Windows 7 : Using the Pictures Library (part 1)

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In Windows 7, Microsoft has finally come through with the virtual folder technologies it only tepidly started with Windows Vista. In this version of Windows, special shell folders like Pictures (My Pictures in XP) and Music (My Music in XP) have been replaced in the Start menu with new virtual folders called Libraries that each aggregate content from a variety of physical folders. The Library for photos is called, logically enough, Pictures.

The old physical folders still exist, of course. Here, confusingly, Microsoft has gone back to the old "My" naming scheme for physical folders. In the context of digital photos and other picture-related folders, this means that each user account gets its own pictures folder, which is named "My Pictures" when that user is logged on, or "[Username]'s Pictures" when accessed from a different account. (For example, if you logged on to my PC with a different user account, or accessed it from the network, my pictures folder would be named "Paul's Pictures.")

Additionally, there is always a universally available public folder structure, and the pictures-oriented folder there is called "Public Pictures."

The availability of a Public Pictures folder is interesting for a couple of reasons, but one of the top reasons is that Microsoft provides a number of sample pictures in Windows 7, which are accessible through the Public Pictures folder. To find them, access the Sample Pictures shortcut in your Pictures folder, which points to C:\Users\Public\Public Picture\Sample Pictures. As shown in Figure 1, this folder contains a number of beautiful background images that are suitable for your desktop or enjoying in other ways.

Figure 1. Windows 7 comes with a number of high-quality sample pictures.


Oddly enough, these aren't the only sample pictures found in Windows 7. Microsoft also provides a wide range of other high-quality, high-resolution images, which it intends for you to use as desktop backgrounds. But if you know where to find them, you can make copies in the Public Pictures folder (or any other folder) and access them more directly. There are two places to look.

The first is the Wallpapers folder. To find it, navigate to C:\Windows\Web\. You'll notice that there is a folder called Wallpaper here, with various subfolders inside. Each contains stunning high-res Windows wallpapers.

The second is the regional wallpapers folder. This is found in a hidden location: C:\Windows\Globalization\MCT. To find it, select Search from the Start menu, type in that address, and tap Enter. A new shell folder will open with that location displayed. Inside, you will see a variety of folders with names like MCT-xx where xx represents a region of the world.

To copy pictures from these locations to Public Folders, right-click the folder and choose Copy. Then, navigate to Public Folders, right-click a blank area of the window, and choose Paste. Voila! Lots of gorgeous pictures to play with.

The big change in Windows 7, of course, is a new Libraries infrastructure. When you click on Documents, Pictures, or Music in the Start menu, you do not open My Documents, My Pictures, or My Music (respectively). Instead, what you're opening is a virtual folder, called a Library, that displays content from a number of different physical folders. In the case of the Pictures link in the Start menu, what you're opening when you click on that is the Pictures library, which is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The Windows 7 Pictures library displays picture content from two physical folder locations in a single place.

By default, the Pictures library aggregates, or "includes," content from both My Pictures (that is, your own physical pictures folder) as well as the globally available Public Pictures folder. For the first-time Windows 7 user, the change isn't really all that profound, however. Most people simply copy photos and other pictures into their My Pictures folder anyway, so for a good number of users, the Pictures library and the My Pictures folder can be used interchangeably.


Indeed, this brings up an interesting point. What happens when you "copy" or "move" content into the Pictures library? After all, it's not a real location on the hard drive, but a view of two other locations (by default), mixed together. As it turns out, each Library has a default save location. For Pictures, that location is your My Pictures folder, so any content that you copy or move to Pictures actually ends up in My Pictures. See below for information about changing the default save location.

Of course, you may be wondering at this point whether there are any picture management capabilities left in the Windows 7 shell. It's a valid question with a complicated answer. Yes, you can still manage digital photos in Windows 7's Explorer shell, but many things have changed, depending on whether you're coming from Windows XP or Vista. We'll take a closer look at these changes.

1. Where Is It Now?

Table 1 summarizes some of the picture-related changes you can expect to see in the Windows shell, and how to find similar features in Windows 7.

Table 1. Where Common Picture-Related Features Are in the Windows 7 Shell
Windows XP featureWindows Vista featureWhere it is in Windows 7
Web Publishing Wizard (accessed via Publish this folder/picture to the Web option in the folder task area)Removed. Users were expected to utilize Microsoft's blogging service, Windows Live Spaces, to publish photos online.Now, Microsoft has created a new picture-centric Windows Live Photos service.
Share this folderShare toolbar buttonNew "Share with" toolbar button that integrates with Windows 7 homegroups
Get pictures from camera or scannerMissing. Users were expected to utilize the AutoPlay dialog and acquire pictures with Windows Photo Gallery.Still missing, but the responsibility for photo acquisition has moved to Windows Live Photo Gallery
View as a slide showReplaced by the Slide Show toolbar button. Windows Vista offers dramatically better Explorer-based photo slide shows than does either Windows XP or—gasp!—Windows 7.Also includes a Slide Show toolbar button, but Windows 7's slide shows are far more basic than those in Windows Vista, and do not include such things as slide show themes or onscreen controls
Order prints onlineYou must launch Windows Photo Gallery to access this functionality.You must now launch Windows Photo Live Gallery to access this functionality.
Print this picture/print the selected picturesReplaced by a new Print toolbar buttonWorks as it does in Windows Vista
Set as desktop backgroundYou could launch Windows Photo Gallery to access this functionality. Alternatively, you could still right-click a picture and choose Set As Desktop Background from the menu that appears.Works as it does in Windows Vista
E-mail this file/e-mail the selected itemsReplaced by a new E-mail toolbar buttonWorks as it does in Windows Vista
Preview pictureReplaced by a new Open toolbar button, which offers enhanced functionality thanks to an attached drop-down menu that enables you to choose which application to use to preview the selected imageWorks as it does in Windows Vista
Edit pictureMissing, but if you select an application from the new menu attached to the Open button, which includes editing functionality (for example, Paint or Windows Photo Gallery), you can edit the picture that way.Works as it does in Windows Vista
Shell-based photo and photo folder viewsMostly missing. You can use Windows Photo Gallery and its organizational view styles to view your photo collection in a variety of different ways.Works as it does in Windows Vista. Windows 7 does add one new folder view style (Content) but it's not particularly applicable to photos.
  •  Windows 7 : Organizing, Fixing, and Sharing Digital Photos - Photo Management in Windows XP and Vista
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