The importance of ‘My Documents’
may sound stupid to talk about something as baseline and primitive as the ‘My
Documents’ folder. But the issue here is that baseline things, if not used properly,
even by IT pros, become a problem. Therefore, even such absolute basics need
to be dealt with sometimes. Further, there is more to ‘My Documents’ than just
existing as a mapped directory.
Most users store files in an unplanned manner. Users
tend to create directories in an ad-hoc manner. Some users create directories
with their names, others create directories for various types of documents,
some create folders for specific projects/assignments, and so on. This way,
user-created files get scattered all across the hard disk, and could lead to
lots of problems and disadvantages:
1. Searching for a specific file becomes more and
more difficult as the number of files and directories grows.
2. Taking backups becomes tedious because you have
to include multiple directories to the list.
3. If you want to change the computer or the hard
disk, it is quite possible that you forget to copy a particular directory
and lose its data.
4. If multiple users use the same computer, the
complexity of file management increases even further. Also multiple users
may create directories with same name, adding to the confusion.
5. For compressing, encrypting or checking for
viruses, you need to remember every directory that could contain user data.
The solution to all these problems rests within the
‘My Documents’ folder. Now, the first thing we have to understand is that this
folder is mapped differently for each user on the same computer. It is also
important to understand that most applications, including VS.NET and other tools,
consider ‘My Documents’ as the default location for your work.
The actual directory of ‘My Documents’ is by default
within your profile directory. Therefore if your name is ‘Sample’, the default
path would be:
C:\ Documents and Settings\Sample\My Documents
However, if you already have a directory with your name
somewhere, say F:\ nitin, then the directory can be mapped to ‘My Documents’.
You do not have to copy the contents from your personal directory to the actual
location of ‘My Documents’.
How do you map your own directory to ‘My Documents’?
are the steps:
1. Open Explorer.
2. Locate ‘My Documents’ and right-click on it.
3. Choose Properties.
4. The dialog shows the default path of the ‘My
Docu ments’ Folder.
5. Browse and choose the path where your files
6. Choose Apply and close.
7. That is all.
Optionally you can move the target directory to the
How to show and auto-expand ‘My Documents’?
Once you have all your work in this folder, you would
have to navigate within ‘My Documents’ very often. So how do you simplify this?
The Start Menu – Documents, anyway shows ‘My Documents’.
This opens Explorer and shows the contents. However, there is a simpler way.
You can make the ‘My Documents’ in Start Menu automatically
expand and show all the directories and subdirectories as a part of the Start
Menu itself. This makes navigation quicker.
do you achieve this?
1. Right-click on any empty area on the Task Bar
and choose Properties
2. Choose the Advanced tab. There is a list of
check boxes under the heading Start Menu Settings. Scroll down and enable
the box – Expand ‘My Documents’.
3. Close the dialog.
4. Now choose Start Menu – Documents – ‘My Documents’.
5. The entire directory structure of ‘My Documents’
now opens up as a standard menu.
6. This is very convenient and fast. The first
time you access it, this may take some time to display if you have lots of
documents in the ‘My Documents’ window.
Indexing ‘My Documents’ for quicker search
In an earlier article we saw how to include custom directories
for indexing and fast searching. The ‘My Documents’ folder is already a part
of a system catalog. Therefore, you can directly use the Query The Catalog option
of indexing service MMC to perform free text as well as complex query searches
on the contents of the ‘My Documents’ folder.
Redirecting ‘My Documents’ to a server!
Now here is a great tip to benefit users and administrators.
Store things in the ‘My Documents’ folder was just the start. There is much
more to it from an organisational IT management perspective.
As we saw in the past section, it is possible to make
any folder map to ‘My Documents’. But that was a folder on the local hard disk.
How about a folder on a network computer? Logically possible, right? In fact,
this is the recommended method of managing user data securely and centrally
in a structured manner.
The pity is that very few administrators know about
this and implement this feature. Like so many other great features, this is
simply ignored or under-utilised.
