How Libraries & HomeGroup Work Together in Windows 7

How Libraries & HomeGroup Work Together in Windows 7

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I’ve gotten the chance to play around with the Windows 7 pre-beta build and I feel like a kid in a candy store. There are many new features that I personally am excited about that I hope to blog about over time. To kick things off I wanted to discuss the several new features in Windows 7 that make managing and sharing your files on your home network a much easier experience than ever before. Using Windows 7’s Libraries along with its HomeGroup network sharing feature, I was able to share content with other PC users on my home network. I’m going to go into detail on my experience with Libraries and setting up a HomeGroup on my network with Windows 7 to illustrate these new features for you. And believe it or not… it all starts with the relatively minor changes made to the naming of folders within User Profiles in Windows 7.

One of the things you’ll notice first is the User Profile folder structure in Windows 7 has changed a little bit from what was seen in Windows Vista.

In Windows Vista: Documents, Downloads, Photos, Videos, and Music

In Windows 7: Personal Documents, Personal Downloads, Personal Photos, Personal Videos, and Personal Music.

The naming also changed in the Public User Profile: Public Documents, Public Downloads, Public Photos, Public Videos, and Public Music.

These folder structure changes were made to accommodate a new Windows Explorer feature in Windows 7 called Libraries. Libraries exist in the Navigation Pane of Windows Explorer which has been updated for Windows 7. In Windows 7, users are given Libraries that consist of multiple “library locations” or folders from both their User Profile and Public User Profile.

For example: the Documents Library in Windows 7 consists of your Personal Documents folder under your profile and the Public Documents folder – or 2 “locations”.

By default, my Libraries consisted of the following folders:

  • Documents: Personal Documents and Public Documents
  • Downloads: Personal Downloads and Public Downloads
  • Music: Personal Music and Public Music
  • Photos: Personal Photos and Public Photos
  • Videos: Personal Videos and Public Videos

There is a very specific reason why each of these Libraries consists of a Personal folder and Public folder. It ties in with HomeGroup and specific permissions which I will talk about very soon… keep reading ;-)

When I view the Documents Library – it displays all files and folders from any folder I have included in this Library in a single Windows Explorer view.

In the above screen shot, the EXAMPLE folder in the red box is a folder in the Public Documents folder while the rest of the folders are from my Personal Documents folder.

To add locations to a Library, all I needed to do was hit the location button in the top right-hand corner. To create custom Libraries, all I needed to do was right-click on “Libraries” in the Windows Explorer Navigation Pane and choose “New”. I decided to try adding a folder from my Windows Home Server to my Document Library. I had a folder full of documents on my Windows Home Server that would be perfect for my Documents Library. To my excitement I was easily able to add the folder to my Documents Library just fine. So Network locations such as Windows Home Servers are in for “library locations”!

Either way – creating custom Libraries or adding folders to a Library are very easy.

These Libraries can easily be shared with other people on your Home network through a new network sharing feature in Windows 7 called HomeGroup.

In creating a HomeGroup I was also able to choose which Libraries I would like to share out to the HomeGroup.

A few things I discovered about HomeGroup when setting a HomeGroup up:

  • In order to setup a HomeGroup, my PC’s Network Location needed to be set as “Home” in Network and Sharing Center. Just like in Windows Vista, a Network Location for networks your PC is connected to can be a Home network, Work network, or Public where Windows automatically applies certain settings to keep your PC safe (for example if you are on a Public network, Windows locks down your PC appropriately so you aren’t sharing important files with the world).
  • If a HomeGroup had already been created on PC on this network – instead of asking me to create a HomeGroup, it would have asked me to join a HomeGroup and which Libraries I would like to share.
  • There can be only 1 HomeGroup per Home network as far as I can tell and each HomeGroup is password-protected.
  • Users on any Windows 7 PC) on my Home network can join the HomeGroup and are required to enter a password for that HomeGroup they are joining. This is great because if you have friends come over to your place – they can’t just jump on to your HomeGroup and access your stuff.
  • Once a Windows 7 PC is joined to HomeGroup – any user on that Windows 7 PC can participate in HomeGroup. You can continue to access files from a User on a Windows 7 PC even if a different user is logged in to the PC.

