Whether you’re leaping directly from Windows XP to Windows 7 or you stopped in Vista territory along the way, you’ll find that the latest version of Microsoft’s operating system handles media files in several new ways. The methods for photo and video importing, editing, and exporting have been all updated. You have new options for sharing and streaming files between computers. And media libraries become more-versatile vessels for finding and managing media files. I’ll explain how to get started with these and other entertainment features of Windows 7.
Check Out the Libraries
Windows 7 manages media files differently than previous Windows OSs did. It retains the familiar Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders, but you can assign additional library locations in order to collect your media files more dynamically.
The libraries in Windows 7 organize file types to help applications find media more easily. By default, programs look to the Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders instead of having to scrutinize your whole disk. Windows XP and Vista tied media libraries to those specific folder locations. For example, Windows Media Player watched vigilantly over C:Users[username]Music. Then, anytime you added new audio files to that folder, Media Player showed them in your music library. If you wanted Media Player to look for media in other areas–say, in the iTunes music folder or in another user’s music library–you had to add the new locations manually within the program.
In Windows 7, the Pictures, Videos, Music, and Documents folders are not the only doors into those libraries; you can add any other disk location you like, and library-savvy applications will automatically pool media wherever it’s stored.
Instead of manually curating media in the traditional user folders, you can turn any folder into a library. Applications will know where to find media, and you can keep your computer organized in whatever way you want.
For example, you can turn a networked folder into an auxiliary library, or even pool music files from a different user on the same PC. Or transform your Downloads folder into a library, instantly putting MP3 and video downloads into media applications. Here’s how (the process is the same for any of these situations).
Open the Start Menu, and click your username. Open the Downloads folder, and pick Include in library, Music. Then select Include in library, Movies. Henceforth, without your having to open them immediately after downloading them, your PC will automatically slurp music and movie files into Windows Media Player.
To remove the library status of a folder, open a window in the desktop and then navigate to that library folder in the left pane. In our case, the menu path is Libraries, Music, Downloads. Right-click the library-enabled folder–Downloads–and choose Remove location from library.
Get Windows Live Essentials
Windows 7’s standard installation omits some previously bundled Windows software, including Photo Gallery and Movie Maker, but you can still download these apps at the Windows Live Essentials download page. Click Download on the right side, and save and run the file.
In the installer, mark the checkbox for each piece of software you want to add. If you’re on the prowl for useful multimedia options, check Photo Gallery, Movie Maker Beta, and Silverlight. (You’re likely to encounter Silverlight video-streaming sites such as Netflix, so you might as well add it to Windows 7 now.) Click Install, and after several minutes, okay the final prompts to exit the installation. (I skipped changing my default home page and other needy-relationship-style requests.)
You can sign up for a Windows Live ID if you wish, or just click Close. Windows 7 uses the ID to share photos and other media online–and you’ll want one for streaming files over the Internet–but it’s not required for most application features.