This is the second post on my eval of Groove 2007 as an offline solution for SharePoint. The same caveats apply as part 1 of my review of Groove 2007 Beta 2.
Manipulating files offline with the Groove 2007 SharePoint files tool
The Groove files tool has an easy to use interface. Right clicking on a file revealed a number of functions I could perform such as opening the file, checking it into and out of the server, editing it, saving it to the local hard drive, viewing properties etc. Files can be dragged and dropped to and from the desktop to the tool. The “Add Files” button enabled me to select files from the local file system and add them to the library, while “Save Files” is used to select files in the tool and save them to the local file system. When adding files to a library offline there is no way to fill in the metadata associated with a file and there appears to be no way to edit it using the properties dialog.
In addition, I couldn’t find a way to create a new file from the document library template, like I can in SharePoint. I could create new files for applications installed on my local machine (i.e. a blank word doc), but not from the SharePoint template. Document library templates are used to enable creation of new files in a library in a common format. They are particularly important for InfoPath form libraries since templates are essentially blank forms. In Groove 2007, therefore, it appears to be impossible to open a blank Infopath form and fill it out when I am working offline.
Preservation of Document Links
One of the tests I like to perform is to see how embedded links are handled when libraries are taken offline. This enables me to see how the format of the offline database mirrors that of the online SharePoint database.
Say I have two Excel files, A and B, and one cell in A is linked to the value of a cell in B. On a SharePoint site, if I change the value of the cell in B, the value of the linked cell in A is immediately updated. This works because file locations in SharePoint are represented by standard URLs. In practice, this technique is often used in Excel for consolidating budgets from individual departments into one company budget, for example.
Unfortunately, this didn’t work for me in Groove. When I sync these files down from SharePoint the link is broken. Even if I open the files offline from the Groove workspace and “paste link” the cell reference again and save the files, the link is broken when I re-open the files. This could be dangerous if you are relying on a Groove workspace to manage financial statements contained on a SharePoint site. Presumably this is because the files are stored in a database that isn’t supported by Excel.
When I added a file to the Sharepoint files tool, Groove showed me that there are unsynchronized changes in the client. Synchronization can be done manually by pressing the big “Synchronize Now” button, or automatically on regular time intervals. Once a sync was initiated, Groove gave me the ability to view pending changes before the sync was actually performed. The new file is then added to the online SharePoint site.
I did some testing with sync times for various file sizes and noted that sync bandwidth is independent of the changes made to a file. This leads me to the conclusion that they have not implemented their binary sync technology for SharePoint, presumably because the web services interface doesn’t support it.
I also wanted to test conflict resolution; to see what happens when conflicting edits are made to both the server and client version of a file. Once I made a change on both sides and initiated the sync, a dialog comes up showing the conflict. Pressing the “Resolve” button brings up the screen below. Selecting the “view” link enabled me to open the local version of the file, or go to the online doc library to open the file on the server. Once I decide which version to keep, I can select it from the radio buttons and the sync will complete.
That’s it for the features of the SharePoint files tool – it doesn’t do much more than that. In my last post I will summarize what I’ve learned and compare it to what the pundits have been saying about Groove 2007 as an offline solution for SharePoint.