XP versus Vista and 7
The title is somewhat misleading. We're not going to go over the ins and outs of XP, Vista, and 7, we're not going to be comparing their kernels, hardware, structure of the OS, etc... This is simply on the drastic differences between the XP file system and the Vista/7 file system. Any user that switches from one OS to the other will notice that their files are stored differently.
XP was somewhat revolutionary back in the day because it was a stable OS based on Windows NT, it was unlike any other Windows OS at the time, the themes were great, the graphics were state of the art, and the list goes on and on.
One advantage XP had over previous Windows Operating Systems was the file structure, how data was stored in the folders on the hard drive. This new file structure was an easy way to navigate through the hard drive to quickly find exactly the file you need. The file tree was easy to remember and it looked like the following:
This diagram does require some explanation, however. Admin, All Users, and Username (this is your account) do not all share "My Documents". They are actually three difference types that they share. Think of this as it's own user so no files are shared with the others.
All Users (Shared Documents and Programs)
Each user has their own documents, favorites, etc... All Users will grab anything that is shared including programs, documents, startup programs such as anti-virus, and shared desktop items like shortcuts, etc.
Vista and Windows 7
Vista and Windows 7 have a different file structure than XP and is even easier to find files and folders in my opinion. One big advantage is the cut of "documents and settings" and it being replaced by "users". Here is the general vista and 7 file structures:
From this chart, we can see that the path to files is significantly neater than XP. There are fewer directories to deal with, less typing involved in the command prompt environment, key directories like music and pictures are not embedded in my documents folder anymore, and many more advantages.
As mentioned for the XP file structure above, Your Account and Public will not contain the same files and same directory names. They are two different users; however, Vista and Windows 7 illustrate this concept much more clearly then XP does.