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

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.

TOPICS: Windows

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.


Topic: Windows

Simon Bisson

About Simon Bisson

Simon Bisson is a freelance technology journalist. He specialises in architecture and enterprise IT. He ran one of the UK's first national ISPs and moved to writing around the time of the collapse of the first dotcom boom. He still writes code.

Mary Branscombe

About Mary Branscombe

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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  • Count me in - i saw the work online button and hadn't spotted it was OOF only. If the damn thing was there whilst on high speed LAN then life would be easy. At times logout/login seems to be the only fix
  • Thanks! :)
  • Offline Files in Win 7 x64. Two users have the same problem :
    Part of a network shared folder is seen as made available offline and synchronized without problem. But when working on some files (server marked online), the changes are saved but apparently stay in the cached files even after manual sync (no errors reported). Other people on the network don't see the changes.
    Why are they opening their offline copy when they're see online ? I can't figure out a fix. Please help !!
  • Offline files in Windows has been buggy since it was introduced. While Windows 7 revamped the interface from XP and made it simpler to manage, the engine behind the scenes still has too many issues to be considered stable. I highly recommend not using offline files. I've seen multiple issues where files do not get updated, resulting in data loss. To me it's better to avoid data loss, and live with more limited functionality. If you simply cannot get by without an offline copy of your files, I'd recommend looking for a 3rd party sync utility. So far I've personally never found a sync utility that runs reliably for Windows, but maybe somebody has and can offer a reliable solution. In GNU/Linux, rsync is my utility of choice which is rock solid.
  • Company called Synergix ( www.synergix.com ) has a fix for the offline folders issue experienced by Win 7 users.

    And you can check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1pae5MDBxg to see how their software also addresses many issues surrounding cached credentials / VPN logins such Password Expiration Notification, Group Policy Refreshes, Kerberos Ticket Refreshes, DNS Duplicate Entry Reconciliation and many more.

    BTW, the youtube video link shared above is related to Group Policy Preference – Drive maps item