SharePoint comes with two types of lists that have a similar function: Tasks and Project Tasks. The difference between the two is in how the lists are displayed on the SharePoint site: Basic tasks provide just a list of items and project tasks show you the list of tasks along with a Gantt Chart with the start dates and due dates of each task. Using Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 combined with Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, you can take your SharePoint tasks local and modify them when you’re not connected to SharePoint. Because both types of task will sync with Outlook 2007 in essentially the same way, I'll refer to them both just as tasks lists.
If you've seen my previous columns on SharePoint and Outlook 2007 integration, you should already know how to enable synchronization, but I'll mention it for those that haven't done it before. All you need to do is select the desired list in SharePoint and select "Connect to Outlook" on the Actions menu. (For more information, see "SharePoint Integration with Outlook 2007, Part 1," April 27, 2007, and "SharePoint Integration with Outlook 2007, Part 2," May 25, 2007.)
Outlook synchronizes all task attributes except reminders. So, you can't set a reminder for somebody else; you can set reminders only for yourself. All other attributes, including details such as Billing Information or Mileage that you can select as columns to display in SharePoint under Settings, List Settings, are correctly synchronized. However, if you add custom columns from SharePoint to a tasks list, it becomes a custom list, which you can't synchronize with Outlook. Therefore, if you want to use the synchronization feature, stick to using the available default columns.
If you have Outlook 2007 synchronized with SharePoint, tasks that are assigned to you automatically appear in your Outlook To-Do Bar. For example, your team leader can manage all the team’s tasks in SharePoint, and all team members will receive their specific tasks in their local To-Do Bar. Updates to all tasks are automatically available to everybody, so the project's progress is easy to track. This is a great way to manage a small-scale project.
During my work with tasks list integration, I've found some limitations. First, when you insert a picture in the body of a task in Outlook, the picture is converted to a bitmap (.bmp) file and added as an attachment to the task in SharePoint. The Description field of tasks list items in SharePoint is text-only, so you can't add screenshots, for example, that you see immediately when you open the task.
The next limitation I've found with tasks list integration is that task request messages from Outlook aren't supported through SharePoint. If you drag and drop or copy task requests to a task folder that's synchronized, the task request changes to a normal task and the person who assigned it to you won't receive updates if you modify the task request. Finally, I found a problem with item permissions. If you change permissions on a single item in the tasks list instead of the entire list, you'll get an error in Outlook 2007. Your wss-sync-log.htm log file will show this error: “The operation failed because an unexpected error occurred. (Result Code: 0x80070005).” Basically, it’s an "access denied" error. Troubleshooting such problems can be very hard, so you probably want to avoid assigning permissions to single items in lists that you synchronize with Outlook.
As with the other features I've addressed in my SharePoint and Outlook integration series, such as calendars, discussion boards, and contacts, the ability to sync tasks lists is particularly powerful when you need to work with multiple SharePoint sites because you'll have a single point where everything comes together: Outlook 2007! SharePoint and Outlook work great together, and let's hope that Microsoft will work on an even tighter integration of SharePoint offline capabilities in the next version of Office. Stay tuned!
Outlook Internet Site of the Month
Microsoft just released the latest version of Microsoft Office Outlook Connector. This nice tool connects Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003 to your Windows Live Hotmail or Office Live Mail accounts. It creates a local offline folders file (OST) so you can create, modify, or delete your messages, contacts, and calendar entries when you're on the road. And the best thing is that it works with your corporate Exchange mailbox, so you can access both your private and your work mailbox together through Outlook. If you're running a genuine version of Microsoft Office, you can download Outlook Connector for free from Microsoft.
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.