Each of my projects is a directory in which I have the following folders:
Data/.. (contains .shp files, tables, and rasters in various formats)
Maps/.. (contains .mxd files that depend on the files in Data/)
I reuse some feature classes extensively between projects. Most of them I would probably never update, so I keep copies of them in each projects Data/ folder. My supervisors/colleagues depend on this data organization as well, so that they don't have to dig around to find the supporting shapefiles for a given project.
This system has worked decently for our purposes, but it has problems. Some files are large, yet need to be available in multiple Data/ folders. This is an inefficient use of space. In addition, on occasion changes have to be made to commonly used files that we wish to persist for all versions. This results in many headaches and a lot of extra work for me.
What if instead of maintaining separate versions of each of these large datasets between each project we had a "file shortcut" like what people frequently put on their Desktops, but as a sort of proxy or pointer to the actual shapefile that would be stored in a common File Geodatabase.
Does such a "shortcut" method exist for managing various geospatial data formats, especially shapefiles?