Monthly Archives: July 2012

Keeping Files in Sync in Windows 7

For any of you who know, it’s incredibly frustrating to use Windows 7’s Offline File synchronization capabilities.  While it does work, and it does keep files in sync, it does so in a weird, round-about way.

To start with, let’s look back at XP (I’m going to skip Vista, because I never used its file synchronization capabilities.  With XP, you would enable offline files for a specific directory.  You could then make changes to the files within that folder to your heart’s content.  Once you were done, you would simply log off of the computer, or shut down.  It was during this logoff process that the computer would then synchronize any changes from the remote folder to your computer, for offline viewing at a later time, if necessary.  It worked well, and people usually didn’t have a problem with it.

Imagine the following workflow:

  1. A user turns on his laptop, and connects to a network.
  2. The user then makes modifications to his folder on a remote location (a shared drive on a server, for example).
  3. At the end of the day, the user shuts down his laptop to go home for the night.
  4. During the shutdown process, the system syncs any changed files from the server to the user’s laptop.
  5. The user then takes the laptop home, and decides to do more work at home.
  6. The user opens up the computer, makes the changes to the offline files, and then shuts down.
  7. The next day the user comes back into the office, turns on the computer, and the files are automatically synchronized back to the server, once the computer detects that it’s connected back to that network.

Now, let’s look at Windows 7, and it’s unique, but critical difference to that of XP.  In Windows 7, the files no longer synchronize when the computer is shut down.  Rather, it synchronizes upon startup!  While this seems OK when you take into consideration the fact that you no longer need to wait for the synchronization to finish when you decide to shut down for the evening, you run into a problem when you try to actually do so.

Follow this scenario:

  1. A user turns on his computer and connects to the network.
  2. All files from the network are synchronized with his laptop that have been configured for offline access.
  3. The user then makes any changes to the files on the server.
  4. At the end of the day the user shuts down his computer to go home.
  5. The user takes the computer home, and decides to do some work in the evening.
  6. The user turns on the laptop, opens up his offline files, and sees that all of his changes that he made during the day are not there.  Crap!

You can quickly see that this is a problem.  Relying on the operating system to keep the files in sync with the files on the server no longer work properly.  Since it’s not synched except for on startup, you can no longer follow your traditional workflow.  Rather, you need to manually run the file synchronization before shutdown, to make sure that the files are synched.  This becomes a headache, because it requires user intervention every day.

And as we all are aware of, if it requires user intervention and manual process, it will never be done (at least it won’t be done during the instance that it needs to be done!).

So, what is the solution?

There are a number of various solutions that involve some complicated scripts, some scheduled tasks that you can create that would run at some arbitrary / triggered time, etc.  However, I’ve stumbled across a great solution that works like a champ, and makes me wonder why Microsoft didn’t configure it that way to begin with!

The solution?  A Group Policy Object!

This could be done as a setting on each specific computer you would like it changed on, individually (I think).  However, in my case, I went ahead and did it through our primary Windows Server (we run Active Directory, and manage all of our computers that way).

To do so, perform the following steps on your computer / server:

  1. Open up Group Policy Management (Start –> Administrative Tools –> Group Policy Management).
  2. Select a Group Policy Object that you are enforcing, and right-click it and select Edit.
  3. Navigate to the following location (Computer Configuration –> Policies –> Administrative Templates –> Network –> Offline Files).
  4. From here, select the “Synchronize all offline files before logging off” Setting, and double-click it to edit it.
  5. Select “Enabled”, and then OK to apply the setting.
  6. Back on your other computer, you may either wait until the group policy settings are pushed out, or you can force them immediately by opening a command prompt and typing “gpedit /force”.

That’s it!

Now, where I get a bit confused is Window’s description of what that setting is supposed to do:

Determines whether offline files are fully synchronized when users log off. […] If you enable this setting, offline files are fully synchronized. […]

Tip: To change the synchronization method without changing a setting, in Windows Explorer, on the Tools menu, click Folder Options, click the Offline Files tab […].

