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.