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February 17, 2016

Folder Insanity Explained

Filed under: Main — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:01 am

I’m a big fan of information organization. When it comes to a computer, you use folders to organize your files. Folders can contain other folders, and you can toss in some shortcuts or aliases to help deal with files that could dwell in multiple locations. All that makes sense, but it’s not really how Windows presents files and folders.

Windows Vista confounded the issue by introducing the Library concept. A Library is a folder collection across a network or on a local computer with multiple users.

I’ve written before about Libraries. They exist in Windows 10, but have fortunately been banished to the back seat. That doesn’t soften my confusion about duplicate folder names found in the Quick Access and This PC windows. Those folders aren’t Libraries or links to Libraries. They aren’t shortcuts, so what the heck are they? Figure 1 illustrates the dilemma.

Figure 1. The same folder in three locations.

Figure 1. The same folder in three locations.

On the left in Figure 1 you see a list of recent or frequent folders as displayed in the Quick Access window: Press Win+E to summon the File Explorer and view that window. (In earlier versions of Windows, Win+E summons the My Computer window.)

In the center in Figure 1 is the This PC window, which is the successor to the old My Computer window. In previous versions of Windows, the Documents folder there would be a Library, not the folder itself. In Windows 10, what you see is the Documents folder from your Account folder.

On the right in Figure 1 is my Account folder, Dan, which shows the same — very same — Documents folder.

How do you know it’s the same folder and not a shortcut or a Library?

Right-click on the folder and choose Properties. In the folders’ Properties dialog boxes, you see that the location is the same for all three folders, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The same Properties dialog box shows up for all three folders.

Figure 2. The same Properties dialog box shows up for all three folders.

So how do you know when you’re using one of those sneaky Libraries?

In Windows 10, you must deliberately navigate to the Libraries folder: Choose Libraries from the address box menu in the File Explorer window. You see the Libraries window, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Libraries are more obvious in Windows 10.

Figure 3. Libraries are more obvious in Windows 10.

The Library icons sport the word “Library, as shown in Figure 3. When you right-click on a Library icon and choose Properties, you see a list of related folders, not a Properties dialog box.

So if you’re vexed in Windows 10 that you see your Documents folder all over (actually in three places), don’t get baffled by Libraries. Windows is just being convenient, though I wish they’d also be obvious by using shortcut labels instead of whatever magic they’re using now.

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