I love Windows 7, don’t get me wrong. Although I didn’t beta test this particular Microsoft operating system (I’ve learned my lesson about that when I beta tested Vista), I’ve been pleased as punch on how much Microsoft has gotten right this time around, and more importantly, how well they’ve managed their publicity to keep their positive side forward. Noticed that the moronic/pandering “I’m a PC/I’m a Mac” advertisements are gone? That would be because Apple is now having to swallow their own tongues, as Windows 7 adoption is through the roof and everyone is cheering it on, unlike poor Vista which was a perfect whipping boy for Apple to pound on.

One of the introductions to Windows 7 was “libraries” for types of media. The main ones are “Pictures,” “Videos,” and “Documents.” I would have to say that although perhaps there must be someone out there who needs this, I have yet to find one. Look at Documents for example. Microsoft and Apple both have trained us over a decade that Documents should either go in “My Documents” if you care about organization, or “The Desktop, lol” if you prefer to make the desktop a dumping ground for every type of file. Same with pictures and videos, to a lesser extent…they’ve always had their places. Now Microsoft wants to make these virtual consolidation folders that basically create a single way to view a bunch of folders from all over the computer. Not useful, Microsoft. The reason is that when you go to the “Documents” library, you still just see 1, 2, or however many folders you’ve specified, and you have to drill down in order to get what you’re looking for.

If you wanted to be useful, you’d have given the option for the Documents library to spontaneously push together all of the files in all of the folders. With one click, a user could go from having to drill down through a top-level documents container to 500 Word docs/another with 200 Excel Docs/Word Docs/ etc to having all of your documents visible in one big folder with no subfolders, where you could sort them by name, file size, type, etc. It would have been infeasible to do, pre-Vista, but now that Windows Search is so fast and we have RAM out the wazoo, a single “folder” with thousands of lumped-together files from all over your system is such an obvious idea for the “Documents library” that I’m embarrassed that it wasn’t put into use.

Even if Documents doesn’t have that ability, the Windows Live Essentials Photo Gallery does a brilliant job of this. I love it and use it all of the time. It beats iPhoto shamelessly, and although Picasa is great, it still doesn’t use XMP built-in metadata nor allow so many methods of sorting. I will give Picasa credit for having a smarter facial recognition algorithm though. Anyway! You can shove as many folders as you want into the Photo Gallery (using the “Pictures” library) and then just click “All Pictures” at the top of the program, and boom, you have all of your pictures from all over the computer sorted in any way you want, regardless of where they are.

My Beef with Libraries: There is no separation between something you want to share, and something you don’t want to share. The “Libraries” are systemwide, and unfortunately are now being used for network sharing with other Windows 7 computers and, even worse, the Xbox 360. Here’s my situation:

I have a folder on the root of my C drive that contains all of my movie backups and recorded TV shows. I would love to be able to automatically share this to an Xbox or to other users through the network using Windows 7’s “media streaming”, which means it would be a primary candidate for inclusion in the “Videos” library, right? But, Windows Photo Gallery uses that same “Videos” library to get my personal home movies out of, too, which is exactly what I want to be seeing in the Photo Gallery. I use the Gallery for personal things like home movies and personal photos, but I don’t want those shared so loosely to just anyone on the network. At the same time, if I include that recorded TV show folder in the “Videos” library, I’m going to be seeing random copies of the Colbert Report floating around next to my personal memories. I love you, Mr. Colbert, but you don’t belong next to pictures of my mother’s birthday just because I happened to record your show the same night.

Microsoft: You need to fix this. There are multiple ways: for example, you could make it so that Windows Media Center and all other Media Extenders (like the xbox 360) could just use regular network shares as well as libraries, which I already made my movies/TV show folder years ago. That used to work just fine. Just add the ability back! But now, my xbox can’t see them anymore. “Just use the libraries!” your tech support gleefully tells me. Okay, but I’m already using the libraries for my private files. So, in that case, give us the ability to define a library as public or private. Or, disconnect Photo Gallery’s defined root folders from the Windows 7 “Libraries.” Think about it – libraries basically mean collections, which is right-on. But you can have a private library in your house that you don’t share with anyone off the street, but then there are public libraries that contain media that anyone can access. I want to have both, and I want them to be definable.

That way, anyone using Windows 7’s awesome “Media Streaming” features will be able to easily get my “public” files of Music/Movies/TV shows/Funny Cat JPGs, but I can keep my Home Movies and personal pictures to myself. Libraries are (on the way to being) a great idea to consolidate your files, but until we can separate what we want shared and what we don’t, they’ll never reach their full potential.