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Starting in Windows Server 2008 and continuing into Windows Server 2012, Microsoft in their infinite wisdom removed the “sharing hand” icon overlay from shared folders. Personally, I disagree with that decision whole-heartedly because I appreciated having quick visibility into shared resources from Windows Explorer. The screenshot shows you the overlay icon for a Windows 2000 Server shared folder.
Sharing hand folder icon
By way of contrast, check out these two folders on my Windows Server 2012 file server before I shared one:
Windows Server 2012 folders (before sharing)
Now take another look at the folders after I shared out DOCS:
Windows Server 2012 folders (after sharing)
Can you say, “Counter-intuitive?!” This icon behavior is frustrating, isn’t it? In this blog post we’ll first examine Microsoft’s official party line response to this issue. Then I will show you two free workarounds that give us our beloved shared hand overlays back.
Microsoft’s “answer” to the missing sharing hand ^
If you perform some Web searching, you’ll find that many Windows users have complained to Microsoft about their decision to remove the sharing hand icon overlay. Microsoft’s official response is that painting the overlays on multiple folders drains valuable system resources. Also, the “sharing hand” overlay doesn’t contribute to Microsoft’s vision of usability.
Following are the specific ways that Microsoft gives us to locate our shared folders:
Look in the status bar. If we open a folder that happens to be shared in Windows Explorer, we can see the state of the folder in the status bar. I show you this in the next screenshot.
Viewing the sharing state of a folder
The problems here are that (a) It isn’t intuitive to examine the status bar to see folder status; and (b) The status bar is visible only if we enter a folder. What if we want to see 1,000 folders at once in an Explorer window?
Use net share. As I’m sure you already know, we can issue net share from a command prompt or PowerShell session to view all shares, administrative and user-created, on a system. Take a look for yourself:
The net share command is used to view shared folders on a system.
The concern I have with this method is that I don’t always work in a command-line environment with Windows. Sometimes it is simply easier and more accurate to use drag and drop between multiple Explorer windows.
Use the Shared Folders MMC snap-in. Sure enough, the Shared Folder snap-in reveals all shared folders on a given Windows system. This can be observed in in the next screenshot.
Using the Shared Folders MMC snap-in to view shares
However, none of the aforementioned “workarounds” gives administrators an “at-a-glance” view of shared vs. non-shared folders directly from Windows Explorer. By contrast, the sharing hand icon overlay provided immediate visual feedback in this regard.
Fortunately for us, there exist at least two true workarounds that I know of. One is acceptable only for small shops; the other is applicable whether you manage 5 shares or 5,000.
Workaround #1: Edit the icon directly ^
Right-click the shared folder in question and select Properties from the shortcut menu. Navigate to the Customize tab and click Change icon.
We now can drill into %SystemRoot%/System32/shell32.dll or %SystemRoot%/System32/imageres.dll and select a more appropriate icon for the shared resource. I show you this process in the following screenshot.
Specifying a custom icon in Windows Explorer
As I said earlier, this tedious procedure is acceptable if you manage a small number of relatively static shared folders. However, enterprise administrators with thousands of shares in their scope of control need a more powerful and reasonable solution.
Workaround #2: Install Classic Shell on file servers ^
Do yourself a favor and download the free Classic Shell utility on your Windows Server file servers. This tool gives us plenty of control over graphical shell behavior in both Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows Server 2012.
Specifically, if you open Classic Shell Explorer and enable the All Settings option, you can then navigate to the File Pane tab and select Add icon overlay for shared folders. See the screenshot for details.
Restoring shared folder overlays
Note from the screenshot that (a) we can dip into multiple icon resource DLL files to find appropriate icons (even custom icons, for that matter); and (b) the change is system-wide. That is, every single shared folder on the system picks up the change in one fell swoop.
As an unexpected side bonus, Classic Shell also restores the classic Start menu! This feature should bring some smiles to some Windows administrators I know.
Classic Shell Start Menu
Normally, I would advise against installing a third-party utility (especially a GUI add-on) on Windows Server systems. However, I find Classic Shell simply makes the Windows Server 2012 GUI environment immensely more usable and comfortable.