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.
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)