News has emerged from Microsoft that they managed to shut off the last on-premises public folder in September 2014, some 18 years after the original deployment. Apparently the public folders have been replaced by a mixture of SharePoint, OneDrive (for Business presumably), and site mailboxes.
The internal announcement, which I received via several parties, contains an internal article from 1996 informing Microsoft employees of the functionality that public folders would deliver. The then General Manager of Exchange, Brian Valentine, who later shipped Windows 2000 and has since gone on to Amazon, is quoted as saying that public folders were “designed from the ground up to enhance group collaboration applications like discussion and tracking.”
Public folders would support “social discussions, restaurant reviews, product status reporting, classified ads, and sales/contact tracking”, all of which made me a little nostalgic for the many promises that Microsoft salespeople made at the time, along with the famous chess game example eForms application where players submitted moves to a public folder and then waited for their opponent’s move to be posted.
The deployment of public folders also promised “less mail in your Inbox” and the “ability of people who are new to discussions to follow previously posted information…”, all of which sounds very much like the case advanced for enterprise social networking products like Yammer. A case of recreating the wheel, perhaps?
One thing that Microsoft acknowledged public folders could not solve was “reply-all snafus”, which I assume include mail storms caused by people using reply all to respond to large distribution lists or reply all to respond to a message with some private information that shouldn’t really be shared with all of a list. We still have the same problems today, even with the array of collaborative features that Microsoft is now lining up in Office 365.
Microsoft’s IT group might have to look at their deployment of site mailboxes though as it seems like this Exchange 2013 feature is going to go the way of the dodo reasonably soon. All of the action is in the new Office 365 groups feature and Microsoft is now recommending to customers that they should use Groups rather than site mailboxes if possible.
The longevity of public folders is remarkable. Their highpoint was in 1996 and not much happened afterwards until modern public folders appeared in Exchange 2013 sixteen years later. Who knows what the future holds for modern public folders as their sole advantage is that they are part of Exchange and require no additional software. That advantage only holds for on-premises and hybrid deployments as customers who use Office 365 don’t have to care about such things because Microsoft provides all the necessary bits behind the scenes to enable newer forms of collaboration.
Speaking of which, we’re still waiting for news about what collaboration technology will transfer from Office 365 to Exchange 2016 when Microsoft ships it next year. It would be nice to have the ability to deploy Clutter and People View and Office Graph and Groups and Delve and… in both hybrid and on-premises installations.
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