The Windows Briefcase was introduced in Windows 95 and was the Dropbox of its day. It is still part of Windows 7, but is deprecated in Windows 8 and is no longer part of Windows 10.
Briefcase was all about syncing files
If you’re old enough, you’ve probably seen a “My Briefcase” icon on a computer desktop at some point, even if you’ve never used Windows Briefcase.
Windows Briefcase was designed to make it easier to sync files in the days before strong internet connections. For example, you can use it to recover essential files from your home workplace to floppy disk. Or, you can sync files from your workplace local network to your laptop before disconnecting.
It’s not just about copying files back and forth, which you can do with just copy and paste. The briefcase was to keep these files in sync. If you changed the copy of the files in Briefcase, you can then sync them to their original location. Or, if you had copies of some files in the briefcase and the files were updated to the original location, you can sync the briefcase, updating the copies in the briefcase to match the originals.
How the briefcase worked
Here’s how you would use the briefcase:
First, you store the case on a device that comes with you. For example, if you have a laptop, you can keep the briefcase anywhere on your laptop. If you had a desktop computer, you could place the case on a floppy disk and take this floppy disk with you.
You can either move the My Briefcase object from the desktop to your floppy disk, or right-click in any folder and select New> Briefcase to create a new one.
You would drag all the important files that you wanted to take with you into Briefcase. For example, if you had important documents stored on your workplace network file server, you could drag them onto your laptop briefcase. Or, if you had files that you were using on your workplace desktop, you can drag them into your floppy diskette folder.
You can also drag entire folders to Briefcase and Windows synchronizes those folders.
Now you can disconnect your laptop from the network or remove the floppy disk and take it to another PC. The briefcase on the laptop or floppy disk contained copies of all the files you put in the briefcase. You can view them offline and even make changes. You just opened the case, then opened the files inside.
Windows treated briefcases like almost any other folder. You can open a file directly from the briefcase and save it directly to the briefcase.
Later you would return to work and connect your laptop to the workplace local network or insert the floppy disk into the desktop computer. To synchronize the changes, open Briefcase and click the “Update All” button in the toolbar. All changes would be synchronized. For example, if you had edited the files in Briefcase, your changes would sync to the original locations of the file. If the files on your workplace network had changed, the copies in your briefcase would be updated.
You can also use the “Update Selected” button to update only a few files. And, however you have done it, you will be prompted to choose which files you want to update, so that there is no mistake.
Unlike Dropbox, you couldn’t sync files across multiple different PCs with the case. The contents of a briefcase can only be synced to one location, that’s it. So, while you were away from your workplace, the idea was to only work with the files stored in the case and not drag them out of the case or try to sync them elsewhere.
What happened to the briefcase?
Windows Briefcase was great when it was introduced in Windows 95, but it has become less and less important over time. Despite this, the Briefcase was still part of Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7. It was considered “obsolete” in Windows 8. The Windows Briefcase was disabled in the original version of Windows 10 and could not be enabled only with a registry setting. It was completely deleted with the release of the Creators update.
Eventually, the briefcase became much less important thanks to the Internet. With access to high-speed Internet connectivity virtually anywhere, there is usually no need to keep offline copies of files and synchronize them. Even if you need network file shares, you can connect to your workplace network from anywhere through a VPN.
The briefcase has also been completely replaced by services such as Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive. Like Windows Briefcase, these services synchronize copies of your files between your computers. So even if you are offline, you can have offline access to your files, and they will sync when you reconnect.
Unlike a briefcase, these services allow you to sync files across multiple different computers. All synchronization is also done automatically. You do not need to click an “Update All” button to manually apply the changes. The Windows Briefcase is now outdated.