Do you use the Windows offline files feature? I asked this question of some IT/CAD administrator types at Autodesk University last week, and was surprised to find that most didn’t even know what it was. In fact, of the dozen or so people I asked, only one actually used the feature.
There are enterprise solutions that perform similar functions (and cost a lot more), so some of you may not have much need for the feature that has been included in the box since Windows 2000, but I’ll bet that a lot of you would use it if you knew why you needed it.
If you ever need to access remote files from a local network or beyond, you can benefit from the offline files feature. In it’s simplest form, the feature allows you to continue accessing offline files when your network connection is slow or unavailable. It does this by caching copies of your files locally, and automatically keeping the remote and local copies synchronized in the background. If your data is on the cloud, offline files are your shelter from the storm.
For example, it’s common for AutoCAD installations to access configuration files stored on a network server shared by everyone in the organization. If these files are made available offline, the user can continue working on local drawing files without interruption even when the network is completely offline. In fact, if the network is slow or inaccessible for any reason, using offline files will allow the user to continue working as if the network was still perfectly functional.
The UI for offline files has been made very simple (right-click on a remote file in Explorer and select ‘Always available offline’), but there is more power and potential optimization under the hood of this feature. If you’d like to get technical, this TechNet article gives you a taste of the nitty gritty details.
So, do you already use offline files? If so, and especially if you also use RoboCopy, I’d like to hear from you. I use the offline files feature all the time, and I’ve developed a command line utility called RoboCache to manage offline files in Windows Vista and later. I’m looking for a few people to test the utility.
[Update: RoboCache has now been released.]