Are we finally ditching drive letters?

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I write this as a former Mac user who has fired Apple (for a number of reasons unrelated to this thread).

In macOS, all (visible) volumes mount on the Desktop automatically whether they're HFS+, APFS, FAT, NTFS; and whether the protocol is Firewire, USB, or eSata, etc. As long as the Mac has the appropriate wired connection, it's a done deal. Any apps that utilize those mounted volumes can and will access them no matter when they are mounted or even if the wired connection changes (ie, move the drive from an eSata enclosure to a USB dock). (I know that NTFS is not writable without add'l software but that's unrelated to this post.)

In Windows10, we have drive letters that, except for internal permanently mounted volumes, are assigned drives letters that are ephemeral even if specifically assigned during the formatting process if another drive mounts earlier and grabs that drive letter. As many apps rely upon drive letters in their preferences to locate their data files, it is not unusual for an app to find...or, rather, not find its data files.

"Drive letters" is an enormously stupid concept that hangs on from 1981. I expect this is because there are old farts (possibly older than I) who just can't let go of what we politely call legacy applications and, accordingly, developers keep plodding along because they don't want to be dragged over the coals for abandoning the base.

Now, there are some developers who do provide alternatives to drive letters; I'll shout out to 2BrightSparks' SyncBackSE as a (no pun intended) shining example of this. The app provides a choice to use drive letters, the name of the volume or the unique serial ID of the volume so if your backup drive appears as "L:" rather than "J:", the app is happy and proceeds. (Likewise, if another drive mounts as "J:", SyncBackSE won't treat it as a destination backup drive and erase it accidentally!}

Now, before a learned guru takes me to task (and I really do have tremendous respect for those who have already provided system-saving advice to me here!), I do know about not using a drive letter and accessing the volume through a shortcut but it's not mounted on the Desktop; and there lies the crux of the issue: This is a kludge, a clumsy workaround to a problem that Microsoft knows how to solve. The volumes have names (if only we would use them - and I do as a former Mac user) and, more importantly, have unique serial numbers that stay unique. Carbon Copy Cloner is an example of a Mac app that may be configured to use the unique volume ID when cloning; it will do this for both source and destination. Apple does not have a patent on this.

Microsoft needs to implement volumes on the Desktop automatically, advise developers to migrate their apps to the new paradigm (name/serial ID) and, in so doing, provide Windows users with the convenience that Mac users have had since day one.
 

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AlanWade

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rumplestiltskin

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You can hide drive letters with this tut:
Alan,

Appreciate your reply. However, that process is a cosmetic Windows Explorer kludge and will not fix the underlying issue of volumes with unassigned letters not appearing on the Desktop; furthermore, it doesn't address the issue of older apps using the path (with included drive letter) losing their data files when the drive letter changes.

In this instance, Apple got it right in 1984 and Microsoft just keeps ignoring the elephant in the room.
 

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zbook

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Please indicate whether a viable fix is clearing unused drive letters.
Then reboot.
 

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rumplestiltskin

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Please indicate whether a viable fix is clearing unused drive letters.
Then reboot.
Zbook, Thanks for your reply. However (and no offense intended), you have ignored the issue and are dancing around the problem.

As long as drive letters are underpinning the concept of volumes, the problem is baked into Windows. The answer is to jettison drive letters (as Apple has done with macOS since its introduction in 1984). Just imagine what you would use if drive letters just weren't there at all in any manner whatsoever at any level of the OS.

Once a volume has been formatted and given a name, that should be all that is required to make it appear on the Desktop. Providing unique names is the user's responsibility but don't we try to do that with files and folders now? That doesn't change. Of course, having the option to use a unique Serial ID (which Windows does create but is left undisclosed in Explorer) is an option (discussed in my initial post regarding SyncBackSE and Carbon Copy Cloner).

I'll add that macOS uses a Volumes directory where all mounted volumes appear. macOS then just mounts them on the Desktop with the volume names displayed. Maybe there's some sort of hack in Win10? If I move the shortcut to a volume I've created (without a drive letter) to the Desktop, that isn't a viable option because double-clicking on it won't work if the volume isn't plugged in. The shortcut should only appear just like any volume that does have a drive letter assigned.
 

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zbook

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rumplestiltskin

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It occurs to me that Windows knows when a volume is mounted even when not providing a drive letter to that volume. A search at 10Forums revealed this. So, rather than curse the darkness, I wonder if there's a way to know when such a mounting(?) has taken place and then programmatically move the appropriate shortcut to the Desktop. Of course, then I'd need some automation to reverse that move once the volume has been unmounted. Essentially, that emulates what macOS has always done.
 

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rumplestiltskin

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hsehestedt

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Every volume has a GUID ID apart from the drive letter. As an example, if I run the command "mountvol", I see this:

\\?\Volume{58fe90dc-9cbb-45c9-8af3-d013d1accfae}\
E:\

\\?\Volume{4ff1f239-4e98-4264-acf5-7bb1486c4897}\
F:\

\\?\Volume{1f6a1e12-f309-4f8a-82ca-d16a7ac4d7e4}\
C:\

\\?\Volume{cdaf931f-f3c5-4927-bcd3-05a4ddd5b774}\
*** NO MOUNT POINTS ***

\\?\Volume{81f18c5c-9650-47c4-9196-bd44b3aaa978}\
D:\

\\?\Volume{e13a6857-7c48-65d6-5d51-3391bc089caf}\
*** NO MOUNT POINTS ***

\\?\Volume{dd113c3f-dd9e-4f84-a278-171c5d33f147}\
*** NO MOUNT POINTS ***

The interesting thing to me is that some commands and some operations within the Windows GUI will accept those references to a drive, while many others do not. Most notably, at least for me personally, is the lack of support for these by robocopy. If robocopy would accept those references it would make it so much easier than having to jump through hoops to determine what drive letter was assigned to a device.
 