Nevertheless, following the TechForum tradition of showing
hidden value I will proceed to explain the benefits hoping that at least after
reading this article, people start using this great feature.
This is implemented using the Folder Redirection feature
of Group Policies of Windows 2000 and above.
Group Policies are a feature of Windows 2000, which
provides centralised configuration and control over local computer settings.
do we want to redirect ‘My Documents’? Because we want to centralise user data.
Normally when we ask users to store their files on a server, they tend to forget
and end up storing data locally. Here we do not need to inform users that something
has changed. They continue to store data on the ‘My Documents’ folder in the
regular Windows Save dialog. Internally the operating system redirects the folder
to a server folder.
Of course, users need to be informed about this if they
are using Laptops. For laptop users, they will need to decide which files they
will need while disconnected from the network and use the file replication/briefcase
feature to synchronise the files and carry offline copies.
There are two ways of redirecting ‘My Documents’ from
users to a server.
1. Redirect all users to a single folder on the
2. Redirect the ‘My Documents’ folder of each user
to a user-specific subdirectory of a server directory.
The second option is preferred as it segregates the
data for each user.
1. To configure this, start the Active Directory
Group Policy MMC snapin.
2. From the tree view on the left side choose the
Policy-Name\ User Configuration\ Windows Settings\ Folder Redirection option.
3. Here you can view the ‘My Documents’ folder
as a node.
4. Right-click and choose Properties.
5. Here you can choose the type of redirection
you want—Basic means single server directory and Advanced means separate directory
for each user.
6. The dialog shows how this is managed.
7. You need to specify a server path of a directory
for each group of users. The redirection policy works for user groups, not
individual users (doing this would be too cumbersome). For each group you
have to specify a UNC path (\ \ server\ sharename). Within this directory,
for each user within the group, a separate directory will be created and files
will be redirected automatically.
course there are more options to manage other aspects like the user being taken
out of a group or the policy changing. It is beyond the scope of this article,
but those are easily understood by referring to the related help files.
Why redirect ‘My Documents’ to a server location?
Here are the benefits:
1. Users no longer have to logon to their desktop
computer to get their documents. They can logon to any network machine!
2. For laptop users, the Offline files feature
still provides all the files locally and provides automated synchronisation
with the server folder.
3. There is a feature called ‘roaming profiles’.
Usually this means that the contents of ‘My Documents’ are copied to the roaming
profile. When ‘My Documents’ is stored on the server, the only thing the roaming
profile needs to copy is the server folder path. This is very fast and efficient.
4. As mentioned earlier, centralised backup now
becomes very convenient and reliable. Administrators no longer have to rely
on individual users to keep machines on, or cease work on files at the predetermined
backup time. Usually users never have the discipline of taking regular backups.
In this case, they are not even required to be aware that backups are being
5. You can limit the storage capacity per group
of users, preventing them from using excessive space. This is called disk
6. If the local computer fails or the hard disk
fails or the OS gets corrupted, data recovery typically becomes a problem.
Here the data is always on the server (which typically has more fault tolerance).
Therefore organisational data is protected from hardware failure or any other
Call to action
I would seriously request all administrators and network
designers to look at centralised ‘My Documents’ implementation using Active
Directory. It has too many benefits to ignore such a great facility.
I started writing about ‘My Documents’ as a small section
in the article. However, as you can see, this has become a full-featured discussion.
This only goes to show that even small things that we often take for granted
can actually have much more to offer. This is just another example of what I
have called "false sense of knowledge" in an earlier article (Caching
The bottom line is — Keep learning. Do not assume you
||About the Author:Dr Nitin
Paranjape is the Chairman and MD of Maestros (Mediline). He is a consultant
with many organisations, covering appropriate technology utilisation, business
application of relevant technology, application architecture and audit as
well as knowledge transfer. He has authored more than 650 articles on various
technology-related subjects. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org