First impressions of Win2K Pro's remote access capabilities

Recently, I took Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro) on a road trip with the intention of testing its ability to replace Windows 98 as the primary OS on my road-warrior system (an IBM ThinkPad laptop). Along the way, I made some interesting discoveries about Windows 2000's (Win2K's) remote access capabilities and features.

I've installed various Win2K Pro beta versions on my laptop over the past few years, but I decided to wait until the shipping version of Win2K was available before I attempted to make it the primary OS on that system. After a fairly painless installation, I prepared the OS and my applications for the upcoming road trip. First, I configured DUN entries to use PPTP to connect to my ISP and office LAN. I discovered that you can configure Win2K VPN connections to first establish another connection (e.g., to the Internet). Before Win2K, this type of one-step dialing for VPN connections was possible only if you used scripting or the RAS Connection Manager Administration Kit (CMAK). After I discovered that Win2K's Control Panel Phone and Modem Options applet controlled telephony dialing settings, I configured the settings for my long-distance credit card number without a hitch.

Next, I configured an offline folder store (.ost) file for Microsoft Outlook so that I could work offline, then synchronize any email, calendar, or task changes with my company's Microsoft Exchange Server system when I connected through a modem. This handy feature has long been available in Outlook, and it's a distant cousin of the Win2K feature that I was most looking forward to checking out on this trip—a file-system version of Outlook's offline folders feature. Offline Files, an implementation of Win2K's IntelliMirror technology, lets you mark any server-based folder or file to be available offline. Win2K then creates a locally cached copy of the file that you can work on when you're disconnected from the network. The Offline Files feature doesn't require you to first copy or move the files into a separate location on your laptop (e.g., a Briefcase folder). When you enable Offline Files, Win2K spoofs the files' existence in their original locations on the server, so the files and their parent folders still appear to be online and available. However, the system maintains the collection of files that you've marked offline in a special folder called the Offline Files Folder, which Screen 1 shows, and uses this folder for synchronization with the server-based copies when the network becomes available. You can use at least three methods (e.g., viewing the Offline Files feature, launching the synchronization process, getting the current synchronization status) to access the Offline Files feature and its commands. Choose the Folder Options or Synchronize Options from the Windows Explorer Tools menu, right-click the Offline Files system tray icon and select the synchronization option, or launch the Synchronize shortcut by clicking Start, Programs, Accessories.

I planned to work on files in several different folders during my trip, so I marked each of those folders to be available offline by right-clicking each folder and selecting Make Available Offline. I worked with these files while I was on the road, then synchronized my changes by modem and LAN after I returned to the office. I consider Offline Files to be a killer Win2K feature. However, I ran into a few snags with Offline Files and RAS during my trip. I'll share these dilemmas in part two of this two-part series.