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BYOD on Windows 8: Syncing your desktop and data across multiple devices

In the past, most business users had one device; a desktop, tweaked with all their individual settings and containing all their files. However, with the rise of laptops, smartphones, tablets and the bring your own device (BYOD) culture, business users are now constantly negotiating multiple versions of their own desktop, and keeping track of files is becoming a real headache. But with the introduction of Windows 8, desktop synchronisation and file management have become much more straightforward and automatic.

Getting your desktops to all look and act the same, no matter what device you use, can be a real boost to productivity. The good news is that in Windows 8 your desktop themes, along with language preferences, app settings, and browser history and favourites can be automatically synchronised across all your Windows 8 and Windows RT devices.

Synchronise user settings across your devices with Windows 8

To synchronise your Windows setting you need to first create a Microsoft User Account. There are two types of logon for Windows 8; a local account and a Microsoft account. On all previous versions of Windows your account logon was hardwired to the device you used, however with Windows 8 the new Microsoft Account allows you to link the account to the cloud and multiple devices, and setting it up is simple.

Step 1 - To see what version of account you have, you’ll first need to check your user settings. Open the Settings charm (either swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Settings, or If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down and then click on settings), and select Change PC Settings at the bottom right corner.

Step 2 – You should now be in the PC Settings app - next, select Users from the left-hand menu. Under the “Your Account” details on the right-hand side you’ll see your account name and the type of account. If you’re already on a Microsoft account then skip to Step 5. If you see a button with “Switch to a Microsoft Account”, click on that. To confirm your identity you’ll be asked for your current password, type this in and click OK.

Step 3 – You’ll now be prompted to enter the email address of your Microsoft account/Windows Live ID, and then the related password, and the security verification info. If you haven’t got an account you will need to set one up by clicking on the “Sign up for a new email address” link at the bottom of the screen and supplying your email address (you can use any email address) your name and address and contact data.

You'll also be asked to verify whether the PC you're connecting to your account is trusted. You'll get either an email or an SMS text message (depending on how you configure your Microsoft account) asking you to verify this system. You only need to do this step once.

Step 4 - On completing your Microsoft Account/Windows Live ID sign in, you’ll then be returned to the settings page and you‘ll see your account name has been changed to a Microsoft account/Windows Live ID and the “Switch to a Microsoft Account” button has changed to “Switch to a Local Account.”

By default your account will be set to synchronise your details to the cloud, if you want to change the synchronisation details you need to edit your PC Settings.

Step 5 - Open the Settings charm, and select Change PC Settings and then select Sync Your Settings from the left-hand menu.

Synchronise files across your devices with Windows 8

One of the biggest problems for many mobile users is synchronising documents and data between devices. Ideally what you need is a way of making it easy to create and edit files across multiple devices, and Windows 8 allows you to do that with the SkyDrive App.

With SkyDrive, you not only get the ability to share files across Windows 8 devices, you also get the ability to automatically sync your files across Windows 7, or Vista, Mac OS X Lion computers and Windows Phone, iOS and Android mobile devices – all you need do is install the free app and you’re away.

Step 1 - With Windows 8 (whether Standard, Pro, Enterprise, or RT), a Windows 8-style version of SkyDrive is pre-installed and is available on the Start screen. Other versions of Windows and Mac and mobile users need to download their SkyDrive App. Once installed you will need login using your Microsoft account

Step 2 – SkyDrive will automatically create a SkyDrive folder on your device and by default any file or photo placed in this folder will be automatically synced to your other devices that have SkyDrive.

Step 3 – However you may not want every PC device to sync to your entire SkyDrive, especially if you’re on the road and you’re paying for the connectivity by the Mb. So SkyDrive allows you to choose any folder(s) in your SkyDrive to stay synced with the SkyDrive folder on your PC (note this functionality isn’t available to mobile app users). To choose the folder to stay synced with right-click on the SkyDrive app on the toolbar and select the choose folders tab. Click on the Choose folders button and select the directories you want to sync to the device.

How to retrieve files that aren’t synced with SkyDrive

Inevitably there’s always going to be a file that you forget to synchronise with SkyDrive, but fear not, there’s a way to get those files as well. By using the SkyDrive Fetch file feature you get compete remote access to all the files on any PC – including any network locations if they're included in the PC's libraries or mapped as drives.

Step 1 – Open a browser on whatever device you’re using and sign in to your SkyDrive account at

Step 2 – The PCs (unfortunately files on Mac and Mobile app versions of SkyDrive aren’t available with Fetch) that have SkyDrive for Windows installed and are connected to the Internet will appear on the left under PCs. Click on the PC that has the file you want.

Step 3 – To keep the system secure you will be asked for a security pin code, which is automatically sent to your registered email address. Once you have input the pin code you will see all of the different directories on your remote PC. You can then browse through the files to view, print, or download the file you forgot just as if you were in front of the device.

Marcus Austin works for Firebrand Training as a Copywriter. Marcus has over 25 years' experience in the technology and business sector. His recent work includes constructing a mobile strategy for the Guardian Media Group, together with writing and editing for magazines and websites including TechRadar, Internet Retailing, IT Perspectives, and Santander Breakthrough.