Microsoft and other companies have been wrestling with the problem of offline files for a very long time. In a nutshell, the problem is this: When you take a file offline (off the network and onto your laptop, for example) and then edit it, two versions of the file exist. But suppose that, in the meantime, someone else modifies that same file on the network. Now there are two different versions of the document, neither of which is the same as the original.
Now suppose that several people took the same file offline on their laptops and made changes to it. How can the various versions be reconciled?
One very limited solution is the Briefcase. Another, more successful attempt at a solution—new to Windows 2000—is called Offline Files (or Synchronization Manager). Although using it may appear to be convoluted at first (and second) glance, it actually works to solve the seemingly intractable problem of "document-version hell."
The Offline Files function is primarily designed for portable computers that are only intermittently connected to the network. It can also be useful, however, if your connection to the network is in place only part of the time, or if the connection is unreliable. Files in any shared folder on a Microsoft Windows network can be made available offline.
In short, the Offline Files feature works like this: Files that you mark for offline use get copied, or cached, to your local hard drive. When the network is ...