In an earlier article, Windows 8 Tip: Overcoming Library Limitations, I did something I don’t normally like to do in this series, and presented only part of the story. The problem is that the Metro style digital media apps in Windows 8—Photos, Xbox Music, and Xbox Video—work differently when it comes to how or whether they can access content from different locations. So this time around, I’d like to step back and examine just the Photos app explicitly, and perhaps a clearer picture will emerge.

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The Photos app: It looks nice, but it doesn't always recognize your own content for some reason

As a refresher, the Photos app is a full-screen, Metro-style experience for enjoying your own photos, ostensibly wherever they may be found. It provides links to your local photo collection as well as your photos on SkyDrive, Flickr, and Facebook, and on your other connected PCs.

(Photos also provides very basic photo acquisition capabilities. You’re better off using Photo Gallery or another more full-featured photo management application for this purpose, however.)

As with the other digital media apps, Photos uses the underlying Windows 8 libraries capability to determine which local photos to display, with the theory being that any locations you add to the Pictures library will show up automatically in Photos. That, of course, is not necessarily how it works.

By default, the Pictures library in Windows 8 aggregates two on-disk locations: My Pictures (typically C:\Users\your-user-name\Pictures) and Public Pictures (typically C:\Users\Public\Pictures). If this is where you store your pictures, Photos will work fine, and there’s no need to read any further.

If, however, you choose to modify the Pictures library configuration to point to other locations, your success rate will vary. So let’s take a look at the various locations you might use for this library and thus for the Photos app.

Removable device. What we mean here is basically a small capacity removable device such as an SD card, micro-SD card, or a USB memory stick. (USB hard drives work fine.) If you try to add such a device (or a folder on such a device) to a library in Windows 8, you’ll receive this error message.

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In Windows 8 Tip: Overcoming Library Limitations, I mentioned that you could overcome this limitation by creating a shortcut to the device and mapping the shortcut to the library (instead of the actual path). However, while this works fine with a micro-SD card on the Samsung tablet for some reason, it hasn’t worked in subsequent tests with SD and USB devices. So this isn’t going to work in most cases.

USB hard drive. You can add a location on a USB hard drive to the Pictures library, and the photos from that disk will show up just fine in Photos. Naturally, the drive has to be plugged in for this to work properly, but it does work.

Folder share on Windows 7/Windows Home Server 2011/Windows Server 2008. Windows 8 will let you add a folder share from a Windows 7, Windows Home Server 2011, or Windows Server 2008-based machine. (This is via the Network explorer and using a standard UNC path like \\VAIL\Pictures.) But the pictures in that folder will not display in Photos. It’s like they don’t exist.

Homegroup-based share on Windows 7/Windows Home Server 2011. Windows 8 will let you add a homegroup-based folder share from a Windows 7 or WHS 2011 PC to your Pictures library. But the pictures in that folder will not display in Photos. This surprises me, since adding a share this way to the Music or Videos libraries does allow that content to work with the respective Metro style app. Why does this work differently in Photos? I have no idea.

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The Photos app will not display content from Windows 7 or WHS 2011 based machines that is shared through a homegroup

Folder or homegroup-based share on Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012. Network shares on Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 should always work: You can add them to the library and their contents will show up as expected in Photos. This is true of both UNC paths (\\MICRO\Pictures) in Windows 8 and Server 2012 and homegroup-based folders in Windows 8.

Shares from older Windows versions. I’ve not yet tested shares from Windows XP or Windows Home Server (original version, which was based on Windows Server 2003) and am not sure that I will be able to do so. My email indicates that content in these shares is not working with the Photos app, however.

NAS-based share. I don’t have any non-Windows NAS (network-attached storage) devices to test, but based on my email, this isn’t working for anyone either. While it’s likely that individual NAS boxes have varying degrees of compatibility with Windows, my guess is that most people with these types of devices will experience issues. I’ll pick up an inexpensive NAS this week, but the reality is that my experiences here might not be completely relevant to what you’re seeing. That said, if you’re seeing an error related to indexing, you should consider trying the Win7 Library Tool.

So to wrap this up, it appears that pictures on local disks, on USB hard drives, and on Windows 8- or Windows Server 2012-based machines (shared either normally via UNC path or with the homegroup) will work fine with the Photos app. But if your photo collection is elsewhere on your home network—an older Windows machine or a NAS—you’re out of luck.

Of course, the Photos app, like the other Metro style apps in Windows 8, is a work in progress. I do think it’s odd that it appears to work a bit differently than the Xbox Music and Video apps with regards to accessing content in its respective library, but perhaps this and other issues we’re seeing now will be fixed over time as Microsoft improves this app (and the other apps). We can only hope.