Accidental IT: Managing USB Drives
They're everywhere! Those tiny USB drives are carried on keychains, hung around people's necks, dropped in purses, and slipped into pockets. They're inexpensive, simple to use, and hold massive amounts of data. But what data is on there? Or more importantly, what version of any particular file is there?
Accidental IT is a series of technical how-tos for people whose job descriptions don't necessarily include tech support but who often find themselves doing just that for their co-workers.
More SMB Insights
- Leveraging The Cloud For Business Resilience
- How crowdsourced testing has changed the game for innovative software companies
The conversation usually starts out with "Please tell me you have a backup of the presentation I've been working on!" From there you find that your co-worker put her precious file on her new USB drive and took it home in order to make a few last-minute changes. But something happened to the file and it's up to you to save your cohort's corporate dignity -- and possibly her job.
This problem is bound to happen. Those tiny USB drives are everywhere -- carried on keychains, hung around people's necks, dropped in purses, and slipped into pockets. They're inexpensive, simple to use, and hold massive amounts of data. But what data is on there? Or more importantly, what version of any particular file is there?
The main cause for the loss of an important file from a USB drive is that the right version of a file (usually the newer one) is overwritten by the wrong (usually older) version. And in attempting to get back her newer, revised copy, the user has succeeded in losing both. What she really needs is a simple way to keep multiple copies of her work synchronized.
File synchronization has been a vexing problem since the first person took work home on a floppy disk. Fortunately there are several viable solutions to the problem. You'll find a never-ending list of applications if you run a Google search for "file synchronize USB," and the applications run the gamut from simplistic to automated bit analysis and bidirectional file updates. But you don't need to go that far if you're running Windows 95 or later.
The Windows Briefcase is built into Windows, and it's made specifically for taking files away from the computer they were created on, modifying them, then updating the original files to the current version. It's easy to understand and simple to explain to your users. It's also free.
Here's a basic run-through:
- Have your co-worker right-click her desktop and select New > Briefcase, which will create an icon on the desktop named (surprisingly) New Briefcase.
- Have her drag the files she needs to take with her to the briefcase icon and drop them there.
- The Welcome to the Windows Briefcase window will open to give the user basic instructions.
- Have the user drag and drop her briefcase to her USB drive icon.
Instructions for using the briefcase will appear when you first drop files onto the New Briefcase icon. Click for full screen.
Important: Always use the "Safely Remove Hardware" link in the Windows system tray before pulling the USB drive out of the computer. Some brands and models of USB drives may not close the drive properly unless you use this function, and the links between the files will be lost.
Instruct the user not to copy the files to her home computer. Rather, she should simply open the files on the USB drive and work from there.
Time To Sync
When the user returns to the office and plugs the USB drive into her computer, the drive window will appear. Have her open the Briefcase folder. The list of files is displayed, with the third column indicating whether the file is synchronized or not. She should click the "Update all items" link on the left side of the window. This will compare the files, indicate which version of a file is newer, and ask the user what action to take. Once she selects which file to update, the original file on her work computer will match the updated file on the USB drive.
Briefcase indicates which file is newer and suggests an action. Click for full screen.
This process is not quite foolproof, but it's a simple procedure that can be followed consistently. And it's likely to save you a lot of time restoring outdated backup files.
More Accidental IT
• Setting Up An E-Mail Account In Outlook
• Spyware, Spyware Everywhere
Do you have a suggestion for an Accidental IT topic? Let us know!