Work Folders Bring Synced Storage to Windows 8.1

A lot has been made of Windows 8.1 as both the leaked versions, Preview and now RTM have been dissected by people trying discover just what is included in Microsoft’s next-generation operating system. One thing many have missed, thanks to it being rather well hidden by the company, is a storage and syncing option called “Work Folders”. However, the company has begun to preview the new service in some of recent IT events.

When you open Explorer in Windows 8.1, you will find a number of pre-populated folders, including desktop, downloads, documents, music, pictures and video. These are not your only options, though, and now Microsoft is rolling out one more when Windows 8.1 finds its way to the market next month, along with its big brother Server 2012 R2. IT professional can get in on the act now by beginning the testing phase of this new feature.

work-folder-not-added

To add the new Work Folders, head to the Charms menu, click search and type “work folders” then click the first of the two options that appear. Note that I am using Windows 8.1 Pro, and could find no documentation on the feature in the consumer release of the OS.

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This pops up an instance of Explorer that contains a single option – “set up work folders” – that you can click to get the process underway. Above the option, Microsoft explains that you can “use work folders to make your work files available on all devices you use, even when offline”.

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Click the “Set up Work Folders option” and you will be prompted to enter your email address or, alternatively, you can punch in a URL for the folders instead. The latter is for the network administrator, while the former is for workers.

This all starts with the IT department though, because the process first needs to be implemented – you can do this in your home if you wish to play around with it, or get some experience, but you will need to have Windows Server 2012 R2 running on a computer within your network. There is, unfortunately, no way to set up this process without that, though SkyDrive is rather similar and available to all.

If you meet the criteria to implement Work Folders, then there are a few things you will need to set up a SyncSvr and join it to the provided Contoso.com domain. Security and domain settings must also be taken care of, but Microsoft has supplied detailed instructions for testing this out in a VMware environment.

Once configured on the server and client, the user just sees a special “Work Folders” icon in their “This PC” view. Files placed inside this folder get automatically synced in the background similar to SkyDrive or Dropbox.

On the client side, each user will need to be running Windows 8.1 or Windows RT 8.1 in order to take part in this new Microsoft feature. Now the worker can simply enter their email address and begin syncing files from any device within a secure setting that is maintained by the company.

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This initial release of Work Folders is an early attempt, and it’s a limited implementation without collaboration capabilities (shared files between multiple users), remote web file access or syncing of other user folders (such as Documents, Pictures and the like), but the Microsoft Server Storage team clearly has plans for the feature, including the ability to access these Work Folders via clients on older versions of Windows and even other platforms (iPad has been specifically mentioned).

Windows 8.1 is not yet officially on the market, but those with TechNet and MSDN subscriptions can access the RTM now to begin testing for the rollout when the OS is released on October 17.