Just when I thought the constant interchange of documents by e-mail was a thing of the past, I watched colleagues struggle with a project that involved editing a series of files over a three-month period via e-mail. A lack of version control resulted in my colleagues working with old versions of documents, creating much frustration and many hours of additional work to ensure that all edits made it through to the final copy.
Sharing documents through e-mail seems like an inexpensive and simple solution, but the process soon proves to be a false economy if there are more than two people and multiple documents involved. While many large corporations use SharePoint and professional best practices to ensure that only links to shared documents are circulated, a lot of small businesses still rely on e-mail to share documents internally.
Microsoft Office 2010 improves on sharing and collaboration with new features designed for consumers, small businesses and large enterprises.
Office 2010 applications such as Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint can save data (or synchronize notebooks, in the case of OneNote) to Windows Live SkyDrive, a free service for consumers that anyone with a Windows Live ID can use for storing and sharing up to 25 gigabytes of data. SkyDrive replaces the Office Live add-in for previous versions of Office, which allowed users to store and share content on Microsoft’s Office Live website.
Figure 1 – Saving a document to Windows Live SkyDrive in Word 2010
With SkyDrive, users can create folders and protect their contents by restricting access to specific Windows Live users; alternatively, users can allow anyone to access a document, relieving the need for a Live ID. SkyDrive may be a satisfactory solution for individuals and small businesses, but if you need to control how information is shared, SkyDrive could prove to be a liability. Fortunately, the Do not allow Save to Web integration setting can be enabled for Office 2010 applications to prevent users from saving to SkyDrive.
Sharing content using SharePoint Server 2010 — or SharePoint Foundation 2010, the replacement for Windows SharePoint Services — gives organizations the control required to determine how files are stored and who they can be shared with. SharePoint Server can be extended to the extranet so that business partners can also gain secure, controlled access to internal documents. For those organizations that don’t want to host SharePoint in-house, SharePoint Online, a hosted service from Microsoft, also supports basic extranet access.
SharePoint Workspace 2010, which replaces Groove 2007, is a new standalone application in the Office suite that’s included in the Professional Plus edition, and can be licensed separately. SharePoint Workspace 2010 expands the sharing capabilities of Office by allowing users to create three different types of “workspace” for offline synchronization and administration.
A Shared Folder workspace uses a Windows share on a local drive to store files, and the content can be synchronized to the machines of other workspace members. SharePoint Workspace automatically creates shared folders for users, who can then invite participants without having to modify permissions on the shared folder, essentially allowing users to provision resources without intervention from IT or any special technical knowledge.
SharePoint Workspace allows workspace members to synchronize a copy of their SharePoint site to their local computer (libraries and lists only). Basic administration and editing can be performed while disconnected from the server, and changes are uploaded as soon as SharePoint Workspace 2010 reconnects to the network. Workspace members can also access and search SharePoint document libraries directly in Windows Explorer.
Groove Workspaces are peer-to-peer workspaces that allow users to share a variety of document types across network boundaries, such as firewalls and NAT routers. Groove Workspaces can be synchronized for offline access for any user who has access to the workspace.
Figure 2 – A Groove Workspace in SharePoint Workspace 2010
Groove Workspaces come in two varieties: 2007 and 2010. Groove 2010 Workspaces are compatible only with SharePoint Workspace 2010 clients, and they are no longer able to pull content from SharePoint Server sites, which was a feature of Groove 2007.
By default, Groove Workspaces in SharePoint Workspace 2010 use Microsoft’s own relay servers to cache files, so that when offline clients come online, changes to files can be synchronized from a central location. Using the out-of-the-box solution, there’s no way for IT staff to control the content that’s being shared, or with whom.
Groove Server 2010, which must be purchased separately, allows organizations to set up their own Groove Relay and Management servers, allowing more control over who has access, and to what. User accounts can be synchronized from Active Directory for easy provisioning. It may be prudent to disable Groove Workspace functionality in SharePoint Workspace if your organization doesn’t plan to deploy its own Groove Servers.
SharePoint Server 2010’s new co-authoring feature allows users to work simultaneously without having to check out a document. When a Word document is opened from a SharePoint Server 2010 site that is already being edited by another user, the file can still be opened for editing and paragraphs are locked individually until the document is saved. This differs from working with a Word 2010 document already opened for editing on a network share, which will only have read access.
Figure 3 – Co-authoring a document in Word 2010
Documents can still be checked out in SharePoint Workspace if required, to prevent other workspace members from editing the files. Excel also contains similar collaboration functionality, but is only available in the web version of the application.
Co-authoring with SharePoint 2010 has the potential to improve workflow and save time because it’s no longer necessary to wait for other users to complete their edits. The integration of SharePoint Workspace 2010 and Windows Live SkyDrive into the Office suite provide lots of options for document sharing, each with its own pros and cons.
Before adopting a solution, you should carefully evaluate the security implications of the available feature set, especially concerning SkyDrive and Groove Workspaces. The main drawback of SharePoint Workspace 2010 is the limited support for content types available in SharePoint Server; for instance, it’s not possible to synchronize SharePoint Wikis, which may make this new addition to the Office suite a nonstarter for your organization.