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Especially for Office files (.doc, .pptx, etc.). I've noticed that I can see the thumbnails of the first slides of my ppts (in the status bar) although I don't have any software to read this filetype. I recently formatted my HDD. I didn't find an thumbnails folder as well.

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It's likely that Office embeds a thumbnail in the file as it creates it, and all Windows needs to do is extract it. –  Mark Ransom Jun 26 '12 at 17:55
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Documents created by Office 2007 and later use the Open Office XML document specification. This format has a JPEG thumbnail embedded in them where applicable (e.g. Word and PowerPoint documents). Windows 7 simply displays this image at the status area of Windows Explorer.

Extracting and displaying the thumbnails does not require having any special software because OOXML is essentially a zip archive of XML files that make up your document. As Windows Explorer has the ZIP algorithm built in, it is a trivial matter to extract the thumbnails from supported documents.

To see this for yourself you can try opening a .ppsx or .pptx (PowerPoint Slide Show and PowerPoint Document respectively) in 7-ZIP or a similar software to view the contents. The thumbnail is stored as \docProps\thumbnail.jpg in the document.
NB: You may have to change the extension of your document to .zip in order to open them in your ZIP archiving software.

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Those thumbnails are generated by Aero, not by a compatible software.

You can disable them in Folder an search options > Always show icons, never thumbnails

http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/disable-thumbnail-previews-in-windows-vista-explorer/

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