Backing Up the \Users Folder in Vista

Microsoft has taken a step towards making computers more friendly for non-computer professionals with the Windows Vista operating systems. While Vista may seem a little confusing to many of us who have years of experience with computers, it is actually better for the average person because Microsoft has hidden some of the complexities that were present in earlier versions of Windows. Most common functions are presented in natural language that is easily understood by non-computer people.

One of the areas where things have changed is the file system. The concept of drive letters and directories has all but disappeared. Now someone like me, and probably you since you are reading this blog, wants to know where things are stored and how the information is structured. I don't know about you, but I am not satisfied just saving my files in the "documents" folder. My grandmother is happy to just click save and be done with it, but I want to know what drive my stuff is on. I want to know what drive and what folders to backup.

I have a computer in my house that everyone in the family uses. That includes my wife, three children, and occasionally myself. I use an online backup system to automatically backup my primary work computer every night and store the files offsite. I also use online backup for the family computer. I had to do some poking around to figure out where Windows Vista stores user files. They are actually all neatly stored under a /Users folder. This is similar to the old "Documents and Settings" folder that we all know about on XP. It first appears that just backing up the \Users folder would do the job, and it will. But, selecting the \Users folder is actually troublesome because Microsoft has some hidden symbolic links in the \Users folder. Symbolic links are special files that actually represent other folders or files that reside in completely different locations. The problem is that the \Users contains a hidden system folder named All Users, which is actually a symbolic link to \ProgramData. \ProgramData mostly contains data that wouldn't usually be backed up, but the real problem is that the All Users folder, which is just a link, doesn't have permissions that would allow any normal process to access it. This same problem surfaces again with other links that are down in the \Users folders within the actual data folders.

I have scrapped the idea of just backing up the \Users folder. I don't mind backing up some extra temporary data that is located under \Users, but I haven't quite figured out the best way to handle the permissions problems. The best solution that I have found so far, is to select each user's documents folder with in the \Users folder.

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