Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services is a useful tool that lets you collaborate with your colleagues and share documents. The main drawback has been that you needed to be online to access and modify information. For me, it's also hard to keep track of the multiple sites I work with. However, Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 now combine with Microsoft Office Outlook 2007 to provide a sophisticated way to work offline with SharePoint data. By using Outlook to store SharePoint data, you have a single place to look up and modify schedules, contact information, documents, and tasks; new items are available in one place without accessing different SharePoint sites.
With Outlook 2003, you can access some lists offline, such as Calendar or Contacts, but this access is read-only; you must make any modifications on the SharePoint server. Document libraries aren't available offline with Outlook 2003. Outlook 2007 lets you synchronize calendars, contacts, tasks, and discussion boards into a personal folder file (PST). You can add to, edit, or delete items when you're offline, and when you're back online, changes will synchronize with the SharePoint server. Also, you can synchronize document libraries: Even though items are stored as read-only in your PST, Microsoft Office 2007 system applications, such as Word 2007, PowerPoint 2007 and Excel 2007, let you edit documents and store your modifications in the SharePoint Drafts folder. When you're online and open the documents, you'll be prompted to synchronize the changes back to the server. You can't synchronize some SharePoint items, such as announcements, links, custom lists, database applications, issue tracking lists, and surveys.
You enable synchronization with Outlook 2007 by accessing the SharePoint list or document library you want to synchronize and clicking "Connect to Outlook" on the Actions menu. This menu item is available only if you're using Outlook 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 or SharePoint Server 2007. You can choose which lists to sync only from SharePoint, not from Outlook. When you enable the sync for the first time, a new PST file called "SharePoint Lists" is created. This file can't be shared among multiple Outlook profiles, and if you remove it, you'll break the connection to SharePoint. Outlook stores all items downloaded from the SharePoint site in the PST.
Outlook's Send/Receive function downloads the item's header information first, then the body, just like Cached Exchange Mode. For immediate download, click the “Download this document" button. You can also see which documents are locally available by accessing the Offline Documents folder in Search Folders.
The synchronization process is integrated into Outlook's Send/Receive Settings; you can define specific synchronization settings by choosing Define Send/Receive Groups. By default, all your SharePoint sites will be synchronized at the same time as your email. However, you can create a Send/Receive Group for SharePoint and configure when synchronization takes place. For more granular control, you can configure additional groups for individual SharePoint lists and set the time when they should be updated.
You remove SharePoint lists from synchronization either by deleting the folder in Outlook or by using the Remove button from the SharePoint Lists tab in the Account Settings dialog box. This removes all items from the folder and the local PST but doesn't alter the online contents of the SharePoint lists. Closing the PST or removing it from the Data Files tab in the Account Settings dialog box will also break the link to SharePoint; to reconnect, you need to add lists for synchronization from SharePoint again, which creates a new PST and makes the old one obsolete. If you break the link, remember to manually delete the old PST from your folder structure.
In the next column, I'll look deeper at how SharePoint synchronizes calendars, tasks, contacts, and documents with Outlook 2007, and I'll explore some of the limitations that come with this method.
Outlook Internet Site of the Month
From now on, I plan to end each of my columns with a note about something interesting for Outlook that I've found on the Web. This month's focus is Ryan Gregg's PDF Preview Handler for Outlook/Vista. This tool lets you view PDF files in Outlook 2007. It uses Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.x or later and works with Windows Vista and Windows XP. You can also view PDFs through Windows Explorer in Vista. Use the following link to get this freeware tool: http://blogs.msdn.com/rgregg/archive/2007/03/17/pdf-preview-handler-for-outlook-vista.aspx
Corrections to this Article:
- After this article was published, Siegfried Jagott discovered that the method of synchronization described here is not completely accurate. For a more thorough look at Outlook and SharePoint synchronization, see "Outlook 2007 and SharePoint Synchronization: How It Really Works."