Microsoft wants you to share files by buying space on SkyDrive, so it goes to great lengths to hide the Windows 8.1 Public folders. But they’re there. Windows 8.1 supports two very different ways for sharing files and folders:

  • Move the files or folders that you want to share into the \Public folder. The \Public folder is kind of a big cookie jar for everybody who uses your PC: Put a file or folder in the \Public folder so that all the other people who use your computer can get at it.

    The \Public folder is available to other people in your HomeGroup, if you have one, but you have little control over who, specifically, can get at the files and folders. (HomeGroups make it easier to set up sharing among Windows computers on a network.)

  • Share individual files or folders without moving them anywhere. When you share a file or folder, you can tell Windows to share the folder with everyone in your HomeGroup and with other users who log on to your computer, or you can specify exactly who can access the file or folder and whether they can just look at it or change or delete it.

You may think that simply moving a file or folder to the \Public folder would make it, well, public. At least to a first approximation, that’s exactly how things work.

Any file or folder that you put in the \Public folder, or any folder inside the \Public folder, can be viewed, changed, or deleted by anybody who’s using your computer, regardless of which kind of account she may have and whether she is required to log on to your computer.

In addition, anybody who can get into your computer through the network will have unlimited access. The \Public folder is (if you’ll pardon a rather stretched analogy) a big cookie jar, open to everybody who is in the kitchen.

Say you have an album in your \Music folder that you want to be available to everybody who has access to your computer, either by logging on to your computer with a different account or by being attached to your Homegroup. The easiest way to share that folder or album is by moving it to your Public\Music folder.

Here’s how to move a file into one of the Public folders:

  1. Start File Explorer.

    If you’re on the desktop, tap or click the icon down on the Taskbar that looks like a file folder. If you’re on the Start screen, click the tile for the desktop, then choose File Explorer.

  2. Navigate to the folder or file that you want to put in one of your Public folders. Right-click it (or tap and hold) and choose Copy.

  3. Here’s the tricky part. You want to navigate to the folder \Public\Music.

    To do so, on the left, double-click or tap This PC then, near the bottom of the list, double-click on Local Disk (C:). Double-click on Users, then Public, then Public Music.

    The Public folders are all hidden well away.

  4. Press Ctrl+V or right-click and choose Paste to paste the folder into the Public Music folder.

    From that point, anybody who has access to my Public Music folder can play the songs on the album.

Files and folders in the \Public folder may also be accessible to other computers connected to your network, workgroup, or domain, depending on various network settings.

Microsoft has made it extraordinarily difficult to get into your Public folders. That’s a shame, really, but it certainly does want to sell you SkyDrive space, by golly. Put a link to your Public folders in the File Explorer Favorites list. To do so, follow Step 3. When you see the Public folder on the right, just right-click it and drag it to the Favorites list on the left.