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hsehestedt

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Some more thoughts on this topic:

You could create a share for removable media so that it can always be accessed using common name regardless of what drive letter it picks up. For example:

\\MyFlashDrive1\Root

Similarly, you could create a mountpoint to use either in addition to or instead of a drive letter. So as an example, the flash drive would always show up as:

C:\Mountpoints\FlashDrive1
 

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johnlgalt

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Lol yeah. GUID is the way to go to better access files, particularly on removable drives, common name being second best. I can make multiple drives with the same common name, but the GUIDs would still be different.

But - it's also a PITA to try to remember dd113c3f-dd9e-4f84-a278-171c5d33f147 - or anything like it.
 

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hsehestedt

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Ultimately, what would be cool is if you could assign some sort of memorable alias to a GUID, like "DocsForWork", etc.
 

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johnlgalt

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It would be nice. Completely get rid of the fixed drive letters. Assign common names based upon GUID, which would then never change no matter what orientation you put your drives in, even physically.

But that would make too much sense.... :ROFLMAO:
 

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RJARRRPCGP

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A lot of computing back in the 1980s, didn't even use drive letters, TMK. It would probably be drive numbers.
Now, back then, it would be "disk 1" and the like for a drive and for a file path and name, it would be something more like "disk1/meow" for example.
 

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johnlgalt

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DOS based machines did (although my knowledge of DOS only goes back to the 2.x series, (and that was technically TandyDOS, not IBMDOS or MS-DOS, which I only started playing with on ver 3.x (3.2, maybe?) so can';t say if it was always a thing).

Windows - definitely did.

The TI 99-4/A only made backups to a cassette tape, so it didn't really access it via a drive letter - but it also wasn't DOS based to begin with.

Don't have much experience with other systems at that time. A lot of my friends were into Cocos and Commodores, but I never actually paid attention how the drives were accessed.
 

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rumplestiltskin

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According to what I've been able to determine (and I'm no expert), it appears there isn't a system event when a drive mounts in the shortcut (folder) without a drive letter. I probably could confirm that if I create an automatic backup plan using FSSDev's Casper (which I use to clone my "C" drive but that has a drive letter).

If I create a sharepoint (as hsehestedt suggests), the problem might be worked around. I have an old Mac mini I use for a media server and there's a sharepoint in "this PC". I powered off the mini, refreshed the window, and saw the sharepoint with a large red X. Once I powered the mini back on, the sharepoint returned to its normal appearance shortly. I'll have to try that with one of the (USB-connected) drives to which I've not assigned a drive letter. I'll report back in tomorrow.

Regarding johnlgalt's comment - Yes, the unique ID is an awful "name" so a good plain (yet unique) English one should be fine. For anything automated, however (like a backup), using the unique Serial ID (within the app - we wouldn't see it in Explorer) is perfect so we don't accidentally substitute a same-named drive. (Hey! It can happen, right?)

I'm feeling a bit better about all this. I only miss a very few things about my old Mac: Mounted volumes actually appearing on the Desktop, Apple Mail. (Thunderbird is -meh- but everything else is worse; I use Google for my contacts and calendars so Outlook isn't an option.)

Thanks for the suggestions and comments.

Barry
 

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rumplestiltskin

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Tried hsehestedt's suggestion but could not get the shared drive to appear in "This PC" so no luck there.

I guess the "mount in an NTFS folder" would be useful if it would give some indication whether the drive is actually mounted or not. As such, it provides the same uselessness that macOS share aliases provide. You don't know whether the drive is actually mounted until you double-click on it and, if it's not, eventually you'll get an error message. There's a nice suggestion: Change the folder icon to indicate whether it's mounted!

Yeah, I know; I'm cursing the darkness again...
 

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jimbo45

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It occurs to me that Windows knows when a volume is mounted even when not providing a drive letter to that volume. A search at 10Forums revealed this. So, rather than curse the darkness, I wonder if there's a way to know when such a mounting(?) has taken place and then programmatically move the appropriate shortcut to the Desktop. Of course, then I'd need some automation to reverse that move once the volume has been unmounted. Essentially, that emulates what macOS has always done.
Or linux -- simply use lsblk to list "block devices" in your system then mount /dev /sdx -t auto -o rw /mountpoint where mountpoint is any name you like and then your file explorer just needs to point at directory /mountpoint. Standard UNIX type . Same for Mac OS or any"Unix" type derivatives.

Much easier than using UUID's -- especially if you use simple names like music1, cat, rubbish_films etc etc.
Cheers
jimbo
 

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swarfega

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LInux also uses UUIDs, namely in fstab to mount drives.
 

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rumplestiltskin

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lsblk? Doesn't do anything in the CMD prompt. I probably didn't follow your drift. :unsure: :)
 

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