—at least for the moment.

Maybe you and your spouse are working together on a slide show for an upcoming family reunion, but some of the pictures are on your computer and some are on your spouse’s system. You can’t easily find just the right pictures when you can’t see them all at the same time. Forget searching, because you’re only going to find the pictures that are on your system. Frustration leads to anger, and you suddenly find yourself in the market for a new keyboard.

Wouldn’t it be great if Windows would give you an all-in-one view of your entire music collection, regardless of the locations of your individual albums? How about a combined view of your pictures and your spouse’s pictures, even though they’re on separate computers, which you can browse by using metadata like author or date? Windows 7 does just that, through Libraries.

Introducing Libraries in Windows 7

Libraries provide a consolidated view of related files, making them easy to find even when you’ve stored them in different folders or on different systems. When you open a Library, you see the folder locations that it contains. But unlike a plain old folder, a Library can display files from various locations on your computer or across several computers on the same network. Libraries don't actually contain your data; they simply provide a window through which you can see files from many locations—all in one place—and browse them by using metadata.

Windows 7 has four default Libraries: Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. (If you ever remove or change these Libraries, you can quickly restore them by right-clicking Libraries in Windows Explorer, and then clicking Restore default libraries.) Each of the default Libraries starts with two folder locations: one from the user’s profile folder and the other from the Public profile folder. You can add other folder locations to the default Libraries.

Figure 1 shows a Pictures Library, which contains the default folder locations My Pictures and Public Pictures, along with an additional folder location.

 

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Figure 1. A Library that contains multiple folder locations

You might be tempted to say, “Cool,” and simply go about your day, using the default libraries. But to go from “cool” to “super cool,” you can create your own Libraries and add folder locations to them. You can create Libraries for any set of files that you don’t feel are well covered by the existing Libraries. For example, a developer might create a Library for source code. You might also create a new Work Documents Library to keep work-related documents separate from personal documents.

Creating a Library is easy: Right-click Libraries in the Navigation Pane on the left side of an Explorer window, point to New, and then click Library. After creating a Library, it’s time to add your folder locations. Right-click a Library, and then click Properties to edit the folder locations that the Library includes, as well as other properties.

By using the Library Properties dialog box, shown in Figure 2, you can include new folder locations or remove existing folder locations. (Removing folder locations from Libraries or deleting entire Libraries doesn’t actually delete the files from where they’re stored; you’re simply removing them from the aggregated view that the Library provides.) You can also set the default save location. The default save location is the folder in which Windows Explorer stores a file when you save it to the root of a Library (for example, when you drop a picture into the Pictures library).

 

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Figure 2. Library Properties

Not only do Libraries present a flexible way to organize your files, but they also can help you to find files easily. You can perform rich content searches and filter results by properties such as date, type, and author. Windows Search can even find files in Library folder locations on other computers as long as those files are indexed on the remote system or cached locally by using Offline Files.

No More File and Folder Drama

Do you see how Libraries can help remove the drama from your home computing? Instead of hunting-and-pecking your way through separate music collections, you can add each music collection to your Music Library. This gives you a consolidated view of all your music.

By default, Libraries arrange files by folder location, showing you a heading for each folder location in the Library. Beneath that heading, you see the contents of that folder location. This method is certainly better than opening each folder individually, but it isn’t the best part. Libraries allow you to arrange files in the way that makes the most sense for you. Figure 3 shows the Pictures Library arranged by rating. Instead of a heading for each folder location, you see a heading for each rating. You can also arrange Libraries by other metadata. For example, you can arrange the Pictures Library by month, day, rating, or tag. You can arrange the Music Library by album, artist, song, genre, or rating.

 

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Figure 3. Arranging Libraries

Working on that slide show with your spouse is a lot easier if you use Libraries. Just include the folder containing your spouse’s pictures in your Pictures Library along with your own folders containing pictures. After adding both folder locations to the Library, you can run just one search to find the perfect photo, wherever it’s stored.

Conclusion

In Windows 7, Libraries can help you organize files easily by providing an aggregated view of related files from various folders—even when they’re on different computers (they must be indexed on the remote computer or cached locally by using Offline Files). This all-in-one view can help eliminate the need to hunt-and-peck your way through countless folders because you can browse files by metadata. Any folders you include in a Library are indexed by Windows Search and appear in the search results in the Start Menu. Not only does this enable you to quickly search your Libraries, but it also helps make the arrangement views fast. Using Libraries is intuitive and easy, so your friends and family can take advantage of them, too.

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