So how does Personal Folders VS Public Folders tie in with HomeGroup?

I discovered that when sharing Libraries into my HomeGroup, the Public folders and Personal folders within the Libraries have different read/write permissions and are completely customizable.

In general, Public folders have read AND write permissions – meaning users in your HomeGroup can add and remove files to the folder.

Personal folders have read-only access. For files in your Personal folders within a Library – users in your HomeGroup can only view them – not edit, delete, etc.

To add a file to a Library being shared out via HomeGroup, all I needed to do was simply drag the file into the specific Library they want to add it to. That’s it. The file appears in that Library to everyone in the HomeGroup. But when I drag files to a Library someone is sharing in HomeGroup, the files are physically added to the “public” folder and not their “personal folder” (because of the permissions setup I mentioned above).

So let me give you a “real-world” example of how it works.

As you saw in the above screenshot, the user “Bruce Wayne” from the PC named MYUMPC was in my HomeGroup. I decide I want to add a photo to Bruce Wayne’s Photo Library. I dragged and dropped a photo onto his Photo Library. The photo appeared within that Library as it should. When Bruce Wayne checks out his Photo Library, he will see that photo I just added. However because of the read/write permissions of Personal and Public folders – the photo I *just* added to Bruce Wayne’s Photo Library actually sits physically within his Public Photos folder on his PC (the PC named MYUMPC).

Essentially PC users on your HomeGroup can add files to your Libraries but they physically sit in your Public folders on your PC and not your Personal folders. Your personal folders are preserved for only your important data. You don’t want people adding photos to your Personal Photos folder and messing up your photo collection – and the same with your music.

The way that Libraries are set up with the Personal and Public folders allows users to be in control of their personal data. You can choose to let folks in your HomeGroup view your data in your Personal folders within your Libraries or you can completely turn off access to your Personal folders all together giving only access to the Public folders within the Library.

With Windows 7’s new Libraries feature as well as the new HomeGroup feature – I discovered I am more easily in control of my data at the same time am able to easily share things out to people.

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  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    windows 7 operating system, the system came to market I think I've reviewed a great operating system is kept

  • Link
    5 Posts

    HomeGroup looks very easy to use. I'm also very pleased with the new cleaner look of Explorer, lets face it, Explorer in Vista was not the model of cleanliness.

  • jd2066
    6 Posts

    @Rafael: I think you may have misunderstood me. I know the Documents/Music/Pictures is covered by the Libraries and is not a problem. I'm wondering about the folders Contacts, Favorites, Links, Saved Games, Searches, etc that Windows Vista showed under a User Files special folder (That is shown as the user name folder and points to C:\Users\[UserName]).

    Not to mention that Windows Vista let users put files directly in C:\Users\[UserName] instead of Documents and some programs like Notepad defaulted to that location.

    If someone could upgrade to Windows 7 right now and clicked their User Name on the Start Menu the libraries would appear instead of C:\Users\[UserName]. Which would make them wonder what happened to the rest of their files.

    Also older programs will default to the Personal Pictures folder and not the library for pictures so that could make someone wonder why some of their pictures don't appear in older programs.

    Though it's possible Microsoft may find a way to deal with those problems or already has in an internal release.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    In response to jd2006:

    Yes, the shell no longer displays links to your "my documents" and such (or in vista it would be the equiv. of just Documents of course) but since the Libraries->Documents link has an include OF the personal documents folder, you can still access it.

    Personally I think the library implementation is absolutely kickass. It's so much easier. I can have documents/pics/music/etc. from all over my computer AND network in a single folder. It's incredibly convenient. I was skeptical at first but after using it it's really really awesome.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    Wow, so I'll go from "My Documents" on XP to "Personal Documents" on 7. Makes you wonder why the "My" was dropped in Vista?

