Saturday, September 22, 2007

Introducing the User Files Folders!

I thought I'd kick things off with a series of articles describing the Vista User Files Folders. (I happen to have a lot of info about this already so I won't need to do tons of additional research for these articles.)

What was referred to as Personal Folders in XP is now referred to , by some publications, as the User's Files Folder in Vista (You can find S's applied differently to various words in this name, so mix it up when performing Google searches).

In XP the folder was listed in Windows Explorer as My Documents. In Vista, it is listed as the user’s AD display name (“FR, Test” in this example):

In XP, the My Documents folder was considered the parent folder that housed the various personal folders such as My Music or My Pictures. This is no longer the case. Vista's Documents folder is simply a peer of the other 10 folders that comprise the Users Files Folders (this is an incredibly important detail).

Vista has also done away with all the “My” prefixes to shorten the names to such things as Music and Pictures.
(This interesting detail will be covered in a future article - look for it.)

11 Folders!: Look at them. You now have folders for Videos, Saved Games and Downloads. I guess Microsoft noticed XP applications creating a myriad of folders under My documents for various purposes and decided to pre-create some of the more popular ones. You should note that you are stuck with these 11. You cannot eliminate these folders - and in many ways, you cannot add to them. (I'm sure this was done so that applications would know that the Downloads folder would always be a valid folder if it was designed to save things there.)

The Documents folder is just a peer!: Take a look at where the Documents folder is. It is buried down with the rest of the User Files Folders. It is no longer the parent that possesses the others. This is a HUGE change that impacts things in some surprising ways. In the XP days, applications created folders such as "My Videos" under the "My Documents" folder and you would have found them along side all of the other folders. Now with Vista, if you use an old XP application, it will keep putting the folder under Documents - only now that is buried one level deeper and won't be found along side these 11 default folders. As you replace your applications with ones designed for Vista, I am sure they will begin to use the default folders provided. You might think that an application will want to create a folder along side the default 11 folders, but I think you will find this not to be the case - this is because of folder redirection.

Changes to Folder Redirection!: This topic deserves an entire article or two - so watch for them. In the mean time, let me whet your appetite... Most self-respecting LAN admins like to redirect the My Documents folder to a network drive. This coaxes data off of local PC hard drives and greatly improves the odds of data being backed up. In XP you would redirect the My Documents folder to a network share and your work was pretty much done since all data folders basically fell under it (it is the parent after all). This is no longer the case in Vista. Vista does not allow you to redirect the parent folder any longer ("FR, Test" in the example above). Instead, you must redirect each of the 11 folders individually (+2 other folders if you want to redirect the whole user profile). Here's a cute bit... If a user or application puts a file or folder in the root User Files Folder (i.e. "FR, Test\Financial"), there is no way to redirect that folder. The folder would stay local and would not be backed up. Does this sound dangerous to you yet? (It pissed us off.) Now luckily Microsoft has provided an optional GPO that prevents users from being allowed to write to the root of this folder; however, it only blocks them in the GUI - it does nothing if they access the folder's C: path directly or if they use a CMD window. User retraining will be required so that they understand what to do when they can no longer save files to the usual root location.

This new structure has also presented me with all sorts of challenges having to do with user migration, folder redirection and network storage - but I don't think it adds anything beneficial. There is some implied flexibility, but my experiments revealed that only the default approach was even remotely valid. And this new structure does nothing to help most applications. Take Microsoft's own Visio product as an example. It likes to create a "My Shapes" folder under the Documents folder. This behavior will continue since it can't create a folder along side the other 11- the documents folder will remain polluted by all sorts of mysterious folders that will often have little to do with a user's actual documents.

Welcome to the User Files Folder. I've got a ton of related articles planned for this subject so please keep an eye out!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarification - good job! Can you tell me the name of the GPO-Setting that prevents users from being allowed to write to the root of the Users FileFolder? I can't find it.

Gordon Martin said...

