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

Recently Microsoft started to allow beta testers to publicly blog about the features of most of the Office 2007 client applications. Several of these products can take SharePoint content offline, so I thought I’d discuss them here, starting with Microsoft Outlook 2007.

First, the caveats: I’m the co-founder of Colligo, a company focused on supporting the collaboration needs of mobile teams. We are about to release an offline SharePoint product, so while I will try to be unbiased, I am not a disinterested third party. I will be looking at the integration of Microsoft Outlook 2007 Beta 1 with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services V3 Beta 1. The capabilities of these products could change significantly prior to release by Microsoft and since the documentation is understandably thin at this point, I may not completely understand how all the products function yet.

So let’s jump in. For the past week, I’ve been testing the offline SharePoint features of Microsoft Outlook 2007 Beta 1. In this, the first of several blogs on the topic of offline SharePoint in Outlook 2007, I will present an overview of the capabilities of the product. Over the next week I will take a deeper dive into the features and end up with a summary evaluation of the product.

Test setup
– Toshiba Tecra laptop running Microsoft Office 2007 Beta 1
– Intel Server running SharePoint V3 Beta 1

SharePoint List Types Supported in Outlook 2007

Like Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007 allows read only access to calendars & contact lists in SharePoint V2 sites. On SharePoint V3 sites, the capability is increased to read/write access for items in calendars, contact lists, task lists and discussion boards. File sync in document libraries is also supported. Other types of standard lists (for example issues lists or links), custom lists or properties such as SharePoint views and metadata are not supported in Outlook 2007 yet.

First Time Sync

Initial synchronization to take content offline is initiated by the user through the browser when they are connected to a WSS server. On the V3 server, the user can select which of the supported lists they would like to take offline. Syncing a list for the first time creates a new offline folder in Outlook. Subsequent synchronizations can be initiated either from SharePoint or from within Outlook.

Offline Storage of SharePoint Content

SharePoint content is stored within a special PST file entitled “Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services”. It can be saved, opened, or moved like other Outlook PST files.

Opening and Editing Documents in Document Libraries Offline in Outlook 2007

Outlook 2007 first downloads documents and folders within the same library as headers, or a list of available documents. Users can then browse the content and mark documents for download on the next synchronization. Once downloaded, users are supposed to be able to search for content, open documents and read/edit them offline. I have verified most of these capabilities but have not yet been able to successfully save edited files back to document libraries. I hope to get some more assistance from Microsoft over the next few days so I can report on it. At this point, Outlook 2007 does not support renaming, deleting, and creating new documents and/or folders in offline document libraries.

Opening and Editing Items in Other Supported Lists Offline in Outlook 2007

As previously mentioned, users can also sync calendars, contact lists, task lists and discussion boards from SharePoint V3 sites to Outlook 2007. Unlike document libraries, however, all items in the list are immediately downloaded the first time a sync is initiated from the server. Once downloaded, items can be opened, edited and saved to the offline list. I have successfully tested this capability. Outlook 2007 supports renaming, deleting, and creating new items in these offline lists.

Synchronizing Changes With the SharePoint V3 Server

Modifications made to offline list items can be synchronized with the SharePoint server when a user is online. Like email, sync is initiated either automatically in the background, or explicitly by the user. I’ve confirmed that edits, adds and deletions to SharePoint list items are synced back to the server during this process. Since I can’t save changes to doc library items, I haven’t been able to test this part yet.

Outlook 2007 is capable of identifying synchronization conflicts that can occur when differing changes are made to the online, or SharePoint, copy of an item and to the Outlook, or offline, copy. In this event, the server version is unchanged and is copied over top of the version in the Outlook library or list, while the edits made to the Outlook version are preserved in the conflicts folder.

That’s a quick overview of the capabilities. In the next entry, I will take a deeper dive into the features of the product and the user experience.

Barry.

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