Windows 8.1 Work Folders: the free self-hosted Dropbox for enterprise built into Windows

At Microsoft TechEd Australia 2013 a couple of weeks ago, my good friend Alan Burchill told me about a sneaky new feature in Windows 8.1 that should make a lot of business users very happy.

Built in to every Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 is “Work Folders“, a free and managed synced-storage alternative to Dropbox or SkyDrive that any business can self-host for their staff. Soon it’ll also work with Windows 7, iOS and even possibly Android.

Compared to SkyDrive Pro which is the enterprise version of the public-cloud SkyDrive service, Work Folders is a self-hosted solution that a business would set up on a server box presumably sitting somewhere onsite at the office.

Although you don’t get the “unlimited storage” and offsite benefits of a cloud solution, Work Folders is completely free and the data is encrypted with an unique certificate an organisation can generate themselves.

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Once configured on the server and client, the user just sees a special “Work Folders” icon in their “This PC” view. Files placed inside this folder gets automatically synced in the background similar to SkyDrive or Dropbox. (However unlike the native SkyDrive in Windows 8.1, these are real files and not “fake” placeholder links.) Server admins can also set up storage quotas and other limitations as a traditional network share.

This initial release of Work Folders is clearly an early attempt and is limited without collaboration capabilities (shared files between multiple users), remote web file access or syncing of other user folders (Documents, Pictures), but the Server Storage team clearly has plans for the feature, including the ability to access these Work Folders via clients for older versions of Windows and even other platforms (iPad is specifically mentioned).

For the price of free, I think Work Folders is a great offering for a lot of small businesses to provide to their staff. Syncing work files between a work desktop, work laptop and home desktop is a pretty common problem and Work Folders seem to be a pretty simple and elegant solution to that problem.

(Images credit Aaron Parker)

11 insightful thoughts

  1. Surely this is built on top of WebDAV (aka WebFolders on Windows Server/IIS)?!

    If a share published as a Work Folder is accessable via plain WebDAV (with some to-be-published extension perhaps that helps certain sync operations) then this has potential.

    Otherwise DoA.

  2. For an average user, this is possibly the worst way to introduce a new feature. No documentation, no help. Just a new icon popping up in the control panel after upgrading to 8.1.

  3. This used to be calle foldershare. Then microsoft bought them and renamed it windows live mesh. Then they killed it off. This appears to be based on the same technology (or at least the same concepts)

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