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Take Your Files Public in Vista

By Joseph Moran

People who share a single Vista PC normally store files into their personal—and sometimes private— account folders. That makes sense, but there are certain kinds of files —especially multimedia stuff like photos, music, or videos—that might you want everyone in the family to have access to.

In addition to the individual account folders, Vista also has a Public folder that’s available to anyone logged into the system. By storing the files you want to share in the Public folder and then configuring the Public folder for access over the network, you can ensure that all members of your household have easy access to the files, not only from the computer they’re stored on, but from other systems you have around the house as well.

Going Public

Vista’s Public folder resides in the Users folder along with the personal folder for each Windows account. A convenient way to access the Public folder is to choose Documents from the Start menu, then click More (under Favorite Links) which will offer an option to open the Public folder. You’ll notice that the Public Folder contains the same series of subfolders for documents, music, pictures, video, etc. that individual account folders do, which makes it easy to keep different kinds of files organized.

By default, the Public folder is only accessible to those logged directly into the system, so you need to change a few settings in Vista’s Network and Sharing Center to allow access to it from the network. You can get to the Network and Sharing Center from the Control Panel or from the right-click context menu of the network connection icon found in the Windows tray.

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To enable Public folder sharing across your network, look for the Sharing and Discovery settings and choose Public Folder Sharing. From here you can choose the level of Public folder access you want to permit. If you choose the first option, network users will be able to browse the contents of folders and open (or make copies of) the files within. When you go with the second option, they’ll also be able to modify or delete existing files as well as create new ones. (The network discovery and file sharing features must be turned on in order to enable Public folder sharing over the network, so after you pick an option and click Apply, both will be enabled if they weren’t already.)

But Not Too Public …

Once Public folder sharing is turned on, it will be visible to and accessible by anybody connected to your network. This isn’t where you want to leave things, though because it exposes your Public folder to any visitors or guests that you’ve given network access to, and if you have a Wi-Fi network without encryption turned on (and shame on you if you do), it could include the guy next door or across the street.

To guard against unauthorized access, you’ll want to enable password-protected sharing so that only those with accounts on the system where the Public folder resides will be able to get to it. To do this, select Password Protected Sharing and turn it on, which will ensure that anyone who tries to access the Public folder will be prompted for their account username and password. (If, when trying to access the Public folder, someone is logged in with the same account username and password they use on the Public folder system, access will be granted without a login prompt.)


Because Public folder sharing is designed for simplicity rather than flexibility, it applies the same access rights to everyone. This means you can’t configure access rights for individual users. Allow one member of your household to change files and another to only read them, for example.

Once you set up Public folder sharing, you’ll want to remind everyone who uses the system that it’s available for storage of the data they want to share (old habits die hard). Finally, when transferring existing data to the Public folder, it’s better to move the files rather than copy them, because the latter will result in redundant copies of some files, and thus wasted hard drive space.

Joseph Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.
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