Now, here’s why I’m confused.  The setting itself is titled as though it has to do with logging off.  That is, it sees that one needs to perform the “logoff” action, at which time the system will sync the files, before fully logging on.  However, this does not seem to be the case.  Instead, it appears that it always maintains synchronization between the computer’s offline files, and the files on the server.

In this case, one could essentially make whatever changes he or she wished to the files on the server, and then IMMEDIATELY disconnect the computer from the network.  At this point, the files should already be in sync, and the user can already start working offline, since the files were synched.

This point seems to be reflected in the description of the setting, where it says that the files are “fully synchronized”.  I assume that to mean that they are always synched, and you don’t need to log on / log off in order to make it work.  However, the description also continues on to explain how to do it remotely, using Tools –> Folder Options –> Offline Files.  However, for the life of me on Windows 7, I couldn’t find “Offline Files”.  So, I’m not exactly sure what to believe in the description, and what not to believe!

As you can see, I don’t know why in the heck Microsoft didn’t decide to make this the default setting.  It makes complete sense to me to always have offline files synched with their respective target, and not rely on logon / logoff to perform the sync.  There are many use cases where a user may disconnect the computer from the network without performing either of those actions.  Why you wouldn’t want it to be automatically synched is beyond me.

Anyway, give this setting a shot, and it will fix your problems (and your user’s problems!) with Windows 7’s synchronization process.  No longer will you discover once you’re off the network, that you’re missing that critical file, or you don’t have the most recent changes on the file that you just worked on, that you need immediately.  (Presentations, anyone?)


– Admin

From Mac with Love!

Also known as “My very first switch to Mac OSX from Windows!”


For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve used Windows, and strictly Windows.  From a little kid,  I grew up starting with Windows 2.0, and have progressed beyond that point to Windows 3.0, Windows 95, 2000, ME, XP, Vista, 7, and the preview to Windows 8.  I have developed in DOS, wrote programs in BASIC using DOS, remembered playing various DOS games, etc.  From an extremely small, young child, I did nothing more than immerse myself into Windows, as I grew up in the computer industry.  Outside of being forced to use Apple products in grade school, my primary experience was focused entirely on Windows.  And I was happy!

I had no problem doing anything on Windows.  I became extremely comfortable in the “ins and outs” of Windows, and could quickly and efficiently solve almost any problem that would crop up in Windows, and was able to build a successful IT support solution, which helped to put me through college during the summertimes.  In college I had my variously branded laptops (Dell, HP, etc), and my custom-built desktops, all running various flavors of windows.  Again, I was happy!

I grew tired of the Apple fanboy-isms, and equally as tired of the Windows fanboy-isms.  Oh, sure, I got involved in the taunts with friends of mine who had iPhones, or iPads, or MacBooks, but it was all fun and games.  Everyone had their own opinions and tastes, and each was entitled to their own.

After graduating college, I began a new job at a company, which was solely a Windows shop.  Branded desktops abounded, all running various flavors of Windows (Windows 2K, XP, and Vista were the common ones).  I had no problem with this, since as stated before, I was completely comfortable in doing anything with Windows, and could easily network, troubleshoot, connect, repair, upgrade, debug, and dig into anything that needed done with the computers.  This satisfied me, and I had no problem doing my job.  Fast forward a few years, and I got a new job at another company.  Again, this was an all Windows shop.  And again, no problem with me.

However, time moved forward, and I began to get that “itch”.  That feeling of “What good is an IT guy, if he is only knowledgable of Windows, and has little to no experience with Macs?  While much of the corporate world runs in Windows, that should be sufficient.  But if he has no experience or skills with Macs and OSX, what good is he to support those others who want to go ‘against the grain’, and run their Macs instead of being ‘stuck’ with Windows?’

And so, at that time, I decided I needed to get a new laptop.  And I made that all important decision.  *GASP!*  I went with a Mac!

