Windows Vista Special Shell Folders

Most Windows Vista Secrets readers are probably familiar with basic computer file system concepts such as files, folders, and drive letters; but you may not realize that certain locations in the Windows shell—that is, Windows Explorer, the application with which you literally explore the contents of your PC’s hard drives—have been specially configured to work with particular data types, and live in the shell hierarchy outside of their physical locations. In Windows XP and previous Windows versions, these locations were called special shell folders, and they included such things as My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music.

In Windows Vista these special shell folders still exist, but now most of them have different names and are accompanied by a number of new members. They’re also in a different location: Whereas Windows XP placed user folders (which contain the special shell folders for each user) in C:\Documents and Settings\Your_User_Name by default, Windows Vista uses the simpler C:\Users\Your_User_Name.

Special Shell Folders
Home. This special location is named after your user name. If you chose the user name Paul, for example, then your Home folder would be named Paul as well. (Case matters: If you enter paul, it will be paul and not Paul.) This folder is available as the top option on the right-hand, fixed part of the Start Menu. Although it was never particularly obvious, every user actually had a Home folder in previous Windows versions.

Contacts. A new addition to Windows Vista, Contacts acts as a central database for Vista’s centralized contacts management, which is used by Windows Mail and can be used by any third-party application.

Desktop. This folder represents your Windows Vista desktop. Any folders, files, or shortcuts you place on the desktop appear in this folder too (and vice versa). There’s one exception: If you enable certain desktop icons—such as Computer, User’s Files, Network, Recycle Bin, or Control Panel—via the Desktop Icon Settings dialog, these icons will not appear in the Desktop folder.

Documents. A replacement for My Documents, this folder is specially configured to handle various document types, such as Word documents, text fi les, and the like. As with
its predecessor, Documents is the default location for the Save and Save As dialog boxes in most applications.

Downloads. New to Windows Vista, this folder is the default location for files downloaded from the Web with Internet Explorer and other Web browsers, including Mozilla Firefox.

Favorites. A central repository for your Internet Explorer Favorites (or what other browsers typically call Bookmarks). The Favorites folder has been in Windows for several years.

Links. New to Windows Vista, this folder typically contains shortcuts to common shell locations. Its contents appear in the Favorite Links pane of Windows Explorer windows. Note that only shortcuts to folder and other shell locations appear in Favorite Links. If you copy a shortcut to a document here, for example, it will not appear in the list.

Saved Games. A new addition to Windows Vista, the Saved Games folder is designed as a place for Vista-compatible game titles to store saved game information.

Pictures. A replacement for My Pictures. The Pictures folder is designed to handle digital photographs and other picture fi les and to work in tandem with other photorelated tools in Vista, such as Windows Photo Gallery and the Import Pictures and Videos Wizard.

Music. A replacement for XP’s My Music folder. The Music folder is designed to work with digital music and other audio fi les. If you rip music from an audio CD or purchase music from an online music service such as the Apple iTunes Store or Amazon MP3, those fi les are typically saved to your Music folder by default.

Searches. New to Windows Vista, this folder contains built-in and user-created saved searches.

Videos. A replacement for My Videos. This folder is designed to store digital videos of any kind, including home movies. It also interacts with video-oriented tools in Vista, such as Windows Movie Maker and Windows DVD Maker. In Windows XP you had to run Windows Movie Maker once before the My Videos folder would appear. This is no longer the case in Windows Vista, where the new Videos folder is always available under each user’s Home folder. However, as with XP, it’s still impossible to add a link to the Videos folder to the right side of the Start Menu. The Videos folder, it seems, is still a second-class citizen in Microsoft’s eyes.


Each of the special shell folders in Windows Vista shares certain characteristics. First, they are all physical folders in the sense that they are represented by a specific location in the Windows shell hierarchy. For example, your Home folder is now found at C:\Users\username by default. Likewise, Documents can be found at C:\Users\username\Documents.

You might notice that most folder names (Saved Games is a curious exception)—and indeed the names of the folders above each of them in the shell path—has been stripped of spaces. That is, each folder is now a single word (e.g., Documents instead of My Documents). That’s because of a renewed commitment to shell scripting in Windows Vista, an environment in which it’s simply harder to deal with spaces.

Finally, many of the special shell folders are represented somewhat differently in the Windows shell than are other folders, which you might think of as normal physical folders.

The Documents, Favorites, Music, and Pictures folders are all colored blue-green now instead of the normal yellow folder color; and although you can create a folder almost anywhere you’d like in the Windows Vista shell—assuming you have the security credentials to do so—special shell folders are typically found only in their preset locations within the file system.

In addition to the new special shell folders in Vista, there are also some differences in the way that preexisting special shell folders are organized now. For example, folders such as My Pictures, My Music, and My Videos were physically arranged below (and logically contained within) the My Documents folder in previous Windows versions; but in Windows Vista the new versions of these folders are found directly below each user’s Home folder, alongside Documents. This won’t affect typical users, who will likely access special shell folders like My Documents and My Pictures only from the Start Menu, but more advanced users will want to be aware of the changes.

Advanced users can use the Registry Editor (regedit.exe) to change special shell-folder locations. (If you’re not familiar with the Registry, this isn’t the time to start. You can irreperably harm Windows via the Registry.) Using regedit, navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\ Explorer\Shell Folders. You’ll see a variety of special shell folders listed there, including Personal (Documents), My Music (Music), My Pictures (Pictures), and My Video (Videos). To change the location of one of these special folders, simply double-click in regedit and add the new location to the Value data field in the dialog that appears.

You can see some of Vista’s special folders in your Start Menu, but if you want a better idea of how they’re laid out in the fi le system, simply launch Windows Explorer and enable the classic left-mounted folder hierarchy, which is now found in the bottom-left corner of the window. The new Home folder layout is actually quite similar to that used by Unix and Linux systems, including Apple’s Mac OS X. Vista even follows the same naming conventions these competitors utilize.

Source of information : Wiley Windows Vista Secrets SP1 Edition

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