BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 2005

  

 

BOOT CAMP 378 (24/05/05)

Synchronising Files, part 1

 

Many PC users regularly work on two or more PCs, at work or at home and maybe a laptop as well and this can create all sorts of difficulties with file synchronisation.

 

Unless you are really diligent you can easily end up with several different versions of your email address book and the documents or spreadsheets that you have been working on so there is a real need to keep data stored on multiple PCs in ‘sync’.

 

All versions of Windows (since Windows 95) have a built-in utility for synchronising files, called the ‘Briefcase’ but it is little used and even less well understood. Indeed many new Windows XP users may be unaware of its existence since it is all but invisible. Briefcase isn’t the only option though, there are numerous commercial synchronistaion programs and Windows XP Pro users have a facility called ‘Offline Files’, which allows users of networked PCs to keep their files and folders up to date, but more about that in Part 2.

 

We’ll begin with the Briefcase since this is the simplest method and best suited to synching two non-networked PCs. The basic idea is that on your main PC copies of the files and folders you are working on are stored in a special Briefcase folder. The Briefcase is then copied to transportable media, such as a floppy disc, USB memory drive or CD-RW disc, for example, which can be read (and written back to) on the second PC. Alternatively the Briefcase folder can be copied to the second PC via a cable or network connection. On the second PC the files in the Briefcase are opened and edited then saved back to the Briefcase folder. When the Briefcase is returned to the main PC it will indicate which files have changed and automatically update the originals.

 

If you are only working on a couple of documents, say, then it is probably just as easy to copy the files in question between the two PC. However, the real strength of Briefcase lies in its ability keep multiple files updated, so it is worth putting as much in the Briefcase as possible, including your calendar, Favourites list, address book, email inbox (if space permits) and any other files and folders that you may need and which change on a regular basis.

 

Briefcase is very flexible, and you can have more than one of them, so you can maintain and update different sets of files and folders on several PCs. You can keep your Briefcase (or Briefcases) in any location on your PC but the easiest place to start with is the Desktop.

 

It’s not as complicated as it sounds and the best way to understand how it works is to actually use it. Incidentally, if you haven’t got a second PC or suitable transport media to hand you can still see how Briefcase works on a single PC -- see this week’s Top Tip.

 

Step one is to create a new empty Briefcase folder on your main PC. In Windows XP right-click into an empty area of the desktop and select New then Briefcase from the drop-down menu and a ‘New Briefcase’ folder appears. In earlier versions of Windows there may already be a My Briefcase folder on show, if not follow the same procedure. To put a Briefcase in any other location open My Computer or Windows Explorer, highlight the folder where you want it to appear then go to File > New > Briefcase.

 

Step two, open Windows Explorer then drag and drop the files and folders you want to transport and keep updated into the Briefcase. Don’t worry the original files are unaffected and stay where there are. Now you can copy the Briefcase folder to your removable media, or copy it to the second PC if it is connected by cable or a network.  

 

On the second PC load or insert the media, open the Briefcase and open the file or files that you want to work on. When you have finished click Save and the modified file will be returned to the Briefcase. It is important not to move files from the Briefcase, though there is nothing to stop you leaving a copy on the second PC to keep its files updated.

 

The final step is to get the Briefcase containing the edited files back into the main PC. Insert or load the transport media, (or open the cable or network connection), double-click to open the modified Briefcase and it will compare its contents with the original files and folders. Depending upon which version of Windows you are using the files that have changed will be highlighted or flagged and you can choose from the toolbar icon to ‘Update All’ or ‘Update Selection’. Windows will ask you to confirm the action and the updates will be carried out, and that’s all there is to it!

 

If you would like to learn more there’s a general FAQ in Microsoft Knowledgebase article 274752 and a more specific article on Briefcase in Windows XP in KB article 307885 (enter the number into Google’s Search window).

 

Next Week -- Synchronising Files, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

CD-RW

Compact Disc Read/Write Write, disc that can be recored on and erased many times

 

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions, a simple guide to a particular topic or subject area

 

USB DRIVE

Small self-contained memory module, designed to connect with a PCs Universal Serial Bus port, used to transport data from one computer to another

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

If you would like to test Briefcase or just see how it works on a single PC follow the steps to create the Briefcase folder and drag and drop a file into it -- a Word document for example. Double click the document to open it, make a few changes and click Save. Now open the original document and you will see that it is unchanged. Close it and go back to Briefcase, it should flagged up as modified, highlight and click Update All, confirm the action and close Briefcase. Now go back and open the original document and you will see that it has been updated.

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