First Impressions

It’s at this point that I suppose I should clarify a few things.  As previously stated, I felt that I needed wanted to get a Mac, so that I would be able to provide better IT support, as I would have a better understanding of Macs and OSX, as well as see if I could possibly improve my workflow by being able to incorporate Macs into the mix as well, both for personal as well as work reasons.

With that said, I did a bit of quite a bit of research ahead of time regarding the Mac OS, and the corresponding hardware.  I’d been a bit of an on-again, off-again Linux user (Ubuntu, primarily), so I had some familiarity with the underlying OS architecture as well.  Lastly, I researched which MacBook I wanted to get (Air vs. Pro / Retina Pro).  I knew I wanted the higher portability, as well as the “instant-on” capabilities of the Air with the SSD.  So, from a hardware / purchasing standpoint, I knew what I wanted to get, and had an idea of what I was getting.

The Apple Store

Of course, any Mac purchase requires the use of the Apple Store.  Well, that’s not entirely true (there’s the internet, Best Buy, etc).  But, I wanted to get one from the Apple Store, just to make sure all my bases were covered, warranty was in place, etc.  Since I was buying the laptop for work, I figured I’d go ahead and buy it from the Apple Store.  I figured if I had questions, they’d be able to help me out.

So, off I went to the Apple Store, credit card in hand, ready to buy the laptop.  Once I got in, I was surprised with just how busy the store was!  People were all over the place, and tons of guys in blue were around.  One guy stopped me and asked if he could help.

“I’m here to buy a MacBook Air.  I’d like the 13″ with 8GB of RAM and the 256GB SSD,” I said.

“Ok,” he said, and he plunked something into his phone.  “Someone will be right out with the laptop in a moment.  But in the meantime, would you like anything else?  Cases, an external DVD drive, etc.?”

I responded back that I didn’t need anything else (they didn’t have any cases there I wanted at the time).  Before long someone came out with the laptop, the guy took my credit card, swiped it through his phone, took my email address, and said “Done!”.

Initially I was confused at the lack of a receipt.  “Oh,” he responded, “we just email that to you.  Would you like a paper copy?”  Heck no!  I loved having an email copy of my laptop receipt.  One less thing to keep track of, one less thing to lose in the case of a warranty replacement.  He then proceeded to ask if I needed help setting up my Mac.  I politely declined, as an IT guy, I wanted to do it all myself (as I would learn better that way), and plus I wanted that enjoyment of opening up a brand new electronic gadget in my house!

Booting It Up

After getting home, I quickly tore off the plastic wrapping off the box like a little kid at Christmas time.  Inside was a nicely packaged laptop, complete with power cord and instruction manual.  I took a first look at the power cord, and was quickly confused.  It was in two parts.  The first contained the transformer / plug, and the MagSafe connector on the other end.  The second was a simple cable that contained a 3-pin plug, and an adapter on the other side.  But with my super-awesome (hah!) mind, I realized it was a simple extension cord that could be used to replace the plug on the transformer itself, in order to extend the range of the power adapter if need-be.  And if I don’t need it, the power adapter simply plugs straight into the wall.  Nice!

I grabbed the laptop, plugged (snapped!) the MagSafe connector into the laptop, sat down, lifted the lid, and turned the thing on, like a kid ready to play a brand new video game.  (Can you tell that I felt like a kid with this?)  I was presented with a gray screen, and the all-too-familiar bootup sound.  Hello brand recognition!  Even after not using a Mac for 15+ years, I immediately recognized that sound.  I was quickly greeted with the bootup screen, followed by the welcome and walkthrough steps to finish installing the OS.  I completed those steps, and was presented with a desktop, with absolutely nothing on it except for the dock at the bottom of the screen.  Um, yay?  Oh yeah, no Windows bloatware installed all over the desktop waiting for me to run it!  So yes, yay!

Initial Impressions

So, at this point, I had no idea what to do.  I didn’t have any software to install on the Mac, nor did I have any licenses for Office, Photoshop, etc. to try out.  I simply had the base OSX in all of its glory to play with.  But, where to begin?

