After some recent articles about the advantages of storing your data, and even your programs, on drives other than C:, subscriber Tom wrote to ask:
I have read Separate Your Data from the Operating System For A More Effective Backup Strategy and Separating Data from Program Files, but what is really needed is the meat of how to do this. Sure, you can setup folders in the D: drive (or whatever drive you choose), but Windows by default has marked certain folders as "My Documents", "My Pictures", etc.
How does one go about changing all of those so "all" programs naturally find your new locations without you jumping through hoops each time to select your alternate locations on D:? There must be some "registry" edits we can do that will now have these default locations to be on D:.
I would like information on XP and VISTA.
I wrote back to Tom to tell him that he must be psychic. It’s coming, as is information on a free partition management tool which can non-destructively resize your C: partition without forcing deletion, creation of smaller partitions, installation of Windows, etc. I used it with my Windows 7 notebook.
You can do it either way – setting up your own data storage folders that are not tied to My Documents , My Music, etc. (which has certain security advantages). Or, you can change Windows settings to point My Documents (which contains My Music, etc. in XP) to another folder on another drive.
First, a quick refresher: One advantage of separating your data to a different partition or drive than C: (assuming Windows is installed on C:) is that you can restore your operating system without losing all your data. Another advantage is that your data backups are smaller and take less time, if you don’t have to back up the operating system, too.
Of the two ways to separate the data (and programs, if you like) one can be done easily without any special changes to your computer.
All you have to do, assuming you have a second physical hard drive in the computer or an external drive you want to use as your regular storage device (not really a good choice, though), is to create a "Data" directory on that drive. For programs, I chose to create a similar "Program Files" directory on my D: drive.
Without any other changes, Windows continues to use C:\Program Files as its choice for storing programs when you install them. It also continues to use My Documents for storing data files.
By the way, Windows 7 handles My Music and My Videos differently than Windows XP does. These are directories under My Documents in Windows XP, while in Windows 7, they are parallel directories with My Documents.
Since the early days of virus programs, well before we worried about spyware and most other types of malware, that has been my choice.
I create multiple partitions on my hard drives. Then, I create a directory on my D: or E: drive and name it Data. If I have both D: and E: drives, I will often create a D:\Program Files directory and an E:\Data directory. Otherwise, I’ll install programs to C: and store my data files in my D:\Data folder.
Then, I will install programs into the D:\Program Files directory and store my data, including the things that would normally be stored in My Documents in my E:\Data directory.
Why did I get started doing this?
Well, first, for the reasons above about backing up data. The second was to protect my data.
I didn’t like the concept of pre-defined directories for storing data. At the time, the bad guys were destructive (in today’s world, they’re usually trying to get your banking information, or to use your computer as a source of attack against other computers).
If some malware software managed to run on my computer, I didn’t want my data files to be in a location where the program would expect to find them. So, I didn’t use My Documents for my data.