Offline files in Windows are a set of features that essentially give users the ability to work with files off of or outside of the network. So for example if a user had a laptop that had a mapped drive or network share and were to take their computer outside of the network, the features offered by offline files would allow this user to continue working with these files. I will not cover the details of how all of this magic works in this post, I just want to show people the best way I found to disable this feature with the least amount of problems. If you want to go straight from the source, here is the original article the gave me about 95% of the information necessary for accomplishing this task.
The remainder of this post will detail my findings and experience from the link above. This feature (offline files) is enabled by default in Windows 7. Here is a good overview of the benefits of offline files. However, for me personally as an admin, this feature so far has caused much confusion in the work environment for users that are not accustomed to having such a feature in our move towards Windows 7.
These settings can of course be controlled on a per user basis by changing the settings and configuration of the “Sync Center” tool in Windows. But when you are involved in a larger environment and need this sort of process automated for many users, Group Policy becomes the most effective way to handle this problem. There are a few steps to get offline folders disabled correctly so I thought I would share all the pieces in case somebody runs across a similar need as I did. The first step to disable the offline file features is to adjust the following settings in Group Policy:
Computer -> Policies -> Admin Templates -> Network -> Offline files
- Allow or Disallow use of the Offline Files feature: Disabled
- Prohibit user configuration of Offline Files: Enabled
- Sync all offline files when logging on: Disabled
- Sync all offline files before logging off: Disabled
- Sync offline files before suspend: Disabled
- Remove “Make available offline” command: Enabled
- Prevent use of Offline Files folder: Enabled
Next, we need to tell Group Policy to shut off the offline file service and disable it on all Windows machines that have the service installed (Windows XP, 7, 8 machines). To do this you will need to modify your Group Policy settings on a machine that has the service installed it already, through RSAT. This is an important step, you will not be able to find this service if you are adjusting the GP settings from a server. This service is located in the following location:
Computer Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Security Settings -> System Services
The specific service we are looking for is the “cscservice“, which corresponds to the service labeled “Offline Files” in the Windows services list.
The last step to get this policy working correctly is to add in a registry key that will fix machines that have already been used to cache certain network resources. Essentially adding this registry key tell the machine to blow up its database of offline files and tells the machine to remove the cached files as well. To configure this settings we need to add in a custom reg entry:
Computer Configuration -> Preferences -> Windows Settings -> Registry
Value name: FormatDatabase
Value type: DWORD
Value data: 1
Here is a good article with instructions on how change the registry settings by hand and a screenshot of my own GP environment with how the settings should look via the GP Management Console.
That should be all the necessary changes that need to be made. If I missed anything let me know, hopefully this will save people time in the future.