With Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, you can download a read-only copy of your SharePoint contacts. Outlook 2007 combined with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 gives you full read/write access to SharePoint contacts—you can even modify them offline. Let's see how using shared contacts can help you to retire your old public folder contacts.
In previous columns, I explained how you enable synchronization by selecting the desired SharePoint list or document library and clicking "Connect to Outlook" on the Actions menu ("SharePoint Integration with Outlook 2007, Part 1," April 27, 2007, and "SharePoint Integration with Outlook 2007, Part 2," May 25, 2007, ). After you establish a link between your SharePoint contacts and Outlook, you can use the link to synchronize all contact attributes from Outlook back to SharePoint, though you might not see all attributes with the default SharePoint view. If you add information to a contact field, even if it isn't displayed in the SharePoint contact list, or make any other modifications in Outlook, the SharePoint list is updated so that all other members of the site have the current contact information. Linking your contacts also adds the SharePoint contacts folder to Outlook's Address Book so you can resolve email addresses in new messages. You can modify this behavior manually by clearing the "Show the folder as an email Address Book" check box on the Outlook Address Book tab in the contact folder's properties. One big limitation I've found is that you can't synchronize SharePoint contact folders to your PDA, so you won't have access to them on the road.
Managing your contacts when you're offline is a particularly useful feature. When you modify a contact offline, the SharePoint list is updated the next time you're online. You can easily update SharePoint contacts by dragging items from your local contacts folder and public folders, or by using Outlook's Import function. Another benefit of managing your contacts with Outlook is that every member of your team can manage contacts; modifications aren't restricted to a single person. Every contact includes information about when it was modified last and by whom.
Unfortunately, MOSS and WSS 3.0 don't support Outlook distribution lists (DLs). If you try to synchronize DLs, the sync will fail and the item is moved to your Sync Issues\Local Failures folder in the SharePoint Lists PST. As a workaround, you can create contact folders in SharePoint representing each DL and select every contact from that folder when you address an email message to the list. However, this method might create duplicate contact items for the same person, so you should carefully consider whether this option is right for your site. Let's hope Microsoft fixes this problem in the next version of SharePoint.
There are other sync errors you might run into. SharePoint checks the values of every contact item to verify it's in the correct format. For example, if you use the contact's "Web page address" field for something other than a valid URL, you won't be able to synchronize it to SharePoint; the item will be moved to the Local Failures folder. To troubleshoot such problems, check the WSS sync log file, which includes SharePoint error codes. The file is located by default in your local drive's Temp folder. A number for the current version of the log precedes the filename; the file with the largest number is the most recent (e.g., 11-wss-sync-log.htm).
Have you ever tried to add pictures to your contacts in SharePoint? You have to upload the picture, which can't exceed certain dimensions because SharePoint doesn't resize it, then link it to your contact--which takes some effort! It's much easier to use Outlook: You just open the contact and add a Contact Picture. The picture will automatically be attached to the contact in SharePoint and can be shown in the contact list when manually linked as a photo. Of course, you'll also see your colleagues' pictures when you receive messages from them in Outlook.
Outlook adds two new buttons when you open a SharePoint contact, one that lets you copy the contact to your local contacts folder and one that lets you open the contact on the SharePoint site. If you add SharePoint contacts to your local contacts—which you might need to do for PDAs—make sure your SharePoint contact folder is above your default contacts in the Address Book or you won't see the pictures in your email messages. To set the order, in your Address Book, go to Tools, Options, then use the arrow buttons to order the address lists.
So go ahead and retire your public folder contacts and move them to SharePoint. It's a much simpler and more convenient way to manage them. With the many ways to update content to SharePoint, this won't be a hard task. In next month's column, I'll continue my SharePoint and Outlook series and show you what's special about SharePoint calendars.
Outlook Internet Site of the Month
This month's focus is on the updated version of Microsoft's Outlook Tasks gadget for Vista Sidebar. It shows your flagged items (e.g., tasks, emails) in your Vista Sidebar just as they appear in your Outlook 2007 To-Do Bar. You can sort the tasks and decide which ones should be displayed. It requires Windows Vista as well as Outlook 2007. Use the following link to get this freeware tool: http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=ef27c368-814f-49d5-8167-603dfec628cd&l=1
As always, if you find a link for an interesting new freeware tool or add-on for Outlook, let me know! Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.