Colligo NewsMicrosoft Outlook 2007 Beta 1 Offline SharePoint Eval – Part 2

The same caveats apply to this post as the last one on this subject.

This time I’m going to delve deeper into the offline SharePoint features of Outlook 2007 Beta 1 from the point of view of the user experience. This entry will deal with SharePoint document library behavior in Outlook.

Working with offline SharePoint Document Libraries in Outlook 2007 Beta 1

SharePoint V3 server offline sync of doc libraries is initiated from within the SharePoint site itself. I couldn’t find a way to initiate this first sync from within Outlook. Once the user has selected the library to download, the standard Outlook send/receive dialog appears and shows the progress of the sync.

The first time a sync is performed a new folder, entitled “Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services” is created on the left pane below the standard mail folders. Several sub-folders are also created in this process with the following labels: 1) Conflicts; 2) Deleted Items; 3) Local Failures; 4) the site and doc library name; 5) Search Folders.

The Conflicts folder is used to store the user”s version of a conflicting item when a change is made on both the server and Outlook. I’ll discuss this further in my next post. The Local Failures folder stores content copied into a SharePoint List in Outlook that was found to be incompatible with the server during synchronization.

If the user clicks on a document library sub-folder, the middle pane displays the list of files in the library under the heading “Older”. I assume that this is because files are actually treated much like emails in Outlook, hence are categorized by date. It wasn’t clear to me what the date heading referred to. While the files themselves are displayed in Outlook, all metadata, or properties such as check in and check out, are not displayed in the Beta. I also noticed that if the document library contains folders, the folder hierarchy is flattened through this process so that all folders and their associated files are displayed at the same level.

After the sync completed I noticed that documents are not initially downloaded to Outlook, but rather headers, or file and folder names, are. In order to select a file for downloading, the user double clicks or right clicks it and can then choose to mark the file for downloading on the next sync cycle. Once a send/receive is initiated (either manually or automatically) and the marked files downloaded; opening them brings up the dialog shown when a user opens an email attachment (e.g. to select “open”, “save” or “cancel”). Same for folders. Presumably this is because SharePoint files and folders are managed and stored offline in .pst files like email attachments.

If the user then chooses to open and edit the file, they cannot simply save it back to the document library like they can on a SharePoint site. In the Outlook beta, anyway, the document library (referred to as a “Shared Folder”) is apparently read-only. I suspect this will be changed in the final version. In addition, the documentation states that renaming, deleting, and creating new documents, as well as folders is not supported within Outlook. Because documents cannot be created or edited in Outlook document libraries, I wasn’t able to test synchronization of files in document libraries back up to the SharePoint site.

Drag and drop of files into and out of Outlook SharePoint doc libraries works fine. When a file is dropped into a document library it is stored under a separate heading labeled “Today”. While files can be copied into the library, as stated earlier they cannot be sync’d back up to the server during a send/receive cycle.

I was interested to see if linked files in SharePoint doc libraries would work properly in Outlook. I loaded a couple of Microsoft Excel files into a SharePoint doc library on the server. One of these Excel files had cells which linked to the other spreadsheet. By the way, this works fine in SharePoint – i.e. if the user opens the file with the links in it on a SharePoint site links work, as long as they are relative. Once I sync’d these files down to Outlook, however, the links were broken – presumably because these files are now stored in a .pst file instead of in the Windows file system.

That’s it for now. Next post I will talk about how other types of SharePoint lists have been implemented in Outlook 2007 Beta 1.

Barry.

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