  • jd2066
    6 Posts

    Update to last comment: I just noticed that if open the Desktop folder there is an icon for the "User Name" shell folder so it hasn't been replaced. Though clicking on the user name on the Start Menu will open the Libraries folder.

  • jd2066
    6 Posts

    I just checked out Windows 7 Build 6801 and it appears it still has the nice C:\Users\[UserName]\Documents path. It's just the Windows Explorer Shell that displays it as "Personal Documents".

    It's also that way with the other folders displaying the "Personal" prefix.

    It seems too that the "User Name" shell folder has been replaced by the Libraries folder so there no easy to view the Contacts, Favorites, Links, Saved Games, Searches and similar user folders without manually browsing to C:\Users\[UserName].

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    Brandon: I agree with the comments that it looks very messy. Users are likely going to forget where they put the file. (Was it personal? or public?)

    Why not tags? Have all the files placed in one folder and place Public tags on the ones you would like to shared.

    Or better yet, allow "Personal" or "Public" defaults and tag otherwise.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    At least under Vista if you don't like the whole 'Public Documents', 'Public Videos', 'Public Downloads', etc., you can simply rename them.  I don't like this kind of namespace trickery, so I change them back to their real 'on-disk' name.  That worked for all but the hidden Public Desktop (actually just Desktop on disk) -- not sure what trickery is going on there.  Note also that just because it appears as 'Public Documents', doesn't mean it's that way on disk.  On Vista, fire up a command prompt and cd \Users\Public, then DIR, and you'll see what I mean.

    So, I can live with the fact that the shell team likes to play these tricks on us, because for the most part you can rename things to how you like... On the other hand, I don't really see what they are trying to accomplish with the trickery in the first place...

    As far as Libraries go, I like it, and would probably use them on my home network, but I'm not certain the average home user won't have some bit of difficulty getting their head around this stuff..

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    I am with jrronimo...demolished one of the most convenient changes in Vista in one fell swoop...having a nice, convenient, space-free path to type to get to your documents (c:\users\joe\documents).  A shame.

  • Ugh, no! One of my favorite things about Vista was the simplification of paths. Gone are "c:\documents and settings\username\My Documents", leaving the incredibly awesome "c:\users\username\Documents". What's wrong with that formula??

    Adding 'Personal' to it, while I understand is to make it more "fun" and "friendly" is annoying. Plus, I'm sure this all adds another layer of compatibility: c:\users\username\documents had to be equal to c:\documents and settings\uesrname\my documents has to be equal to c:\users\username\personal documents...

    I know not everyone types paths very often, but it's something I do a lot and I see this "personal" BS as going to be very, very annoying...

    I like the idea of HomeGroups, although it just seems like an 'easier' way to do things I've already done: permissions. I've shared folders with password requirements for my friends before. Hopefully this will make it easier for other people to share around their own network... I guess.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    Yes, I would love to see HomeGroups on XP and Vista, so I can actually start using the feature. Also, instead of "Public Videos", "Personal Documents", why can't it be Public\Video, Public\Pictures, Personal\Documents and so on? The path will be longer but the folder naming will be simpler and need not use long file names.

    And while we're on the topic of shell and Windows Explorer features, do I need to reinstate for the nth time that Windows Explorer for a very large percentage of users in the Windows community globally has serious usability/productivity issues as it currently stands? Why is the shell team not learning its lesson from Vista and taking feedback from the community? Amongst the most severely hampering issues which force me to use another file manager and remain on Windows XP on some computers are:

    - Standard toolbar buttons (Cut, Copy, Paste, Refresh, Delete, UP) removed and their customizability nixed. Even Windows 95 has a more productive Explorer.

    - Core things such as the free space and total size are neither displayed on the status bar nor the details pane

    - All the folder/file items are always in AutoRefresh / Autoarrange mode making it extremely difficult to work with copying/pasting/moving/renaming and deleting large numbers of files. Full row selection also can't be turned off and registry tweaks that say it can be don't work.

