I wouldn't exactly call myself a road warrior, however I do carry a laptop with me when not in the office. (I say carry; more lug. I always contend that laptop vendors should give free chiropractor vouchers with a new laptop to compensate for those bad backs and stiff shoulders).

Working disconnected from the office would mean taking copies of any files I need to work on from the server and uploading any changes back to the server when I next return to the office. There is however a solution to this problem that was introduced in Windows 2000 - Offline Files.

If you haven't used this feature yet, then it's well worth a look. Offline Files allow you to work with server share files as if you appear to be still connected to the server when no network connection is available. This is achieved by keeping a local cache of files you mark to be offline in a cache area on your PC. Reconnection to the network causes any changes made to offline files to be automatically re-synchronised and for you to receive any updates that were made when you were offline. It really is that simple.

Configuring Offline Files
You will need to configure your machine to use offline files before you can make folders available for offline use. In ¡§My Computer¡¨, select ¡§Tools„³Folder Options¡¨ from the menu then select the ¡§Offline Files¡¨ tab. From this screen you can enable and configure your offline files options. By default Windows 2000 Professional enables Offline Files by default, however Windows 2000 Server does not. Configuration includes the amount of space you want to reserve on your local machine to store your cached copies. By default, Windows stores the cached copies in a folder named ¡§CSC¡¨ in the ¡§%systemroot%¡¨ directory (typically c:\winnt), so bear this is mind when determining how much cache space you can spare. Is worth looking at the advanced options (click the ¡§advanced¡¨ button). You can choose to work immediately offline or never allow your computer to automatically go offline. This option is worth considering if you use a laptop with wireless access ¡V more on this later.

So, to make files and folders available offline, in Windows Explorer, select the folder or file. From the ¡§File„³Data¡¨ menu option, or alternatively by ¡§right-clicking¡¨ the folder or file, select the ¡§Make Available Offline¡¨ option. The folder or file will then be synchronised and data copied to your offline files cache. After that, the system will automatically keep your offline data in sync as you connect and disconnect from the network.

1. If you have multiple users of shared data, you may have conflicts when you resynchronise, if two or more people have edited the same file. Offline Files gives you the option to choose to save both copies if you wish; however your copy will need to be renamed before it is saved. The ¡§original¡¨ network copy retains its own name. 2. Be careful of the amount of storage you choose to replicate. Not only does this take space on your laptop, but it also takes longer to synchronise at machine shutdown and start-up. 3. Be careful using Offline Files with a wireless network connection. Even a momentary drop in the signal is detected by the O/S as a permanent loss of connectivity and will drop you into offline mode. You then need to close any open files before re-synchronising. Also, synchronisation can be slow (my 11Mbps connection can take 5 minutes to validate offline directories at shutdown). Consider aborting re-synchronisation requests if you only have a wireless infrastructure available, or not allowing your computer to automatically take you offline when the network connection is lost (use the ¡§Advanced¡¨ button in Offline Files Setup as described earlier). 4. You can't delete directories when in offline mode and this can be pain if you want to move data around while offline. 5. If you don¡¦t have enough space to spare on your %systemroot% drive (usually C:\), then it is possible to move the offline files cache to another drive. See the Windows 2000 Professional Resource Kit for the Offline Files Cache Mover.

Currently I am synchronising approximately 800MB of data in 2 network shares on my server. I successfully work offline with Visual Basic, Dreamweaver and the standard office tools such as MS Word and Excel. So far the only issue I have experienced was when reconfiguring my laptop to access a different Win2K domain and I appeared to lose all offline data. Connecting to the previous domain and re-synchronising did cure the problem. I guess the lesson there is not to change domains!

Offline Files are a great way of accessing server-based data on the move. Turn it on today and you'll never copy server files the "old" way again.