Windows XP includes a couple
of different methods of synchronizing files between multiple computers. Offline
file synchronization (which is only available in Windows XP Pro, not the Home version) has been around through several incarnations of Windows and
offers good functionality, while the 'briefcase' app is a little more user
friendly but more limited in scope.
User-friendly is important
here, because as we mentioned, the Windows help files on offline file
synchronization are difficult to follow unless you already know what they are
talking about. For example, nobody actually mentions that you can only make
files available offline if they are on another computer you are networked with.
Obvious if you think about it, but extremely confusing at first. Never mind,
explaining things like this is what PCstats.com is here for!
Note that the procedures we
will be outlining below assume that all computers you will use are correctly set
up in a single network, and can communicate with each other. If you need help
setting up a network, see PCstats'
Guide to Networking
first. We cover synchronizing files over
the Internet with a remote network later in this article.
Using the Windows Briefcase
We will start with XP's 'briefcase' app, as it is a
simplified version of the file synchronizing method which is extremely easy to
use. The concept of this application is a digital briefcase which can be moved
from computer to computer via floppy or USB memory key (or on a laptop). It
holds copies of all the user's current documents, and allows you to work on
these files away from the computer on which they are based. Upon returning the
briefcase to the original computer, you can update any files which have been
Basically, the briefcase
creates offline copies of all of your files which can then be moved to any other
system and worked on. Returning the briefcase to your original system allows you
to update your files with any changes you made while away.
A good example
of where the briefcase app would be useful: You work in an office on a desktop
PC. You also have a home computer which you often use to edit files
from the office after hours. You could create a briefcase on your work PC
and add all the files you are currently working on.
At the end of the day, you copy this briefcase onto
a floppy or memory key and cart it home with you. You can now work on the files
in the briefcase at home as normal.
When you return to work the next day, place the
disk or memory key back into your work computer, open the briefcase and select
'update all.' Any changes you made to the documents in the briefcase will be
carried over to the original files on your office computer.
The briefcase application will not work over a
network. It can be copied over a network, meaning you can move the
briefcase onto your laptop via a network, but the briefcase application itself
will not update files over the same connection. Ultimately, the WinXP briefcase is most suitable
for a single user who wishes to carry his or her files with them in an easily