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Along with a multitude of other features and functions, Windows 7 received a major overhaul in the way its file system is structured. If you’ve gone looking for your “My Documents" folder under Documents and Settings, you’ve probably noticed it’s no longer there.
In a nutshell, your old Documents and Settings folder has been replaced by a folder called “Users". It makes more sense to call it Users, but the change can be pretty jarring if you were used to earlier versions of Windows’ file structure.
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The Users Folder
Under the Users folder, you will see folders for each user account on the machine as well as a Default and Public folder.
The Default folder can be thought of as a template for your user folders. When a user is created, the Default folder is used to create the new user profile. If you want all new users on a computer to have a specific icon on their desktop, you can place it under the default\desktop folder. Note that this doesn't affect existing profiles. See Figure 1 for an example structure under the Default folder.
The Public folder is used to share files with other users on a computer, or if you enable network access, with others on your network. It's a pre-built file structure for sharing files – saving you from the need to manually create shares.
The user folder (named after the user account that owns the folder) contains most of the settings and documents that are tied to your profile. The default save location for Office and most other applications will be under your profile.
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Your profile will be located under c:\users\<username> assuming you performed a default installation of Windows. Under your profile folder will be several folders – each serving a specific purpose.
One of the most important folders under your profile is the AppData folder. This folder is hidden by default and contains many of the unique settings and customizations you’ve done. Anything from Microsoft Office custom dictionaries, offline storage files and other application settings are stored here.
Other folders of importance are the Desktop, Documents, Favorites and Downloads folders. These folders are what I refer to as your core profile folders. While the AppData folder contains a lot of behind the scenes settings and folders, the core profile folders are folders you likely interact with on a daily basis.
You may notice in Figure 2 the numerous “My…" folders – My Documents, My Music, etc. These are left here for compatibility reasons with legacy applications (written for Windows XP) that may expect certain folder structures to exist. If you try going into the “My Documents" folder, you will notice that you don’t have access - this is by design. The My Documents folder is what is called a “junction point" – an OS level shortcut that points applications attempting to use “My Documents" and point them to the Documents folder instead.
Take a look at my other article entitled “Explaining the File Structure of User Profiles in Windows 7" for more details pertaining to specific folders under the Windows 7 profile.