VPNs, offline files and the simple Windows 7 fix; sometimes

Summary:Because the wireless Internet is currently a choice between affordable and ubiquitous (pick one - especially when roaming), I can't assume I'll always be able to get online to get files from our server.

Because the wireless Internet is currently a choice between affordable and ubiquitous (pick one - especially when roaming), I can't assume I'll always be able to get online to get files from our server. I don't want the cost or hassle of synchronising all my files from the server onto cloud services (while Gladinet does a nice job of making free cloud storage services like SkyDrive and Google Docs available as mapped drives, I haven't found a tool that will handle the sync automatically as soon as anything changes and Mesh doesn't handle mapped server drives and the 2GB in Live Sync isn't enough). So to make sure I always have the files I need with me, I use the Offline Files feature that’s been in Windows for years; I mark the folders or specific files I want to cache on my laptop and any new files I create in those folders while I'm offline are automatically uploaded to the server when I connect again. OneNote does the offline thing automatically, without me even marking anything.

I've had intermittent problems with Offline Files over the years; occasionally I stop being able to save any changes to an offline file, which is why there are several files called Copy Of That Important File on my laptop - and there was the time that an early beta of Office 2010 refused to save any files offline, just before the app crashed (that's why it's called beta software and the data recovery tools retrieved my file reasonably seamlessly so I didn't swear for more than a couple of minutes). I've had more problems with VPNs than I like to recall; I completely agree with the Microsofties who herald the advent of DirectAccess in Windows 7 with glad cries. Some of the problems have been down to security settings on wireless networks at press conferences - or hotel Internet connections; some have been the consumer routers we've often used. I thought the Vigor 2820N ADSL2+ business router we bought when our DSL was upgraded would fix all of that so I was flummoxed, frustrated and frankly upset when I wanted to sync OneNote between two laptops from the road recently. I logged in to the VPN, I clicked on my mapped drive - but all I saw was the offline files. I complained to Simon, I argued that it couldn't be anything to do with not being logged on as a domain member, I made him apply the GPO on the server to stop offline files detecting slow network connections and rebooted my PC to apply it - and in the end I copied the files onto a USB stick and moved them by hand.

And then I took another look at the Explorer window and spotted a button marked 'Work Online'.

Yes, it does do exactly what you expect it to do… Click, sync - sorted.

I mention this in case anyone else is having a similar inability to spot the button and weeping into their keyboard.

UPDATE However, since finding this button I've found another problem; the times when I can't use the button. I know I'm connected; I'm in the office and I can see the other shares that aren't set up to be available offline - but the share that is sometimes goes back to showing only the offline files. I've had this problem once too often and I'm going to track down the right person at Microsoft and find out what's happening. And while I have them, I'd like to bring up some of the issues that I've seen other people have with offline files. So if you're frustrated by a feature that looks as if it should do everything you need, leave the details in a comment below and I'll raise them.


Topics: Windows


Born on the Channel Island of Jersey, Simon moved to the UK to attend the University of Bath where he studied electrical and electronic engineering. Since then a varied career has included being part of the team building the world's first solid state 30KW HF radio transmitter, writing electromagnetic modelling software for railguns, and t... Full Bio


Mary Branscombe is a freelance tech journalist. Mary has been a technology writer for nearly two decades, covering everything from early versions of Windows and Office to the first smartphones, the arrival of the web and most things inbetween.

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