I noticed this excellent post by Scott Jamison, an Information Worker architect at Microsoft. He clearly discusses the approach used in Office 2007 for taking SharePoint content offline, which he describes as follows:
Outlook, Groove, and Access each support varying degrees of offline sync with SharePoint, based on the strengths of that application
Note: bolding mine.
I think this emphasizes how Microsoft’s approach differs from that of third parties. Rather than providing a single tool that emulates the functions of SharePoint offline, MS has chosen to pepper parts of it throughout Office 2007. I suspect this was preferrable since each application has its own strengths and an established offline user interface model that differs from SharePoint. Scott outlines when he thinks each application should be used for taking SharePoint content offline:
Outlook: Aggregate PIM and document information from SharePoint sites for personal use
Groove: Team collaboration and the richest offline team document experience
Access: Data-centric and other “tracking” applications
For a complete summary of the parts of SharePoint that are supported by each of these applications, you may want to look at our previous post on that topic.
As Scott points out, since Outlook documents are read-only, you will need to add another “client application (specifically Word 2007, Excel 2007, or PowerPoint 2007)” to post modified documents back to the SharePoint site. This is great if it’s an Office document, but if you are storing content from a non-Office application (say Visio or a third party product) in SharePoint, you have to upload modified content back to the server manually through a browser.
None of the Office 2007 applications store SharePoint document templates along with the library so, for example, it is not possible to fill out a blank Infopath form offline simply by clicking “New” at the top of the library as one does on a SharePoint site. You would need to separately download it to your hard drive, edit it and, in the case of Outlook, manually store it back on the SharePoint site through a browser when online. If you plan to use Outlook or Groove to store documents offline, be aware that they don’t store custom metadata, or allow you to organize libraries using views. Finally, since the offline data is stored in different database formats depending on the application, links between content are not preserved offline and content cannot be found on your hard drive using standard desktop search tools.
In the end, you will have to decide how you want to manage your content when working with SharePoint offline. If you plan to use SharePoint in the same way all the time for limited content or don’t mind having to use several applications to synchronize with the server, Office 2007 may be the right choice. However if you are looking for a single application that stores and synchronizes SharePoint document libraries and templates, standard and custom lists, metadata and views for Office and non-Office applications, you should consider a third party solution such as Colligo Contributor.