I noticed the Apple in the top left corner.  I remembered this from when I was a kid.  I knew that it contained the ability to shut down the laptop.  I figured there had to be more stuff to do in there.  So I decided to take a look.  And, of course, the first thing that caught my attention was the Software Update option.  Yes!  So I opened it up, and was immediately greeted with some updates that needed to be installed.  Yay, just like Windows… I thought to myself.  I went ahead and did the install, which prompted me to reboot.  So, reboot I did.

Upon restart, I tried again, thinking that there might have been additional pending updates, which required other updates to be installed first.  Sure enough, that was the case.  I let it download and install the second round of updates, rebooted, checked one more time, and was greeted that OSX was completely up to date.  Yay!

Now, finally, it was time to explore a bit more of the OS and to see what I could do.  I began by hovering over an item in the menu bar and tapping (not clicking) the icon to open it.  Nothing happened…..  Maybe I missed the icon.  Lemme try again.  I tapped again, still nothing.  I then clicked on the trackpad, and the item opened.  I immediately was a bit frustrated.  I used the tap-to-click capability on my Windows laptops all the time!  I didn’t like to have to click if I didn’t need to.  For one, it saved wear and tear on the laptop buttons.  And for two (and this is more important), it was much quieter to tap it than to click it.  This may not seem very important, but later at night, I don’t want to annoy my wife with constant “click, click, click” as I use the laptop.  So, I decided to see if there was something I could do to change this.  Back to System Preferences, I go!

So, once again, I made it back to the Apple icon.  From there, System Preferences -> Trackpad.  To my extreme pleasure, I see a checkbox that says “Tap to click”, with no checkbox in it.  Check!  Once I checked it and tested it out, it worked.  Super yay!  I then realized that there were a whole ton more gestures and touch capabilities that I could do with the trackpad.  I had read that the MacBook trackpad was supposed to be one of the best ones on the market. Holy moley!

I closed out of the preferences, and opened up Safari, to try the trackpad gestures.  Tap, double-finger tap, swipe up and down (OMG, instant awesome!), three-finger desktop switching, Mission Control launching, and application opening.  Awesome!  The entire touch experience was intuitive, responsive, and easy to grasp.  I was hooked!  Now, what about the keyboard?

To I went.  Aesop’s Fable?  Sure!  I opened it up, and started typing.  60 seconds later, I was greeted with my results – 109 wpm, 7 errors, 102 adjust wpm.  Wow!  This was my first attempt at typing with the keyboard as well.  Definitely in love with the keyboard!

I then closed out of Safari, to continue exploring the OS.  Well, I thought I closed out of Safari…. Wait, what the heck?  When I closed out of System Preferences, using the red “X” in the corner, it closed out System Preferences.  But when I closed out of Safari by doing the same thing, Safari remained opened – just without any actual opened windows.  Ok, so this will take a bit of getting used to before I fully understand what actually closes, and what doesn’t by simply closing the red “X”.

Moving on, I quickly decided to try some of the other applications:  Calendar (iCal), Adress Book, Mail, Photo Booth, iPhoto, and the App Store.  I don’t need to go into depth on them in this post.  However, I was pleasantly surprised with all of them, and with the intuitive-looking interface of each of them.  Address Book was surprisingly dull-looking in my opinion.  However, overall the applications seemed to have a decent cohesive look to them.  I really liked playing in the Photo Both app, testing out the various effects and modifications.

Overall Thoughts

It is now beyond 2,000 words in this post.  I suppose at this point I should probably end it here and leave with some closing thoughts on the MacBook Air.  To reiterate what I said at the beginning of the article – I am a longtime Windows user.  I grew up on them, went through school and college with them, work with them, build them, and for the most part understand the full ins-and-outs of the OS.  But, I would not consider myself a “fanboy” (I can’t stand that term!).  In my opinion, it’s similar to a Ford v. Chevy debate, or even a Ford v. Porsche debate, depending on how you want to look at it.  They each serve a similar purpose, and each go about it in their own way.  Bashing on each other with references of “sheeple”, “fanboys”, etc. get old quick.