    - URLs show up in common dialogs for Load/Save. How can the shell team ignore this usability issue?

    - Properties of any item cannot be viewed using Alt+Enter in the left pane (this may be is just a bug)

    - The ability to store and edit metadata for any file type missing. Bring back the Summary tab it its using the NTFS file system.

    - IColumnProvider shell extension interface removed as a result of which extensions for folder size do not work. The Property System does not have equivalent functionality is what I've heard developers say.

    - Advanced File Types feature lost forever. We're back to editing the registry. Not even a powertoy with the functionality restored.

    - Keyboard selection indicators (dotted lines around selection) don't always show up when selecting files using the keyboard.

    - The networking user interface which has been heavily criticized in Vista sees no productivity changes. "Network Connections", "New Connection Wizard", "Set up a network wizard" and "Connection status" dialogs when connected are extremely difficult to reach in Vista. Connect To menu does not expand. Upon making a successful connection, the "connected" dialog box does not automatically go away.

    - The Start menu is cramped up for mouse usage (that is, when not using search). Please widen it horizontally and make it use the available screen space, not requiring users to scroll.

    While I know large UI changes will not show up till the beta, Microsoft has made no acknowledgement whatsoever that there are usability issues with the shell/Explorer in Vista and I fear if I don't raise these now, they'll never get fixed in Windows 7.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    Brandon: Wasn't the reverse of that logic used to justify removing the "My" prefix from everything in Vista?!?! ;)

    About the article, I'm a bit confused how Windows determines which folder files dropped into a library go into.

    If I remove Public Documents from my Documents library, but then add my own Public Documents-type folder (same permissions, different name and on-disk location), how does Windows 7 know other users' dropped files should go there?  Is it a setting I have to set, or is it hard-coded to drop into Public/Personal based on who drops the files and it'll fail if the appropriate folder isn't part of the Library, or does Windows 7 just check permissions on the member folders and drop the files in the "best-fit" folder?  (IE: Files other users drop can only go to Public... files I drop could go to either Public or Personal, but would go to Personal since my user account has explicit access, where in Public I have access because I belong to the Users group which has explicit access.)

  • Mike, Windows Media Player 12 in Windows 7 with HomeGroup - is quite improved in managing and playing media content.

    StophVista, you don't need to use HomeGroup if you don't want to. I doubt users will care much when they see "Documents" in Windows Vista turn in to "Personal Documents" in Windows 7. If anything, having the folder say "Personal Documents" will convey to folks its truly their *personal* stuff.

  • I would personally just stick to the current method and naming in Vista. It seems to be a bit messy and confusing for a common user. I only have my desktop and laptop and live mesh does all I need to sync files. When I go home (from college) I simply share files through public folders and larger files (a few hundred MB to GBs) I use my iPod's hard drive.

    If and when I get a home server (many years off based on financial situation) this might be more useful, but until then this wouldn't be very useful to me.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    What about music/media libraries? For years Media Player has avoided the issue of handling shared ("public") music libraries, with the consequence that different metadata handling rules set (innocently) by each of the music owners shuffle the file names and folders from day to day.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    Libraries looks great, and I can't wait to give it a go. HomeGroup could be cool but I will likely never use it. My dad's too stubbord to upgrade from XP, and my sister doesn't care enough to bother with Vista or 7 either.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    I'm fond of the need for a password the most. Workgroups are a pain to set up rights for, and with a password, the rights will already be setup for the whole network.

    Discoverability is also important. How fast the other computers can see each other should be instant.

    Last, and most important, I hope to see compatibility. If this feature can make it to XP, I can move up more comfortably. Since I have a few computers on my home network, I would like to be able to continue working with the older boxes as they are replaced. Otherwise this feature might not get used properly.

    With this I also see many needing to network Macs and BSD boxes into the HomeGroup, so an open implementation would be nice to see as well.

  • Duane Duane
    52463 Posts

    To be honest, I think it looks a mess. Especially that last screenshot. Is that how it will look by default?