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Now that we have the Windows Server 2012 R2 file server up and running with Work Folders configured, we’re ready to start letting users connect. On Windows 8.1 client systems, Work Folders can be configured manually by the user or in an automated fashion with Group Policy if the client system is domain joined.
Configuring the client manually
End users with personally-owned devices and variants of Windows 8.1 that don’t support being domain joined will have to be manually configured for Work Folders. The good news is that if you took the time to set up your Work Folders server with a workfolders.domain DNS entry like we covered in Part 2, the setup for the end user is very easy.
First, go to the Control Panel. The quickest way is to right-click on the Start Button and choose Control Panel.
Control Panel in WIN X menu
The default setting for the Control Panel is to have the View set to Category. If the end user has changed it to Large Icons or Small Icons, Work Folders will be available to double-click. Since most end users are probably going to leave the setting in Category view, they’ll need to click on System and Security.
System and Security
Once they’re in the System and Security area, they can click on Manage Work Folders.
Manage Work Folders
Next, click on Set up Work Folders.
Set up Work Folders
The end user will need to enter a work email address and then their AD credentials.
If you have multiple Work Folders servers or (for whatever reason) can’t set up workfolders.domain DNS entry, the end user can click on Enter a Work Folders URL instead and enter the URL that you provide them to connect.
Enter a Work Folders URL
The user can specify a location for their files to be stored; the default is the Work Folders folder in their profile.
Work Folders location
Last, the user will need to approve the security policies that you set on the server and click Close on the confirmation screen.
Security policies / Confirmation screen
The user should now have a new folder available in Computer called Work Folders where files will be synced back to the Work Folders server and to all of their configured devices.
Work Folders in Windows Explorer
Configuring the client automatically
Domain joined clients can be configured automatically using Group Policy. In the Group Policy Management Console, create a new Group Policy Object or edit an existing GPO that is assigned to users. Go to User Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Work Folders > Specify Work Folders settings.
Set the policy to Enabled and enter the URL of your Work Folders server. You can also check Force automatic setup to have Work Folders automatically configured for users
Force automatic setup
If you choose the Force automatic setup option, end users accessing the Work Folders configuration in the Control Panel won’t be able to use the Stop using Work Folders option. Attempting to will result in the error “You can’t stop using Work Folders on this PC. This setting is managed by your system administrator.”
You can’t stop using Work Folders on this PC
There is one slight annoyance you’ll need to be aware of. If you’ve set Work Folders to require encryption or to automatically lock screen and require a password, the end user will need to access the Work Folders configuration in the Control Panel to apply the security configuration. So, the setup isn’t completely automated.
Manage Work Folders in Control Panel
Green vs. black text file names
One of the things you may notice when using Work Folders is that files may show up with green text rather than the normal black text.
Green vs. black text file names in Work Folders
If your Work Folders files show up with green text filenames, the server-side Work Folders configuration has been set up to require encryption. Because the files have been encrypted using Encrypting File System (EFS), they are shown with green text to differentiate them from unencrypted files.
Work Folders is definitely a 1.0 technology. Many of the limitations like device/OS support, limited configuration options, and the lack of group sharing options show that. However, just because something has a 1.0 version number doesn’t mean it should get any less consideration if you’re looking for a solution to sync user files to devices. There are plans to support older versions of Windows along with additional devices like the iPad. And, if you’re looking for a simple way to sync files between multiple Windows 8.1 devices, Work Folders is included with Windows Server 2012 R2 and worth a look when you’re ready to upgrade your file server to the latest Windows server OS.