Oops - yes, the actual GPO name would have been handy eh!:

User Configuration/Administrative Templates/Windows Components/Windows Explorer/Prevent users from adding files to the root of their Users Files folder.

(Bet you didn't think it would be such an obvious name :-)

Anonymous said...

This is very helpful. However, I am having the duplicate file issue you talk about along with 29 blank folders listed in Computer. I guess the damage is done. The question is, how do you go about removing the dupes and the blanks? I made the change in the GPO that you suggest so further damage can't be done. Using Vista Business.
Thanks in advance,
Very Frustrated

Gordon Martin said...

Deleting the duplication varies depending on the cause of the problem. If it's caused by having a redirected folder on the network and still having the local copies, you should be able to delete the local ones. -- But don't do it from the User Files Folder area - instead browse to the actual storage location (i.e. C:\Users\UserA) and delete the folders from there.

I haven't had any success recovering from blank folders (They're neat looking eh?). The only way I've been able to recover is by deleting the user's profile - not just the folder but properly deleting the profile from the Computer Properties area.

BTW, I am currently working to get a Critical Design Change Request (CDCR) approved so that maybe Microsoft will fix the Folder Redirection GPOs in the next year or two :-) I'll post if I make any progress on the 3 DCRs I have open...

Anonymous said...

Hi Gordon,
I tried what you suggested and, low and behold, the duplicates and the blanks are not in the user's folder when I look the way you suggested. When I go in through the user's file folder (start, user) they are there! Confounding me...

Gordon Martin said...

Hey there, I feel your pain.

I can probably help you through this. But it will probably take a lot of description and pictures. Let's take it offline. Send me an e-mail describing your problem in detail.

If anything interesting comes of our discussion, I'll post it here for everyone's benefit.

SmokinJay said...


Your redirection blog posts read like a replay of my last month and a half of work - except you have found many solutions I had missed, albeit I'm glad I missed the reg hack, etc. There is one thing - and it is either very simple or absolutely not possible, I don't know which - that I can't figure out and I need to badly: how do I redirect the root Users folder (i.e., C:\Users) entirely or else set per-user for that folder to look to, say the user's home folder? My users have a lot of legacy data at \\server\share\UserName and that has traditionally been their home folder. I want them to be able to click on the "UserName" shortcut on the Start Menu and have that open their home folder. How do I pull this off? I hope the answer isn't "you can't" but I am prepared for that possibility by your tip on preventing users from writing to C:\Users\UserName in GPO. Thanks for all your great in-the-trenches correspondence!

Gordon Martin said...

Hi SmokinJay,

I started this blog exactly because I knew people would have to repeat the same journey and hit the same roadblocks.

I'm afraid the answer is "you can't". There is no way to redirect the Users folder in general. The redirection GPO is per user. It won't even redirect the C:\Users\GMartin folder either. You can only redirect the 13 folders underneath there individually.

BTW, you'll want that reghack someday :-) The first time you have change the target location of some user's data, you'll wish you had it.

Good luck with your project.

Ukion said...

Hi Gordon,

I am running a similar blog (same niche an category) and I was hoping that you would like to exchange links with me.

Also, I need some technical help: How can I redirect special folder to other folder or disk?

Best regards,
Ukion from DetectorPro

Anonymous said...

Nice job on on the Vista folder redirection.

I had a question about WinXP, you said somewhere in your previous blog that you were successful at configuring folder redirection in WinXP? What did you do.

I've setup forlder redirection, but it seems that users require to logon at least twice before they can see their desktop files.

Any help would be great.

Musto said...

Hi! This post has been really helpful to me, it points out the main difference between the My Documents folder in XP and Vista.

Anyway, does anybody know how to create other "peer" folders like the ones inside the User directory?

I mean, is it possible to create other directories which work as links to other directories?

Thank you!

Bruce Boyden said...

Gordon, thanks for this info. I'm an ordinary home user (sort of) and have been using Vista for all of one week, and I find this design choice of not being able to redirect additional folders very frustrating. I've already had one app (Google Gadgets) create a new Documents folder when it couldn't find the redirected original.