BOOT CAMP 379 (31/05/05)

Synchronising Files, part 2


Last week we looked at the Windows ‘Briefcase’, which is a special folder that can be physically transported between two or more computers, to ensure that the files contained in the Briefcase -- documents, Address Book, Calendar and so on -- remain synchronised. Briefcase has its flaws but it is undoubtedly the simplest option for home and small office users with just a couple of PCs to keep in ‘sync’. This week we turn our attention to another more specialist synchronisation utility in Windows XP Pro, designed specifically for network users.


It’s called ‘Offline Files’ and the idea is that you or a number of users can access and work on a shared network file stored on a ‘Server’ PC, even if the ‘Client’ PCs are not permanently linked to the network. This has a number of uses, particularly for notebook and laptop users, who may have a limited amount of storage space on their machines and are only intermittently connected to the network. However, it’s primary function is to eliminate the problem of having several different versions of a document, spreadsheet or pesentation in circulation since the original file on the Server should always be up to date, however many people are working on it.


Although Offline Files is included in XP Pro (and Windows 2000), client PCs using other versions of Windows (98/SE/ME/NT4 & XP Home) can also make use of it. It is also worth pointing out that it only works on Windows-based networks and you need full Administrator privileges in order to set it up.


It’s a slightly tricky concept to explain on paper but it quickly makes sense once you start using it. There are essentially only two steps to using Offline Files. First the facility has to be enabled and second, ‘Shared’ folders on the Server need to be designated for offline use. There are a number of sophisticated configuration options but these are mostly of interest to Administrators of large networks.


Before Offline Files can be used it is necessary to make a small change to Windows user logon settings so start by opening Control Panel on the XP Pro Server computer then double-click the User Account icon. Select ‘Change the way users log on or off’ and uncheck ‘Fast user Switching’, click Apply Options. close the window and exit Control Panel.


Next, open Windows Explorer or My Computer and go to Tools > Folder Options and select the Offline Files tab, click ‘Enable Offline Files’ then OK. Most of the settings you can safely leave on their defaults but I recommend that you check the item ‘Synchronise all offline files when logging on’, as this will ensure that you always have access to the most recent version of a file, which may be important if more than one person is working on it.


With Windows Explorer or My Computer still open right-click the folder containing the files that you want to make available to other network users and select ‘Share this folder’, then OK. It’s important to note that you can only mark folders or whole drives as shared, not individual files, so make sure that whatever is in the folder (or drive) is suitable or appropriate for sharing with other users. If this is likely to be a problem then create a new Shared folder specifically for Offline Files.


The final step is to right-click the chosen file or folder and select ‘Make available offline’ from the drop-down menu. This starts a ‘Wizard’ and you will be asked to enable a number of features, including ‘Automatic synchronisation’ when logging on and off (this should be ticked), enable ‘Reminders’ and ‘Create a desktop icon’. When you have finished you will see that the offline file or folder is tagged with a small twin arrow symbol. Essentially that’s all there is to it and it is now ready to use.


Assuming that everything has gone smoothly you will now be able to access the shared file on the Server computer from your Client PC. Connect to the Server using Network Neighbourhood or My Network Places and navigate your way to the shared Offline folder and open the file that you want to work on. There are no special procedures involved, just treat the file as though it were stored locally on the client PC. For example, if it’s a Word document double-click the file, Word will open on your PC and it will be displayed.  When you have finished working on the file you have the usual option to save a copy of it on the client PC’s hard drive but when you close the file or log off from the network the changes you have made will be automatically saved and synchronised with the original file on the server PC.


Offline Files is a fairly specialised facility and I suspect a lot of home PC users, if they have got this far, have begun to glaze over. I won’t go into the many and varied configuration options but if you would like to learn more start by reading Microsoft Knowledgebase article 307653 (type the number into Google’s Search box) and for more information about the encryption facility see KB Article 312221. There’s also an easy to follow tutorial with plenty of illustrations showing the various steps at:



Next Week -- Downloading video on the Internet





Facility that allows multiple user accounts to simultaneously log on to a computer



A PC or program used to access files on another PC on a network



Computers used to communicate with and share data between other computers connected to a network





Most of us take our ability to hear for granted and as we get older changes occur quite naturally and generally they go unnoticed. Needless to say if you become aware of any significant changes in your hearing you should consult your doctor immediately but you can carry out a rough and ready check on your ability to perceive sounds of different pitches by going to


This site features a simple hearing test that you can carry out on your PC, using a pair of headphones. There is also a questionnaire, compiled by German medical experts (in English, of course) that will analyse the results and indicate whether or not you may have an impairment.


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