Configure IT Quick: Set up Windows 2000's Offline Folders feature

Avoid pitfalls when setting up Windows 2000s Offline Folders feature

If you use a notebook, or if you're responsible for users who depend on portable PCs, you need Windows 2000. Unlike Windows 98, it gives your users the reliability, robustness, and security they need, both in the office and on the road. And unlike Windows NT 4.0, it manages power superbly, without requiring third-party utilities.

Best of all, Windows 2000 does away with the need for the clunky Briefcase feature, the disastrous file-synching technology that debuted in Windows 95 and has been annoying end users ever since. For my Microsoft Challenge two weeks ago, I asked you for help setting up Windows 2000's Offline Folders feature and avoiding pitfalls. I got an earful.

Several TechRepublic members dissed the Offline Folders feature with gusto. Two TechRepublic members, in fact, said they had had so many problems running Windows 2000 on notebooks that they had switched back to Windows 98. That's not my experience, which has been uniformly positive on notebooks with up-to-date, W2K-compatible BIOS code.

Still, enough of you found this feature worthwhile to recommend some best practices that can make it effective. From aaron.vandergiessen, for instance, comes this ringing endorsement and a few suggestions: "I am using the Offline Files quite successfully. It is a huge improvement over the Briefcase (which was always the first thing removed from my desktop)." He offers these tips:

"Offline Files can be tricky to remove from the folder. If you select a Folder (directory) from the network, you cannot deselect a file or files to remove. You must deselect the folder and then add in specific files. Also, sync settings are important. If you like a quick startup or shutdown, you have to choose not to sync at those times. I currently only sync when idle. If you are working on a file while dialed in, you may get sync problems."

Jokeman recommends that you "check the amount of free disk space on the client to make sure there is sufficient disk space to synchronize the missing files. Also, check to see if you have applied any Group Policy settings that restrict other extensions from being synchronized." That's good advice. Office 2000 users may encounter a variation of this problem, with Windows 2000 refusing to sync Access databases and Outlook Personal Folders files.

If your users are connecting to Win2000 domains, senfe has an interesting experience to share: "We are using Offline Folders for laptop users to extend protection for all of their personal files and make customizing the laptop a breeze. A desktop Win2000 user with 'folder redirection' enabled in the group policy will push all of their files stored in the My Documents folder to the designated server path. The files are then accessible on any PC they log in to within the domain. The user logs in to the laptop, and sets the My Documents folder to Make Available Offline. This syncs the files from the server to the laptop. When they return and log back on to the network, the files sync to the server. The next time they log in to their desktop, their files are there."

A tip of the hat to TechRepublic members who suggested third-party solutions, including Symantec's pcAnywhere and Stac Software's ReachOut Enterprise, both of which include file synching with remote access. And the most intriguing suggestion was for Clickteam's free SynchronX utility, which does one job—Briefcase-style file synchronization—without the hassle. All are worth exploring.

Here's Ed's new Challenge
A reader's small shop is starting to strain at the seams. With 30 users equipped with a mix of desktop and notebook PCs, monitoring licensing compliance has turned into a chore. The company is too small for Tivoli or SMS, but too big to just throw all the paperwork into a shoebox and hope it all makes sense if they're ever audited. How do they keep track of licensing reliably? What's the best way to prevent users from installing unauthorized software? Are there software management tools that can help a company that's not in the Fortune 500? If you can help, click here to tackle this week's Microsoft Challenge—and give a fellow TechRepublic member a hand.