There are many products on the market aimed at promoting Microsoft SharePoint adoption. They strive to better integrate SharePoint functionality into Microsoft Outlook (and other Microsoft Office applications) by giving users everything they need to manage SharePoint documents without leaving Outlook. Workshare Point is one of those products. But does it have anything that's going to make it stand out from the crowd? That's what I wanted to find out when I tested it recently. (See also, "Bringing SharePoint to Outlook").
Installation and Setup
Workshare Point works with Office 2010 SP1 and Office 2007 SP3. It runs on Windows 7, Windows Vista SP2 or later, and Windows XP SP3 or later. On the server side, Workshare Point supports SharePoint Server 2010, SharePoint Foundation 2010, and Office 365.
You install Workshare Point using a Windows Installer (.msi) file, which you can distribute using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Group Policy, or a similar technology. Although the Workshare website states that Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0 is the only prerequisite, the product also requires the Microsoft Visual C++ libraries, Visual Studio 2010 Tools for Office Runtime, and Office Primary Interop Assemblies. Fortunately, Workshare Point checks for these prerequisites and will download and install them if they aren't present. Setting up Workshare Point is simple and only requires the URL of the SharePoint site that you want to work with.
Workshare Point includes a simple configuration manager application that you can use to control integration with Office suite applications. From within the configuration manager, you can perform some basic tasks, such as licensing, configuring UI options, and adding and removing SharePoint sites. You can also use the registry to add or remove SharePoint sites.
Outlook integration is enabled by default. Unlike most other SharePoint plug-ins for Outlook I've worked with, Workshare Point isn't relegated to just a sidebar. As Figure 1 shows, it introduces several components:
- Matter View pane. By default, Workshare Point "replaces" Outlook's Reading Pane with its own Matter View pane. (You can still view Outlook's Reading Pane by pressing the arrow next to it.) The Matter View pane makes it easier to work with and navigate through SharePoint content. Matter is a legal term that refers to documentation connected with a legal practice and seems to be a rather strange label choice, because the term might not be understood by everyone. However, you can change the name of this pane if desired. The Matter View pane includes a search function, which works as expected. You can add columns to the pane and use conditional formatting to help find and organize documents. Workshare Point will automatically map email metadata to SharePoint columns if the columns and mappings are defined in SharePoint.
- Workshare Point sidebar. Even on a large screen, the Workshare Point sidebar, which sits under the main Outlook navigation bar on the left, is a little small to be easy to work with.
- Preview pane. This pane is great for viewing content, without having to open a document.
Besides these components, a Workshare bar has been added to the new email message window in Outlook. One of the Workshare bar's options is the ability to file the email in a specified SharePoint folder after it's sent. Workshare Point has a Pending Uploads folder, so if there's a connectivity issue, email will still be filed in the SharePoint destination folder. The Workshare bar also includes a search option.
You can drag and drop files from Windows Explorer to the Matter View pane in Outlook. You can also drag and drop files from the Workshare Point sidebar or Matter View pane to Outlook emails, either as a file or link. The default drag-and-drop behavior is to add a file to an email as an attachment. If you want it inserted as a link instead, you press the Alt key while dragging the file. There's also the option to right-click a SharePoint document and add it to a new email message as an attachment or link. However, if you're selecting the option to add a SharePoint document as a link from the context menu on the Workshare bar from inside a new email message window, Workshare Point will create a new email message -- a behavior that seems a little awkward because it differs from the behavior of the drag-and-drop method.
From time to time, Workshare Point loses connection to SharePoint. This is manifested in an inability to select a folder in the Workshare Point sidebar or empty folders in the Matter View pane. Server connection problems with the Workshare Point plug-in can also cause Outlook to freeze. This is the kind of problem that will drive users crazy, and quite rightly so. I also found Workshare Point's connection to SharePoint a little slower than competing products.
Integration with Other Office Applications
Workshare Point integrates with not only Outlook, but also Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. In these Office suite applications, Workshare Point adds Local Open and Local Save options to the File menu, which you use for opening and saving files on the local machine. Workshare Point also replaces the standard Office Open and Save options with its own Open and Save options, which you use to open and save files in a SharePoint site. With this setup, you can easily work with Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files both on the local machine and in SharePoint sites.
Not Quite as Good as the Competition
After using Workshare Point, I can say that it feels like a corporate in-house solution that's been let out into the wild. As such, it suffers from a problem that applications created by in-house developers often have: a lack of usability. That's not to say that Workshare Point is unusable, but it doesn't feel as polished or as well thought out as competing products. My advice would be to look at the competition first or wait for the next major update if you want to use Workshare Point to take advantage of its integration with other Workshare products.