Writers' Technology: Using Microsoft Windows Briefcase

Copyright 2012 Terescia Harvey

See my reprint guidelines.

Windows Briefcase is a tool for writers who work on multiple computers

As a writer, I've learned that it's essential for me to have easy access to my writing files without having to worry about which is the most current version of my files. The Microsoft Windows Briefcase is an easy to use tool that comes with the Windows operating system. With it, I'm able to assure myself that I'm always working on the same copy (and that I will never accidentally save an older version of a file over a newer version).

I use lots of briefcases to help me keep up with my files. I have some for my websites and some for my writing files. Since I use a variety of removable storage devices, such as Zip Disks, Memory Keys and Jump Drives, I'm able to create large briefcases, but regular 3 1/4 inch disks can work just as well. You just have to remember that they'll only hold about one novel.

The best way to use the briefcase is to always use it as your "working" copy. Think of it this way: if you consistently work on the copies kept within the briefcase, you'll never have to worry about having yesterday's new work on your desktop and today's revisions of the last chapter on the laptop. If you regularly work at more than one computer, you probably know exactly what I mean.

To create a new Microsoft Windows Briefcase:

  1. Right-click on the desktop
  2. Choose NEW ==> BRIEFCASE
  3. Now you'll have the New Briefcase on your desktop
  4. Right-click New Briefcase and choose RENAME
  5. Name the briefcase something useful like My Writing or My Websites, or if you're only going to use it for one novel, name it the title of your novel

Next, you'll want to fill the briefcase with all the documents to which you want to have access.

  1. Open the briefcase
  2. Open the folder in which you have saved the files you want to include
  3. Drag the files from the folder into the briefcase

Something to remember is that since you're most likely creating this briefcase on your hard-drive, you won't know if it'll fit on a diskette, if that's your goal. Take care to remember the size of the removable media you plan to use the briefcase with. If the briefcase is too large, it won't fit on a diskette.

What you've done is create copies of your files within the briefcase along with a database that monitors changes to the files in the briefcase. When you choose to update, that database is compared to the original files. In this way, the Microsoft Windows Briefcase can keep up with which files need to be updated and which files don't. It also takes away the guesswork of remembering which version of the file you last worked with.

To work with your files away from your original copies, all you have to do is drag your briefcase to your removable media (such as a diskette or Zip disk) and carry it with you to whatever computer or device you plan to work on.

When you're ready to work with the files you've copied to the briefcase, open the briefcase and click the file. It'll open just like normal. Once you've finished your work, save the document using the current name. Don't do a FILE ==> SAVE AS or you'll lose the functionality of the briefcase (there's an exception to this rule, but I'll discuss that later). Drag the briefcase back to your removable media, and then, when you return to the computer where your original files are stored, you should open the briefcase, choose BRIEFCASE ==> UPDATE ALL from the file menu. Now you've updated your files and can work on the master copies if you want. My suggestion is to always work on the briefcase copies, but sometimes I don't follow my own advice. In the end, it doesn't really matter which copy you work on, as long as you update the files before you begin.

If you habitually update before you start work on ANY version of the files, you can be assured that you're working on the most current version of your documents.

If the size of the media you store the briefcase on allows it, you can copy entire directories to the briefcase. Whenever you store directories in a briefcase, all the files that are inside that directory are included. So, when you add or delete files for the directory, the files will be added or deleted from the briefcase upon the next update. This is a good way to work if you regularly create new files, and is especially good if you work in chapters instead of saving your novel to one file.

Here's an example to make it a little easier to understand. Say you copy the directory "My Latest Novel" to your briefcase. Inside this directory, you have files for every chapter up to chapter 5. You begin work on a new chapter, maybe while you're visiting the library doing some research, and save that chapter as chapter 6 inside the directory "My Latest Novel" which is inside your briefcase. You save a list of sources inside the briefcase but forget (or don't want) to put it in the "My Latest Novel" briefcase.

When you get back to your home computer where you store your original copies of your files and choose BRIEFCASE ==> UPDATE ALL, chapter 6 is automatically created inside the "My Latest Novel" directory on your home computer. However, because your list of sources isn't in the directory, it is labeled as an "orphan." All that means is that the briefcase database doesn't recognize it as a copy of any of your original files (because it isn't). All you have to do now is drag the new file to whichever directory on your computer you want. Now you'll have a copy on your computer and in your briefcase, and the next time you update, the list of sources will be included in the update.

If you meant to include the list of sources in the "My Latest Novel" directory, and you move it to that directory on your home computer (the briefcase will not allow you to drag the file to the copy of the directory in the briefcase), you'll have an extra step to perform. When you update, the file will be created inside your "My Latest Novel" directory in your briefcase, but you will still have the copy that exists outside the directory. It's safe to delete the "orphan" file once you've updated and the file has been added to your novel directory inside the briefcase.

Once I became comfortable using the Windows Briefcase, I discovered just how useful a tool it is. I find it much easier to remember to update my briefcases than to recall exactly which copies of my files are the most recently changed. Maybe you will too.

Posted: July 5, 2005

© Terescia Harvey

Please do not copy, reprint, or redistribute this article in any way without permission. Thanks.

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