With that said, I love my Windows PCs.  Yes, they have their quirks, and yes they have their problems.  But I enjoy them, and enjoy working on them.  At the same time, now with the new MacBook, I have started to love OSX as well, and love the corresponding hardware that came along with it.  Compared to my previous laptop, this new one is a BEAST, and such a tiny one as well!  The screen is gorgeous (though admittedly not as nice as some of the new ones – Asus Zenbook Prime, for example), the unibody is sleek, the keyboard is awesome, and the trackpad is amazing and intuitive.  I love it!  I have already started to transition all my mobile laptop needs to the new MacBook, and have began phasing out my previous primary Windows laptop.  Previously, I had figured that I would throw on BootCamp onto the MacBook, so that I would still have the Windows functionality when I needed it.  But after further thinking, I have decided that I am going to try with it being purely an OSX laptop to begin with.  I think I was concerned about using Windows as a “crutch”, keeping it on the laptop if I needed it in a pinch.  Of course, there will be the time when I need to use a piece of software that works only on Windows.  At that time, I’ll have to look at either BootCamp or Parallels to run the Windows software.  But in the meantime, I’m going to give this a shot as a pure OSX MacBook Air.

Despite my praises for the laptop, however, it’s not without flaws.  To begin with, there was the obvious part about having to immediately install system updates when I first booted it up.  A lot of people use that as a complaint against Windows (Patch Tuesday, anybody?).  I wouldn’t necessarily call it a bad thing, so to speak.  I understand it as a necessity of the ever-improving technology paradigm that we live in today.  Things change, bugs get fixed, patches put out.  But I felt it warranted at least stating that I had to do such an update, as it did immediately detract from my excitement about a brand new laptop, and a brand new OS.

Additionally, the problems I am running into this morning, in my attempt to download and install OSX Mountain Lion has been a bit of a pain.  Since I purchased the laptop after the public preview of OSX ML, I am entitled to a free upgrade / download of ML.  Unfortunately, Apple’s release of ML to people this morning has been met with large problems and complications.  First off, it is taking people hours to receive their upgrade codes for the free downloads.  Secondly, those who are actually receiving their codes, are being greeted with errors when they try to download, stating that their codes had already been redeemed.  Consequently, I still don’t have Mountain Lion installed yet, and am still awaiting my code in my Inbox.

Despite any shortcomings and setbacks, I really do like the new MacBook Air, and am starting to become a fan.  I still love my Windows PCs as well, and am also a fan of them. (Does this make me a bi-fan?)  But, after owning this laptop for a week, I have already started to migrate over to the Mac for some of my daily duties.  We’ll see how things continue to go in the future, and I’m excited to see if my relationship with my Mac is simply a fad, and will fizzle away when I need it most and it fails to be there for me, or if our relationship flourishes into new and unprecedented  territories.  I still need to get a Thunderbolt -> VGA adapter for it, as it isn’t very useful at the moment for presentations.  But, I’m excited to try it out at my next upcoming presentation.  I’m sure I’ll be back with more reviews and opinions on the new Mac!

Oh, and of course, I typed this entire blog post using nothing but the new MacBook Air!  It worked like a champ.

Mid-2012 MacBook Air
Smooth, low profile keys make typing a breeze.
Extremely intuite touch-gestures. No typing artifacts.
Beautiful colors, bright screen. Shame it's still a TN screen with a lower resolution.
Long battery life! I can go all day at work, with intermittent breaks from it. The MagSafe adapter is awesome!
After just starting using it, I'm already getting the hang of it! Some inconsistencies in functionality between stock applications.
I'm glad I made the purchase of a MacBook. I feel it will help expand my IT support position, and make me better able to do my job. It was definitely a worthwhile purchase!

– admin