Windows 8.1 includes a new feature for corporate workers called Work Folders. Work Folders is a Windows Server 2012 R2 feature for file servers. In the new trend of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work, corporate workers need to access work files on their personal PCs - files which are stored on corporate PCs. The personal PC or device may not be a part of the corporate network. Work Folders allows synchronizing work files on PCs inside the corporate network with your personal computers.
The work-related files are stored on client PCs in their %userprofile%\Work Folders directory. Organizations can store the files in a Sync Share on a centrally managed file server and maintain control over confidential data by enforcing device policies such as storage quotas, encryption and lock screen passwords. They also have selective remote wipe ability to revoke access to certain files.
Today, Microsoft made the Work Folders client available for Windows 7 SP1. It supports Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate editions. To install it, use the following links:
Windows 7 Work Folders client (x86/32-bit)
Windows 7 Work Folders client (x64/64-bit)
Work Folders operates slightly differently on Windows 7 from Windows 8.
- Unlike Windows 8.1, Windows 7 PCs must be joined to a domain to use Work Folders. This also means that Windows 7 PCs can't use Work Folders while they are outside the corporate network.
- Encrypt Work Folders: Files are encrypted on Windows 7 using Encrypting File System (EFS). On Windows 8.1, files on a user’s PC will be encrypted using the Selective Wipe technology.
- On Windows 7, administrators must use Group Policy to enforce password policies on their domain-joined PCs of Work Folders users. On Windows 8.1, Work Folders will enforce its own password policy as set on each sync share. Automatically locking the screen also isn't available on Windows 7.
The rest of the sync experience is similar to Windows 8.1. When enabled, Work Folders will show a notification icon in your system tray area.
Is Work Folders a full replacement for Offline Files?
You might realize that the Work Folders feature sounds similar to the Offline Files feature already present in Windows since Windows 2000. Although both have a similar purpose - synchronizing data on the server with the client, they work differently, each has its advantages and disadvantages.
After the Offline Files improvements made in Windows Vista, it is still very much a viable sync technology because it can sync only the changes, while Work Folders can currently sync only the whole file or whole folder on the file server. Offline Files also works for workgroups and home networks without any Active Directory domain or server configuration required.
Work Folders works much like OneDrive but for enterprise users. It has a different sync protocol than Offline Files - it is hosted in IIS (Internet Information Services). Synchronization happens over HTTPS and does not require a VPN, DirectAccess, or other remote access connection. Offline Files is for PCs that are inside the corporate network. Work Folders on Windows 8.1 can also do the file sync for PCs which have not joined the corporate network. The data sync happens after the unique file server certificate setup is done, and the appropriate client device access policy and permissions are set up on the file server. The policies are enforced on the Windows client PCs before data sync is allowed so organizations remain in control of the synced data.