Does Offline Mean Out of Touch?
We don’t live in the office, and as more of our work is facilitated through SharePoint, we need to work with our team members, the documents we are sharing, and the conversations we are having when we are offline. As a browser-based tool, SharePoint does not natively offer offline capabilities. What are people to do—like Laura, who will be interviewing channel partners for a week—when they need access to SharePoint but will not be connected to the network?
There are three approaches: two from Microsoft, and one from Colligo Networks.
Microsoft Office Outlook 2007
The first Microsoft alternative is Microsoft Office Outlook 2007. Some of your information in SharePoint can be linked to Outlook and accessed when you are away from the office. Information like team calendars, team to-do lists, lists of contacts, and libraries of documents, among some others, can be connected to Outlook for access when offline and out of the office. For example, a SharePoint team calendar can be displayed in the Calendar part of Outlook 2007. To do this, open the calendar in SharePoint, and click Connect To Outlook on the Actions menu (see Figure 4-31).
Figure 4-31. Connect a calendar list in SharePoint to Outlook.
You will be prompted to confirm the connection; say Yes. You can connect multiple SharePoint calendars to Outlook 2007, and you can see a threaded view of all your calendars. This means that you can see your personal calendar in light of all of your SharePoint meetings and milestones (see Figure 4-32).
Figure 4-32. SharePoint calendars can be threaded with your Outlook Calendar.
Outlook 2007 is a great choice under two conditions. First, when your need is focused on reading or viewing the information in your SharePoint project site when you are away, connecting the information from SharePoint to Outlook 2007 is the way to go. Second, if you will want to add new items into standard lists on the SharePoint project site when you are away from the office, Outlook 2007 is a suitable tool. It doesn’t let you add new documents to document libraries or view and modify custom lists, however. If you would like to save documents (such as e-mail messages) in SharePoint document libraries or folders, or need to change existing information in libraries and custom lists within Outlook 2007 when you are not connected to the network, the Colligo Contributor Add-In for Outlook, explained later in this chapter, is a better alternative.
Microsoft Office Groove 2007
The second Microsoft alternative is Microsoft Office Groove 2007, a collaboration tool for teams that offers many of the same team collaboration functions that SharePoint does. Microsoft acquired the maker of Groove—Groove Networks—in April 2005. One of the capabilities offered by Groove 2007 is the ability to connect a document library from a SharePoint site with a Groove site. This means that an individual who travels frequently can take a SharePoint document library with them via Groove, and read and edit those documents while they are away from the office. When they next connect to the corporate network, Groove sends any changes made in those documents back to SharePoint, and brings down any updates since the last time the user was connected. But remember, it is only for documents—not for everything else in the SharePoint site (see Figure 4-33). We talk more about Groove 2007 for document sharing in Chapter 7.
Figure 4-33. SharePoint document libraries can be synchronized and shared through Groove 2007.
Colligo Networks is a Microsoft business partner that sells desktop applications for Microsoft SharePoint. Using Colligo Contributor, a user can connect a complete SharePoint site—or a selected subset of the site—to their desktop for access when they are offline. There are three editions of Contributor:
A standalone client for offline access to SharePoint
A Microsoft Outlook add-in for SharePoint document and e-mail management
A professional edition that includes both of these interfaces
Colligo Contributor Client enables users to work with a SharePoint site through a client interface rather than a browser. The layout of the Contributor Client looks pretty much the same as it does within SharePoint. Colligo Contributor Add-In connects SharePoint document libraries, folders, and lists to a mailbox in Outlook. Users can drag documents into SharePoint and access documents and list items online or offline, directly within the Outlook interface.
With either the Contributor Client or Add-In, individuals can read items such as documents and tasks, they can make changes to the information that is in there, and they can add new items to any of the lists or libraries. When individuals are connected to the network again, any changes will be uploaded back to SharePoint, and any updates in the SharePoint site will be downloaded into Contributor. If someone else has changed the same document, task, calendar event, or other item that you changed, Contributor will tell you about the conflict and ask how you want to resolve it (see Figure 4-34).
Figure 4-34. Colligo Contributor Pro offers full synchronization with SharePoint sites for offline access.
Contributor is a great choice for individuals when they are required to travel frequently as part of their work, but also need to stay in the loop on what’s happening with various projects. It enables them to have their team data with them at all times, and be able to follow what’s happening within the wider team, and to contribute regardless of where they happen to be. Do be aware, however, that the current edition of Colligo Contributor does not support working with wiki page libraries or wiki sites when you are offline.