As convenient as it is to have access to Exchange data in Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server, out of habit your end users still might not use SharePoint as frequently as they do Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. How can you put some of your SharePoint data into an individual user’s Outlook client?

The first thing you can do is to replace the generic Outlook Today page with a SharePoint page in the user's mailbox properties, as Web Figure A shows. By doing so, you can be sure that your users become accustomed to looking at SharePoint for announcements, tasks, and other information. To change an individual’s Outlook Today page, perform the following steps:

  1. Right-click the top-level folder and select Properties.
  2. Select the Home Page tab.
  3. Change the Address text box to the URL of the SharePoint page that you want to display to Outlook users.
  4. Click OK.

Alternatively, you can modify the registry value that controls this setting. Outlook 2003 stores this value in the registry under the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\11.0\Outlook\Today subkey in the UserDefinedURL value. To push this change out via a Group Policy Object (GPO), create a custom Group Policy administrative template (.adm file) and apply it to the group of users you want the policy to affect. To learn more about creating custom .adm files, see the Microsoft article "Recommendations for managing Group Policy administrative template (.adm) files" (http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=816662).

If you have external users who use Outlook to connect to their email over a VPN, users have to wait a long time for a timeout to occur in Outlook. A slow load time in the Outlook client can cause end users to think there's a problem in your Exchange environment. You could use a single sign-on (SSO) solution or basic authentication over HTTP Secure (HTTPS), but these methods are problematic and aren't recommended in for external or traveling users. If this type of user is your main target, you could customize the Outlook Today page to be a local resource that uses minimal external resources. To learn more about this type of Outlook customization, go to the Microsoft Office Deployment Center (http://office.microsoft.com/enus/assistance/HA011384291033.aspx) and download the Office Resource Kit, which includes a Customizing Outlook Today white paper.

Exporting Events and Contacts
Both SharePoint and Outlook use the vCard and iCalendar standards, enabling users to copy contacts and events from SharePoint lists to their Outlook Contacts and Calendar folders. You can manually move data from SharePoint to Exchange by using the Export Event or Export Contact button to save a .vcf or .ics file to disk. To do so, open the .vcf or .ics file to save the event or contact into Outlook, as Web Figure B shows. This method works well for individual events and contacts but won't handle a recurring event. For recurring events, you must download each individual instance of the event separately.

Instead of exporting each event individually, you could link an entire event or contact list from SharePoint to Outlook 2003 as a read-only copy of the SharePoint data, as Web Figure C shows. Once you’ve exported the read-only calendar or contact list, you’ll get a side-by-side view of two calendar displays. You're actually looking at two sets of Outlook data, the original Exchange data (which can be cached locally in an offline folders file—OST) and the read-only personal folder file (PST) created by SharePoint. Although a user can't edit the SharePoint data locally in Outlook, any changes made in SharePoint will show up in Outlook the next time the PST is updated (Outlook goes to SharePoint each time the PST is loaded). Outlook checks the PST links every time that folder is selected and every 20 minutes after that.

This feature is perhaps most useful when only a few people, rather than the entire set of SharePoint users, modify the centrally controlled calendar. A great benefit for this style of calendar is that a user can easily add reminders to SharePoint events (the events are copied to the user’s local folder when a reminder is added) without having to individually download each individual event on a calendar.

SharePoint Personal Folders and Outlook
It's important to understand how the SharePoint PST system works. When the first SharePoint list is linked to Outlook, a single PST file is created in the user’s \Documents and Settings\%username%\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook folder. This file, SharePoint Folders.pst, will be the only PST created, but it can contain multiple folders internally, all correctly named. For example, if you want to link two different SharePoint contact lists and a SharePoint list of events, they'll each be named appropriately in Outlook (using the portal name and list name) and will each be contained in the same SharePoint Folders.pst file. You can open this PST only with Outlook 2003.

Sending Users SharePoint Lists as "Attachments"
Another way to inform your Outlook 2003 users about important SharePoint contact lists and event lists is to send them an email message with a link which, when clicked, automatically adds the list to the user’s Outlook client. These links use the stssync protocol and require the inclusion of some fairly specific parameters. For example, a link to the events list at http://sharepoint.freetraining123.com/mgmt/Lists/Events/AllItems.aspx would look like this: Stssync://sts/?ver=1.0&type=calendar&cmd=add-folder&base-url=http://sharepoint.freetraining123.com/mgmt/Lists/Events&guid=\{593A190E-B6DE-49AA-B3E8-59456005CECA\}&site-name=Management&list-name=Events&list-url=/AllItems.aspx

For more information about the stssync parameters, see the Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies Resource Kit sample chapter (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/sppt/reskit/c4061881x.mspx).