The Scourge of Mapped Drives


I have this love-hate relationship with mapped drives, especially from a usability standpoint.

On one hand, they’re incredibly useful as shortcuts to lengthy, often hard-to-find network paths.

On the other hand, mapped drives suck for everyone else.  More to the point, when one user tries to leverage a mapped drive for other users, under the assumption that everyone has the exact same mapping.


A: I saved a file for you to look at.  It’s out on the network.”

B: Really?  Where?

A: On the X Drive.

B: I don’t have an X Drive.  Where’s it really located?

A: Go to ‘My Computer’, then look for ‘X…’

B: No, I mean there’s no ‘X’ on my machine…

Hilarity ensues.

This, of course, is not the fault of the user.  They’re playing by the rules of the operating system, which does them a service by making long, strange absolute network paths shorter and easier to get to. 

The problem is that by hiding addresses under drive letters, it becomes all too easy to start viewing them as local, shared paths.  “It’s got a letter on my machine, but I know it’s on the network, so everyone else should be able to see it…”  It becomes the assumed common knowledge of the infrastructure.

Only it’s not.  Not everyone’s machine gets imaged the same way; or maybe that’s a new path that only recently started getting used.  Either way, shares are never as common as most users assume; someone is going to miss it.  And when users go around talking about an “N-Drive”, “W-Drive”, what-have-you… it’s a safe bet someone will have no idea what they’re talking about.

Is there a better way?  I’m not sure.  But what every operating system should do in my opinion is find a clear way to let users know that mappings only conceal real addresses.  (In this context, “clear” does not mean just right-clicking on the drive and viewing Properties to get the full path).

Something that says to them “Psst… I know this looks like a W:\BigShare… path… but it’s really out on machine ABCDOMAIN2…

I know, I know… wishful thinking.


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