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Working with Mobile Devices (part 2) - Using Windows Sync Center

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3/29/2011 3:24:46 PM

Using Windows Sync Center

Keeping data synchronized between multiple devices can be a particularly difficult and frustrating task. When done manually, users must keep track of which files are modified on which device. They must then remember to move, copy, or delete the appropriate files from all of the devices that they use. Forgetting to do this can result in out-of-date information or loss of data. Even when this process is managed carefully, users often have to remember different path locations for their files on different computers. Clearly, this is a task that could benefit from automation.

Windows Sync Center is designed to enable multiple computers and mobile devices to keep important information synchronized. It supports any computer that is running Windows Vista, as well as mobile devices that are running the Windows Mobile platform.

More Info: Using Windows Briefcase as an alternative

An alternative method of keeping files synchronized between computers has been available on the Windows platform for years: Windows Briefcase. Briefcase is still functional in Windows Vista, but it lacks many of the capabilities of Windows Sync Center. For more information about creating and managing Briefcase, see the Windows Vista help file.


Accessing Windows Sync Center

Windows Sync Center can be launched in several different ways. Earlier in this lesson, you saw how users can monitor and access this feature using Windows Mobility Center. The program can also be launched by searching for it in Control Panel or in the Mobile PC section of Windows Sync Center. Figure 5 shows the main screen of this utility. The available tasks are listed on the left side of the interface.

Figure 5. The default view of Windows Sync Center

Understanding Sync Partnerships

Windows Sync Center is configured and managed through sync partnerships, which are relationships between two devices that automatically enable consistency of data. To define a new partnership, click the Set Up New Sync Partnerships link (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Creating new sync partnerships in Windows Sync Center

The different sections of the user interface show the devices that are currently connected to the computer. For example, if a device running the Windows Mobile operating system is connected and configured, it appears in the list. In addition, certain applications (such as Microsoft SQL Server 2005) provide their own components for working with Windows Sync Center. For more information about application-specific features, see the program’s documentation.

There are two main types of sync partnerships. One-way sync partnerships enable copying files from a network location to a mobile device. They do not provide a method by which changes are sent back to the original source location. Two-way sync partnerships allow either computer to make changes to file contents and can make the corresponding changes automatically when the computers are connected.

Setting Up Offline Files

The most commonly used feature on a mobile computer is the ability to make network-based files available even when the computer is disconnected. For example, a small-business owner might store his or her work-related documents in a shared network folder. When the owner is disconnected from the network, he or she would still like to access and modify those documents. Additionally, users might not want to depend on the network to access their important documents. For example, if a network connection becomes unavailable, they would still like to be able to work. Finally, constantly accessing files across a slow connection can be a time-consuming process. Accessing a local copy is much more efficient in those cases. The Offline Files feature provides a solution to all of these problems.

You actually perform the process of setting up an offline files partnership independently of Windows Sync Center. To do this, use Windows Explorer to connect to a shared folder that is located on the network. Then right-click the folder and select Always Available Offline. Windows Vista automatically begins to make a local copy of the files in that location (see Figure 7). The icon then appears with a green synchronization icon when viewed in Windows Explorer.

Figure 7. Enabling a folder for offline use

After you enable the Offline Files feature for a folder, you can access the Offline Files tab in the folder’s Properties dialog box to view settings. The settings allow for enabling or disabling the Offline Files feature. A button for manually starting a synchronization option is included.

You can repeat the offline folders setup process on as many folders as you need. Whenever the computer is disconnected from the network, you are still able to access that folder, using the exact same path that you used to configure it. Files can then be moved, added, deleted, or changed.

Managing Offline Files

Although the majority of the work happens automatically when using Offline Files, there are several configuration options that can be useful. First, the files that are made available offline take up disk space on the local computer. To view details about the location of these files, open the Offline Files application by searching for it in the Start menu. Figure 8 shows the default display.

Figure 8. Viewing Offline Files settings


The General tab provides the option to enable or disable the Offline Files feature. It also enables opening Windows Sync Center to view details related to synchronization status. The View Your Offline Files button opens a special folder to view locally stored content. You can perform most file-related tasks by accessing the relevant network folders. Additionally, you can right-click a folder on which Offline Files is enabled and select Delete Offline Copy.

The Disk Usage tab provides important details related to how much space is being used by all of the offline files on the computer (see Figure 9). Clicking Change Limits enables you to specify the maximum amount of disk space this feature can use. Offline Files also uses temporary files to keep track of data that is stored on computers that are part of a sync partnership. You can reclaim this space by clicking Delete Temporary Files.

Figure 9. Viewing disk usage information for offline files


By default, offline files are stored in a format that is identical to the original files for performance reasons. You can, however, choose to encrypt the files so that they remain secure on the mobile computer. The Encrypt and Unencrypt options are available on the Encryption tab. Finally, the Network tab in the Offline Files dialog box enables users to configure the offline version of files to be used automatically when connecting over a slow connection.

Managing Synchronization Settings

You can use the View Sync Partnerships link in Windows Sync Center to view all of the folders configured for offline use. When clicked, the Sync All button automatically attempts to synchronize data stored in all folders that are available on the network. If a network connection is unavailable, then the contents of those folders are not synchronized.

Although manual synchronization is a useful option, it depends on users’ ability to remember to perform the operation. Forgetting to synchronize files before disconnecting from the network can cause users to miss important file updates. To help reduce this problem, users can choose to schedule automatic synchronization settings for a partnership. To access these settings, right-click a sync partnership and select Schedule For Offline Files. The two main options enable synchronizing at a specific time or for basing synchronization on specific events (see Figure 10). Figure 11 shows the event options for synchronization.

Figure 10. Configuring synchronization schedule settings

Figure 11. Enabling synchronization based on specific events

Verifying Synchronizations

To view details related to the status of file synchronizations, click the View Sync Results link. Figure 12 shows an example of the available events and status details.

Figure 12. Viewing sync results

Although the majority of changes can be performed automatically, there are certain situations in which a conflict might occur. For example, if you choose to modify an offline file when you are disconnected from the network and another user modifies the online version of the file, Windows Sync Center is unable to determine which version of the file to keep. To make a decision, you can click the View Sync Conflicts link. Items that require manual decisions to be made are listed along with the possible options.

Overall, Windows Sync Center and Offline Files folder provide a great way to keep data on multiple computers and devices consistent and available over time.

Other -----------------
- Installing and Managing Media Devices (part 4) - Installing and Managing Printers
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- Removing Malware from Windows Vista (part 1) - Understanding Common Malware Issues
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 6) - Using Other Diagnostic and Troubleshooting Tools
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