Redirecting Windows Special Folders to Work Folders

Before I start

If you are not familiar with or not currently using Folder Redirection, you can simply ignore this blog post. It’s not my intention to evangelize Folder Redirection with Work Folders. This blog post is only for enterprises that have specific dependencies (such as work flows) on these Windows special folders and want to continue redirecting them as they migrate to Work folders.

Note: If you’re currently using Offline Files with Folder Redirection, there are some additional steps that need to be performed which are covered in the Offline Files to Work Folders migration guide.

Why and why not?

I often get questions on why we didn’t integrate Folder Redirection with Work Folders. When we were designing Work Folders, we debated this topic at length. There is no simple right or wrong, and it really depends on the individual customer IT culture. I’d like to share our thought on this, and open to hear yours.

We started by looking at the other file sync technologies offered at the time, which had a simple user experience by designate a specific folder which enables user to access the same content no matter which device they are using. We wanted to provide a similar user experience: a consistent view no matter on what devices. Because Work Folders is designed to work with non-domain joined devices, and non-Windows device (iPAD and iPhone for now), user can access data on their home PC, iOS devices, if using Folder Redirection on work PCs, imagine how confusing it could be to remember the different paths for file access on different devices, why not avoid it?

As we hear from customers requesting Folder Redirection integration with Work Folders, one common pattern emerges among these customers. They operate a very tightly controlled client environment: where the clients are all domain joined Windows PCs; IT doesn’t allow BYOD in the environment; or not allow those devices to access corporate files. For these customers, they like Work Folders’ file sync experience, but their users are accustomed to use Windows special folders or they may even have applications that default to save to those locations. And since they aren’t embracing personal devices, there is no confusion about access of those data.

How?

Folder Redirection setting is mostly managed through Group policy. Users can also manually configure Folder Redirection on the client, but that solution is not scalable nor manageable. If you want to simply test out the user experience without the hassle of creating GPOs, you can open File Explorer, right click on one of the special folders, such as Documents, open Properties, click on the Location tab and to define the new location.

Group Policy

This blog covers two examples when using the Folder Redirection group policy:

  • Redirecting the Documents folder to a subfolder under Work Folders path. Use this configuration if you want to redirect more than one special folder under Work Folders
  • Redirecting the Documents folder to Work Folders. Use this configuration if you only want to redirect the Documents folder.

For the following GPOs, the assumption is, Work Folders has been already configured on the client, and your client setup for Work Folders is using the default path: C:\users\%username%\Work Folders.

Redirecting multiple special folders to Work Folders

In this example, I’m only showing redirecting Documents folder, but you can configure the other special folders by changing the GPO for other special folders. Make sure you redirect the special folders to a subfolder under the Work Folders path.

Create a GPO, and navigate to User Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Folder Redirection -> Documents, change

  • The settings to: Basic – Redirect everyone’s folder to the same location;
  • Target folder location: Redirect to the following location
  • Root Path: %systemdrive%\users\%username%\Work Folders\Documents

Once the user gets the GPO, the Documents folder will be redirected to a subfolder to the Work Folders.

Redirecting Documents to Work Folders

In this example, you only want to redirect the Documents folder, and nothing else. You can map point the root path in the GPO to the Work Folders itself. User can get a consistent view whether to access through Documents folder or Work Folders path.

Create a GPO, and navigate to User Configuration -> Windows Settings -> Folder Redirection -> Documents, change

  • The settings to: Basic – Redirect everyone’s folder to the same location;
  • Target folder location: Redirect to the following location
  • Root Path: %systemdrive%\users\%username%\Work Folders

Once the user gets the GPO, the Documents folder will be redirected to the Work Folders. Please note that, in Windows File explorer, user will not see the Work Folders folder. The folder is present in cmd window. User will access the files through Documents folder.

Which folders to be redirected?

All special folders can be redirected to the local Work Folders directory except for AppData (Roaming). Redirecting this folder can lead to conflicts and files that fail to sync due to open handles. The data stored in the AppData\Roaming folder should be roamed using Enterprise State Roaming (ESR), UE-V or Roaming User Profiles.

The following special folders can be redirected to the local Work Folders directory:
  • Contacts
  • Desktop
  • Documents
  • Downloads
  • Favorites
  • Links
  • Music
  • Pictures
  • Saved Games
  • Searches
  • Start Menu
  • Videos
Known issues

The following issue has been identified when redirecting special folders to the Work Folders directory:

Folder Issue Cause Solution
Favorites Unable to open Favorites in Internet Explorer when using Windows Information Protection Internet Explorer does not support encrypted favorite files Use Edge or a 3rd party browser

Conclusion

Although this blog post covers how you can redirect Windows special folders to Work Folders, I’d like to raise the awareness again that doing so can introduce user confusion once IT starts to embrace BYOD, as user will need to remember different file access path on different devices. However, if your environment does require this, let’s explore. What I have covered here is the very basic configuration. I’d like to see your comments to learn your needs, what works, and what’s not.