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In my Windows (and long ago in my DOS days) setup, I use a separate partition to store all of my data files. I've always hated the concept of "My Documents," "My Pictures," etc. I instead use a separate partition and then manually edit the confounded Windows registry to point these silly named directories to my E: partition.
In the 'nix world this problem is partially solved by the way those OSs require users to store files in their home directory. That is not so bad for single users on single workstations, but I got to thinking about how this concept applies to a "bigger" world. Certainly as long as I am the sole user on a single workstation I can merely house my data files somewhere in ~/.
But suppose there are data files that need to be shared, say, for example, a family photo album. I'd like to stay in conformity with the 'nix file system hierarchy. Suppose there is one workstation shared by one or more users, which is common in many households. What would be a typical method used to store these common data files? Do I create a directory called /home/public or /home/shared and then for each user mount that point as a distinct directory?
Similarly, suppose this idea expands not to only multiple users, but multiple boxes? What then is the appropriate or typical way to create a shared directory with common data files, say, among two users each using their own box?
In a somewhat related question, how do I hide other user directories? If somebody logs in as user, that person's home directory will be located at /home/user. Under normal circumstances the user will be unable to browse the files in any other user's home directory, but how do I prevent user from even seeing that those other directories exist? That is, how do I prevent user from looking upward in the /home directory?
I would probably go with the /home/shared, and then link that to a directory in the home directory of each user.
In the networked environment, many times you would have the /home/ partitions mounted on an NFS server, so nobody actually has their files locally. In that event, it would be trivial to just create a "Public" share, or something similar, so users would mount both their home directories and the public directory from the file server.
As for your last question, you might be able to do that by setting the permissions of /home (and only /home, not the sub directories) to 771. This would allow the user and group (both root in this case) full access, but anyone else on the system (your users) would not even be able to do a "ls" in /home, as it would be completely off limits to them.
That might not be the best option, it is just what comes to my mind first.