I want to use Windows' Briefcase utility to sync data between two computers, but the instructions are unclear. How do you do this?

George Brown, St. Petersburg, Florida

Briefcase can either store your shared data on a USB flash drive or other portable storage device, or move your files between, say, a desktop PC and a laptop via a network. Unless you edit the files directly in the briefcase, you can sync a briefcase with only one other system.

To set up a briefcase to work with a USB thumb drive, insert the device into a USB port, open Windows Explorer, and select the drive. Right-click a blank spot in the window, choose New, Briefcase, and give the briefcase a name. Double-click the briefcase to open it, click Finish in the useless wizard, and then drag the files and folders you want to sync into the briefcase. Close Windows Explorer and properly remove the USB drive.

When you use these files on another PC, don't put them on the hard drive. Instead, just insert the USB drive, open the briefcase in Windows Explorer, and then use the files as you normally would.

When you return to the first PC, insert the USB drive, open the briefcase in Windows Explorer, and click Briefcase, Update All (in Windows XP, just right-click the briefcase and select Update All). A dialog box will display the files that don't match between the briefcase and the hard drive, and it will show you which items should be replaced with which. If you disagree with an action, right-click the file to change its options. When you're satisfied, click the Update button (see Figure 1

Figure 1: Decide for yourself which files to update whenever you sync your files using Windows' Briefcase.

You can sync the briefcases on a notebook and a desktop PC if the systems are networked: Create a folder in the notebook's My Documents folder called Holds Briefcase, right-click it, select Sharing and Security, click Share this folder, check Allow network users to change my files, and click OK. On the desktop PC, create a briefcase in the notebook's Holds Briefcase folder.

Use the files in the notebook's briefcase. When you connect it to the network, sync the briefcase as described above, using the notebook as the flash drive.

Rip Music Off a DVD

Is there a way to rip audio from a DVD onto a PC? I record songs to tape, and from there to a PC.

Tommy Kikuchi, Woodside, New York

Unfortunately, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act calls into question the legality of convenient DVD rippers such as Handbrake. But I know of a better solution than recording to tape first (and it's legal), although because of a DVD's copy protection, it still entails some loss of sound quality. Simply connect one end of a stereo audio cable to your PC's Line Out jack (where you plug in the speakers) and the other end to the PC's Line In jack (where you attach the tape player or turntable). This requires a stereo audio cable with one-eighth-inch miniplugs on both ends. If you don't already have one, you can buy such a cable for less than $5 at any electronics store.

Once you're connected, rip the music with your choice of recording software. The PC will be silent until you plug the speakers back in, but your recording program's VU meter will tell you that there's sound. Remember that selling or giving away your digital recordings of any copyrighted material is illegal.

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