Microsoft just released a “Work Folders” client for iPad. Is there a niche for this?

Last Friday Microsoft released a Work Folders file syncing client for iPad. Work Folders is fairly limited compared to the array of enterprise file sync and share products available these days, but despite that it has some redeeming qualities that could help it find a niche.

Last Friday Microsoft released a Work Folders file syncing client for iPad. Work Folders is fairly limited compared to the array of enterprise file sync and share products available these days, but despite that it has some redeeming qualities that could help it find a niche.

Work Folders is a role that can be enabled on a Windows Server 2012 R2 file server. It provides users with a folder that can sync across multiple devices, including non domain-joined ones. (It uses a reverse proxy to expose itself to clients outside the network. If you’re comfortable with having OWA open, then Work Folders shouldn’t be too much of a leap.) Users only have access to their own individual folders—it’s not meant for sharing or collaboration. 

When Work Folders was released in 2013, the only clients for it were Windows 8.1 and 8.1 RT. Windows 7 support came in April 2014, but with no mobile apps it just about never came up in conversations.

Now after a long wait (mobile apps were mentioned for it back in 2013) we finally have a Work Folders app for iPad. Users are authenticated via ADFS; data is encrypted in transit and at rest; and according to the help page, IT can block users from opening files in other apps. (The app has its own built-in viewers.) Rights Management Services can be used to control what other apps can open files from it, or this can be done using MDM.

Even though Work Folders isn’t a fully-fledged enterprise file sync and share product, keep in mind that:

  • It’s free.
  • It’s on-premises, so it’s good for organizations that are more conservative about using the cloud.
  • It’s Windows Server, so it’s a familiar Microsoft product. Plus you can keep using all your existing file server management practices.

On the other hand, it might just be flat out too limited in this day and age:

  • There’s only one mobile client so far, and you can’t upload files to it.
  • It doesn’t support shared folders or collaboration.
  • Enterprise file sync and share in general has expanded and advanced a lot since Work Folders was introduced in 2013.

However, it could still have a good fit in certain use segments—perhaps mid-sized, more conservative IT departments, or organizations that aren’t ready to spend on enterprise file sync and share or EMM yet.

So what do you think? Is Work Folders for iPad too little too late? (Not that that’s a bad thing—clearly this is just a minor feature, and Microsoft is throwing its weight behind OneDrive) Or could it fit your requirements, and are you interested in testing it out?

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"it’s good for organizations that are more conservative about using the cloud"


yet are cool with employees walking around with the files on mobile devices wherever ...


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The key for this feature is working out who the target customer is. If the feature costs no additional licensing, then it's a question of whether the features included vs. those that are not there can satisfy the customer's needs or they can work around limitations.


Regardless, if a user can't access data from their device of choice, what use is Work Folders? The iOS release comes ~455 days after Windows Server 2012 R2 was released. There's still no Windows RT, Android or OS X clients.


Microsoft must have some reason for not putting enough resources behind the client platform, but I fear Work Folders is dead in the water.


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I wonder why Microsoft doesn't just release mobile clients for everything? Seems like that could nip a lot of these Dropbox / Box / whatever competitive conversations right away? Or maybe they just want to push people to OneDrive? Is there a backend OneDrive connector to Work Folders?


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With all the recent work on Intune / 365 / OneDrive / Office for iOS and Android, I'm guessing Work Folders just hasn't been a priority—more just a minor feature of 2012 R2 / 8.1. But, eh, somebody's got to have a good use for it.


@Dan, i'd say that situation could describe a lot of companies. It's two completely different sets of considerations.


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