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Windows 8 Secrets: Changing a Custom Library Icon

Rafael and I have been working on our upcoming book, Windows 8 Secrets, since earlier this summer, but in earnest now that we have a near-final developer preview build to work from. Part of this work involves laborious side-by-side comparisons of the Windows 7 user interfaces that have carried over to Windows 8, because this next book will be a complete rewrite that covers only those things that are new or changed in the new OS. And as we work our way through these comparisons, some small but interesting changes have caught our attention.

This is one of them.

As you may recall, Microsoft introduced libraries in Windows 7, though the virtual folder technology behind them first appeared previously, in Windows Vista. Libraries are virtual folders that aggregate content from one or more physical folders, and in the case of the built-in libraries in Windows 7--Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos--these folders are what used to be known as special shell folders.  So the Documents library, by default, displays information from the current user's My Documents folder as well as the Public Documents folder.

You can customize libraries in various ways, and you can also create your own custom libraries, such as for a special project or for certain groups of content that you'd like to keep separate from the default libraries for some reason.

This all carries over in Windows 8, and for the most part, Windows 8 libraries work just like Windows 7 libraries. The same default set is available, you can customize them largely as before, and so on. But there are some changes to libraries in Windows 8. And one of them involves custom libraries.

In Windows 7, when you created a custom library, you could optimize the view based on the types of items the virtual folder would display; available choices included General Items, Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos. But you always received a stock libraries icon, and changing the optimization type wouldn't change the icon.

In Windows 8, finally, you can arbitrarily change the icon for custom libraries. Note, however, that this capability extends only to custom libraries, and not the built-in libraries (still Documents, Music, Pictures, and Videos). And while that's a shame, power users will still appreciate being able to customize their custom libraries with a new icon.

Here's how.

First, open Windows Explorer, which defaults to the Libraries view. Here, if you right-click a default library and choose Properties, you'll see that there are a few changes from the same dialog in Windows 7.


First, the Include a folder button has been renamed to Add. A new button, called Set public save location, allows you to set a new libraries options, for a public save location. (In Windows 7,  you could only set the current user's save location.) And finally, there's a new Change library icon option, though that's grayed out for default libraries like Documents.

Check the properties sheet for custom library, however, and that option is now available.


To change the icon, click the Change library icon button. This will display the Change Icon dialog, which will by default show a great collection of new and old Windows icons. (Some actually date back to Windows 95.) Select the icon you want and click OK.


Now, your custom library has a new icon.


Note: Power users will typically hide the humongous Explorer ribbon in Windows 8, but if you prefer to use that, this option is available from the ribbon as well. Simply select the library icon you'd like to change and then select Change icon from the ribbon.


I'm guessing there is a way to change the default library icons as well, even though this feature isn't available in the Desktop user interface. If you know of a way to accomplish this in the Windows 8 Developer Preview without using a third party application, please let me know.

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