The Windows Briefcase was introduced in Windows 95 and was the Dropbox of its time. It’s still part of Windows 7, but it’s deprecated in Windows 8 and is no longer part of Windows 10.
The suitcase was all about syncing files
If you’re old enough, you’ve probably seen a “My Briefcase” icon on a PC desktop, even if you’ve never used the Windows Briefcase.
The Windows Briefcase was designed to make file syncing easier in the days before solid internet connections. For example, you can use it to put essential files from work home to a floppy disk. Or you can sync files from your workplace’s local network to your laptop before disconnecting.
It wasn’t just about copying files back and forth, which you can just do with copy and paste. The suitcase was all about keeping those files in sync. If you’ve edited the copy of the files in the briefcase, you can then sync them back to the original location. Or, if you had copies of some of the files in the suitcase and the files were updated in the original location, you can sync the suitcase by updating the copies of the suitcase to match the originals.
How the suitcase worked
Here’s how you would have used the briefcase:
First, keep the case on a device that you take with you. For example, if you had a laptop, you can keep the suitcase anywhere on your laptop. If you had a desktop PC, you could put the briefcase on a floppy disk and take that floppy disk home.
You can 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 drag and drop any important files you want to take with you to the Briefcase. For example, if you had important documents stored on the network file server of your workplace, you can drag them to the suitcase on your laptop. Or, if you had files that you used on your workplace desktop PC, you can drag and drop them to the suitcase on your floppy disk.
You could also drag entire folders into the trunk and Windows would sync those folders.
Now you can disconnect your laptop from the network or remove the floppy and move it to another PC. The suitcase on the laptop or floppy disk contained copies of all the files you put in the suitcase. You can view them offline and even make changes. You just opened the suitcase and then opened the files in it.
Windows treated briefcases like practically any other folder. You can open a file directly from the case and save it directly in the case.
Later you would go back to work and connect your laptop to the local network of the workplace or insert the floppy disk into the desktop computer. To sync changes, open the Briefcase and click the “Update All” button on the toolbar. All changes are synchronized. For example, if you had edited the files in the briefcase, your changes would be synced to the file’s original locations. If the files on your workplace network had changed, the copies in your suitcase would be updated.
You can also use the “Update Selected” button to update only some files. And whichever way you did it, you’ll be prompted to choose which files to update so that no mistakes were made.
Unlike Dropbox, you couldn’t sync files from different PCs to the case. The contents of a suitcase can only be synchronized with one location – that’s it. So while you were not at your workplace, the idea was to work only with the files stored in the suitcase and not drag them out of the suitcase or sync them elsewhere.
What happened to the suitcase?
The Windows Briefcase was great when it was introduced in Windows 95, but it became less and less important as time went on. 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 release of Windows 10 and could only be enabled with a hidden registry setting. It has been completely removed with the release of the Creators Update.
Ultimately, thanks to the Internet, the Briefcase became much less important. With access to high-speed Internet connection virtually anywhere, there is usually no need to keep offline copies of files and sync them. Even if you need network file shares, you can connect to your workplace network from anywhere via a VPN.
The Briefcase has also been completely replaced by services like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive. Like the Windows Briefcase, these services sync copies of your files between your computers. So even when you are offline you can access your files offline and they will be synced when you are back online.
Unlike a briefcase, these services allow you to sync files to multiple different computers. All synchronization is also done automatically. There is no need to click the “Update All” button to apply changes manually. The Windows Briefcase is now outdated.