An age-old challenge when supporting mobile users is deciding where to locate the important data that your users need to perform their jobs. Users generally prefer that you locate the data on their laptop hard disk so that they can have quick and easy access to it. However, they might rethink their choice if something goes wrong and they lose their files. And, if users learn that you don’t have their data backed up, or that the backup you have is out of date, they won't be happy. One solution is to use Offline Folders, a Windows 2000 feature that's especially beneficial for mobile users and the administrators who support them.
Using Offline Folders, you can make a My Documents folder that points to a network share available to mobile users when they aren't connected to the network. You can use the folder’s Properties page or Group Policy to redirect the My Documents folder on. You can then update all the common File Open and File Save dialog boxes to point to the My Documents folder. Finally, either encourage users to save files to that location, or specify that users save data in their profile folders, which limits them to the My Documents folder as their only storage location.
Redirecting the My Documents folder is useful if you're an administrator responsible for backing up data, but it's a problem for mobile users who want to disconnect from the network and work any where, any time. To make the users' My Documents folders available offline, right-click the folder and chose Make Available Offline to launch the Offline Files Wizard, as Figure 1 shows. The Offline Files Wizard lets you specify whether files automatically synchronize when users log on and off the network. (You can also use the Synchronize option under Start, Programs, Accessories to manage synchronization manually.) The wizard also lets you enable reminders that tell users when they're not connected to the network and are working with cached copies of the data.
On the server side, you can configure caching for the folders that you share. When you share a folder, a Caching button appears on the New Folder Properties page. Click the Caching button to see the Caching Settings dialog box, as Figure 2 shows, where you can specify whether caching occurs and, if so, how. The default is Allow caching of files in this shared folder with Manual Caching for Documents, but you can choose Automatic Caching for Documents or Automatic Caching for Programs as well. You can also choose to disable caching altogether.
Group Policy Settings
If you're configuring Offline Folder support for a large number of users, Group Policy is the best solution. Group Policy lets you centrally control user and computer configurations based on an object's location within the Active Directory (AD)—I'll address Group Policy in more detail in upcoming columns). Go to Computer Configuration, Administrative Templates, Network, Offline Files to see the Group Policy settings that apply to Offline Folders. For settings that apply to Folder Redirection, go to User Configuration, Windows Settings, Folder Redirection.
Offline Folders is not a Win2K feature that we hear much about. Nevertheless, it's a feature that can make an immediate difference to you and your users.