Back in April we started to look at the upcoming capabilities in Groove 2007 for taking SharePoint offline. We posted a second time on the feature walkthrough of beta 2 in early June and then completed the walkthrough later in the month. This is the final post, and summary, in the series on taking SharePoint offline with Groove 2007.
Please bear in mind that I am the founder of Colligo Networks, a company engaged in developing offline collaboration software tools, so I am not a disinterested third party.
The ability to take SharePoint sites and content offline has been called the “Holy Grail” by both analysts and bloggers. This is because the ability to work offline is deemed to be essential for the growing population of mobile workers, yet it was not previously supported natively in SharePoint. In Office 2007, Microsoft has improved on this, most notably through desktop apps such as Outlook, Access and Groove. Some in the press have called Groove 2007 Microsoft’s answer for offline access to SharePoint content. On the other hand, Microsoft has been careful to describe it as a way of taking document libraries, only a portion of SharePoint content, offline. The purpose of this series has been to look at what will be included when Groove 2007 ships towards the end of this year. So, here’s the summary of what we found during testing.
Groove 2007 is a collaboration application designed for peer-to-peer information sharing, particularly for project teams and those that work across enterprise domains. It has a lot of functionality and therefore occupies a pretty big footprint on the desktop – about 700 MB. A small part of it’s functionality is an interface to SharePoint 2007, and for the purposes of this review, we concentrated on that aspect of it.
For Groove users wanting to take SharePoint files offline, the Files Tool is pretty easy to use. While online, the user simply enters the URL of the site they want to sync with and all document libraries are displayed. Once a library, folder or file is selected, Groove synchronizes the content down to the desktop and it is available offline. Files can be opened and edited and new files added to the library. Offline changes can then be sync’d with the Sharepoint server either manually or automatically on a time interval. Conflicting edits, when a change is made to the client copy and server copy of a file at the same time, are flagged during the sync cycle so that the user can choose the version they want to keep.
However, Groove 2007’s SharePoint implementation has several limitations. Its’ sole focus on SharePoint 2007 may be an issue for companies that can’t transition all of their content from SharePoint 2003 right away. In addition, users cannot create new documents, such as blank InfoPath forms, from SharePoint templates when disconnected since they are not stored locally.
Groove stores only a few default metadata columns, so document libraries cannot be sorted in the files tool based on custom metadata. Views are not supported either therefore, together with limited metadata, offline users will find it difficult to view, organize and retrieve documents from large SharePoint libraries like they can online. The fact that files are stored in a proprietary offline database as opposed to the file system means that embedded links in documents will not function offline like they do online.
Finally, by design Groove 2007 offline support is limited to SharePoint document libraries. This means that content in standard lists (i.e. links, events, announcements, issues, contacts, tasks etc.) and custom lists cannot be added, viewed or edited by offline users.
The bottom line: The developers at Groove (now Microsoft) have done a good job of implementing a tool that enables a user to sync files contained in SharePoint sites down to a workspace on their laptop. If a company has or is planning to deploy Groove to support project teams, then this is a must-have capability. However, for companies that are just looking for an offline solution for SharePoint for their mobile workforce, we would recommend looking at other solutions before making a purchase decision. Groove only supports a subset of SharePoint features and, given its size and complexity, may be significant overkill for the task.
Next up: I’ll do a summary of Outlook 2007 based on an updated evaluation of beta 2, and do a full review of Access 2007’s offline SharePoint capabilities. Let me know what you think.