Hack 30 Take Your Work on the Go with Offline Files and the Briefcase


Two ways that road warriors can more easily take files with them when they leave home or the office?and synchronize files back to their desktop PCs when they return.

If you use a laptop on a corporate LAN, you might sometimes store files on the network and forget to bring them home or with you on the road. This frequently happens to people who, like me, are absent-minded on occasion (or more than one occasion?after all, I once left my car keys in the refrigerator).

If you have XP Professional, you can use its Offline Files feature to automatically synchronize folders from the LAN to your notebook so that whenever you leave the office the latest version of your files will be available. To enable the use of offline files, choose My Computer Tools Folder Options Offline Files tab (shown in Figure 3-21), and select the checkbox next to Enable Offline Files.

Figure 3-21. Enabling offline files

You won't be able to use Offline Files if you have enabled Fast User Switching. To turn off Fast User Switching, choose Control Panel User Accounts "Change the way users log on or off," uncheck the box next to Use Fast User Switching, and click Apply Options.

As you can see, there are a number of options on this tab for using offline files. Here's what you need to know about each to take best advantage of offline file synchronization:

Synchronize all offline files before logging off

Make sure to choose this option. When you do, the most recent copies of files will automatically be copied to your laptop. If you don't choose this option, you'll get only a partial synchronization, which means that you won't have the latest version of all your files. Also, keep in mind that you have to log off or turn off your PC in order for this option to work. If you only physically disconnect your PC from the network, the files won't be copied.

Synchronize all offline files when logging on

If you choose this option, as soon as you connect back to the network, your files will be synchronized from your laptop back to the LAN. That means you won't be able to use them locally, and you'll have to use them on the LAN. If you don't choose this option, you'll be able to continue using your files locally and can then manually synchronize any folders you want to the LAN.

Display a reminder every...

If you've disconnected from the network, this option will automatically flash a balloon message at you, telling you at an interval of your choosing that you've been disconnected. More than anything, this is an annoying option and is useful only if you frequently disconnect from your LAN accidentally.

Create an Offline Files shortcut on the desktop

If you choose this option, XP creates a desktop shortcut to the Offline Files folder it creates when you enable the use of offline files.

Encrypt offline files to secure data

If you're concerned about the security of your files, choose this option. As the name implies, it will encrypt your offline files.

Amount of disk space to use for temporary offline files

When you use offline files, Windows caches files from the LAN onto your hard disk temporarily. This option lets you determine the exact amount of disk space to allocate to those temporary offline files.

After you've set up your laptop to use Offline Files, you next have to choose the specific folders on the server that you want to make available to you offline. Open Windows Explorer, right-click on the network folder, and choose Make Available Offline. If there are subfolders in the folder, you'll be asked whether you want to make those subfolders available as well.

After you do this, when you log off the network, the server copies to your laptop all the folders you've marked. They'll be available to you in the same way as any other folders are, via your applications, Windows Explorer, in My Computer, or My Network Places. Work with them on your laptop, and then, when you next connect to the network, they'll be synchronized to the network folders, depending on the options you've chosen.

3.11.1 On-Demand and Scheduled Synchronizations

If you'd like, rather than synchronize when you log off the network, you can synchronize manually on demand, or you can set up a schedule for automated synchronization. To synchronize on demand manually, in Windows Explorer choose Tools Synchronize. From the dialog box that appears, select the items in the Logon/Logoff tab that you want to synchronize, and click Synchronize. To set up times to synchronize, use the On Idle and Scheduled tabs.

3.11.2 Use the Briefcase for Mobile File Transfers

Offline Files works only if you have XP Professional and if you have a local area network to which both your laptop and desktop connect. But if you need to synchronize files between two computers not on a network?even if you don't have XP Professional?there is still a way to way to synchronize files between computers: use the Briefcase. It's not as easy to use as Offline Files, but it still does the trick. It synchronizes files between your two machines by using removable media such as a CD or Zip drive.

Using floppy disks is not recommended, unless you have very few files or very tiny files that you need to transfer and have no other way of transferring them, such as email attachments.

To use the Briefcase to transfer files from a laptop to a desktop computer, first format the media you're going to use if it needs to be formatted. With the removable media in the drive, open Windows Explorer, click on the media's disk folder, and choose File New Briefcase. If you're going to be using more than one Briefcase at a time, rename the Briefcase with a descriptive name. The Briefcase is a folder, like any other folder on your computer. Open it, and then click Finish to close the dialog box that appears.

Copy into the Briefcase the files you're going to want to transfer to your laptop and keep synchronized between the two computers. You can copy files from different folders. If you've going to add files to the Briefcase over time, or if you expect the files in the Briefcase to grow, make sure to leave enough extra room on the disk. Eject the media from your desktop. (If you get an error message when trying to eject a CD, close Windows Explorer and then eject it.) Place the media in your laptop, and move or copy the Briefcase folder to the laptop's hard disk. Remember to move or copy the entire folder, not the individual files in the folder. Work on the files as you would normally. Add or delete files as well. When it's time to transfer the files back to your PC, copy the Briefcase from your laptop to removable media, and put the removable media in your desktop. Open the Briefcase folder.

To synchronize all the files back to your desktop, choose Briefcase Update All and, from the Update Briefcase dialog box (shown in Figure 3-22), click Update. To synchronize individual files, select them, choose Briefcase Update Selection, and click Update.

Figure 3-22. Synchronizing all the files in a Briefcase back to a desktop PC

3.11.3 A Closer Look at the Briefcase

It's a good idea to examine the files in your Briefcase before you synchronize, so that you know the status of each. As you can see in Figure 3-23, you'll see whether each file has been updated and therefore needs to be updated on your current machine, or whether it was unchanged. The Briefcase folder also shows you the file's original location on the computer, as well as other details such as file size.

Figure 3-23. The Briefcase folder

Right-click on any file in the Briefcase, and choose Properties Update Status; you'll get updated information about each file. You can also perform the following tasks:


This button updates the file. Only this file, and no others, will update.

Split from Original

This button breaks the link between the Briefcase file and the file in the hard disk. You won't be able to do automatic updates. The file in the hard disk will be listed as an Orphan in the status field in the Explorer view. You can still copy the file, even though the automatic link no longer works.

Find Original

This button opens the folder on your computer that holds the original file.

3.11.4 See Also

  • Backer (http://www.leanware.com/english/leanware.html) is a combination backup/synchronization program that lets you synchronize your laptop data with a desktop PC or server. It also lets you synchronize with a server while you're traveling, transfer files between PCs, and archive old versions of files. It's shareware and free to download, but if you decide to keep using it you're supposed to pay $24.