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Windows 8 Briefcase Workaround

December 20, 2012

I got a new computer at work that runs Windows 8. That means two things: First, I’m learning firsthand how the real Windows 8 differs from the Release Preview I’ve been using so far. Second, I now have to use Windows 8 to do actual work.

While working on putting that second point into practice yesterday, I discovered another negative to add to my list: Briefcases have been disabled.

The party line, judging by a Microsoft forum post I came across, is that briefcases have been rendered obsolete by cloud services like SkyDrive. That doesn’t really cut it for me, though: I sometimes need to be able to access work files on my laptop when I don’t have an Internet connection. Briefcases and a USB stick let me do that; SkyDrive, not so much.

The good news is that briefcases still work. They haven’t really been removed; you just can’t create new ones. There is a registry hack that fixes this, but I do my best not to touch the registry unless I have no choice. I certainly wouldn’t tell my non-tech-savvy friends to modify their registries using files from some Web site.

Luckily, briefcases made in previous versions of Windows and copied over still work fine. If you have a computer running, say, Windows XP, you can use it to create an empty briefcase on a USB stick and then use the briefcase with the Windows 8 computer. If you want the briefcase on the Windows 8 PC’s hard drive instead of the removable drive, just copy it over. If you use a lot of briefcases, you might want to leave an empty briefcase on the USB stick and keep making copies of it.

A couple of caveats: For one thing, judging by what I experienced yesterday, the briefcases are significantly slower than the ones I’m used to using on XP. I don’t know if that’s just a glitch I’m experiencing or an issue with Windows 8 or what. Additionally, I have a feeling that briefcases will be phased out in future versions of Windows. Still, it’s good enough for a stop-gap measure while I look for a better way to keep my files synced.

Update 9/24/2013: Since briefcases on Windows 8 are so slow and I encountered bugs more often than in past Windows versions, I strongly recommend looking for an alternative. I’ve been using FreeFilesync, and I’m fairly happy with it. I have a new post on FreeFileSync as a briefcase alternative that gives a quick overview.

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  1. Nate
    June 7, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Theres a very easy way to do this get and application such as drop-box or Google drive this will automatically sync files that are placed in the given folders to each computer.

  2. June 9, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Good point. In fact, from my reading, that’s exactly why Microsoft removed briefcase functionality from Windows 8. They want people to use their own cloud services instead. Another advantage of doing it that way is that, since the files are in the cloud to begin with, I’d automatically have an off-site backup.

    I mainly stuck with briefcases because I need to be able to work on files at home regardless of whether my Internet connection was working or not. I may not be able to access Dropbox from my home PC but I can still plug in the USB stick.

  3. July 14, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    The problem here is this… some of “us” (like me) use the briefcase to sync data between a laptop, and a networked server. These files on the server are shared, and used by other people in the business, so I can’t keep them only on my laptop within a DropBox or SkyDrive type account.., I just need a copy I can keep on my laptop/USB stick AND on the server, which I can update when I’ve made changes at home. Besides this, the briefcase seems to have some issues… I’ve a briefcase that says it’s up to date, yet I can see clearly that it isn’t!

    Unfortunately, this leaves me with having to look at other Sync tools, and that’s just plain annoying, as I’ve been using the MS Briefcase since it was released with Windows 95..!

  4. July 15, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    I agree that it’s a pain to make the switch, but I find that the briefcase under Windows 8 puts up too much of a fight to be useful at this point. Even though I now have to open up FreeFileSync and select the saved sync settings I want, it’s still much quicker than waiting for the briefcase to load. Worse, the briefcase would periodically mark every file within as if both versions were changed, forcing me to right-click each and every one and pick a “replace” arrow.

    I think if I were syncing files used by multiple people, I’d look into a version control solution like Git or something. Depending on your needs, though, that might be overkill.

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