Offline Files in Windows 7

Offline Files is a technology that was first introduced in Windows XP. And it was pretty much of a dog back then. We did experiment with getting some laptop users to have it running, because we hoped it was going to make automated backups of their stuff. The problem with the earlier versions of Offline Files are things like, if the server got changed around, Offline Files stopped working. Not long after we started testing, we changed from a Linux Samba DC to a Windows DC. That was the end for Offline Files because there was no obvious way to tell it how to change the location of where the files were, or to sync its existing cache to a new location, or something. There were other problems as well, but I’ve forgotten, however I think it gained a certain unenviable reputation in the industry, and my response to it was to configure a group policy for our whole domain to disable it.

In Windows Vista, Offline Files became part of the Sync Center and this has continued in Windows 7. We didn’t have enough laptops running Vista to get around to trying out OF before we started moving to 7, and then I was advised that OF has become a “mature product” in 7, worth implementing for that backup type of system again. So that is what we are doing. In order to get the best out of OF and especially with a laptop that is connecting to a server, I am setting up new Group Policy objects for folder redirection and OF settings. The user’s Documents folder will be redirected to the server and automatically cached by OF, but their Pictures, Videos, Music and Downloads folders will be redirected to the local profile so that these bulky items don’t consume sync bandwidth or server space. Folder redirection is per-user, but in order to ensure that it only applies to specific computer usage (i.e. Windows 7 laptops), it will be configured as a loopback policy. OF settings is either per-computer or per-user, and in this case it will be configured per-computer.