There's a plethora of add-ons for Microsoft Outlook that claim to make working with Microsoft SharePoint easier. In my experience, many of them leave much to be desired, so I was keen to try Harmon.ie for SharePoint, Outlook Edition, to see if it could step up to the challenge of providing seamless SharePoint integration.
Accessing SharePoint documents can be a challenge for new users. Although it's possible to go through the SharePoint team site, I've always felt that you should be able to directly access them through Microsoft Office and Windows. Harmon.ie does this by giving users a single-pane view of SharePoint workspaces in the Outlook UI. As Figure 1 shows, the pane includes a Documents tab, where users can find, work on, and share SharePoint documents, and a People tab, where users can find, get information about, and collaborate with other SharePoint users. In addition, Harmon.ie lets users save and manage their email messages on SharePoint.
Installing and Setting Up the Add-On
Harmon.ie is easy to install and can be distributed using Group Policy Software Installation, Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or a similar product. SharePoint sites can be preconfigured in Harmon.ie to get users up and running quickly. As part of its mission to increase SharePoint adoption, Harmon.ie provides administrators with reports on SharePoint usage, which are based on data from SharePoint, Outlook, and Microsoft IIS logs.
I tested Harmon.ie with Microsoft Office 365, and adding my site was relatively easy. I was stumped for a while on which authentication method was needed, which turned out to be Use browser authentication instead of entering my Office 365 username and password directly into Harmon.ie. It would have been nice if the dialog box had given a hint about the correct authentication method to choose.
Harmon.ie adds a delay to the Outlook startup time, but this is only really noticeable the first time you start Outlook every day, before the binaries are cached for faster launching. More important, Harmon.ie doesn't render Outlook unstable, which can be a concern when working with third-party add-ons.
Working with Documents
After adding the Office 365 site, I tried to upload a folder via Harmon.ie and received an error message that said uploading a folder isn't allowed. Although you can map a network drive to SharePoint and upload a folder that way, you need to know what you're doing. I had hoped that Harmon.ie might make the process easier.
Searching documents worked well, although the requirement to click the Search button (or press Enter) to start the search seemed a little antiquated considering how the search functionality on the Windows Start menu works as you type. A nice touch is the document preview at the bottom of the Harmon.ie pane. It saved me from having to open documents to check their contents.
Harmon.ie's Documents tab gives information about each document in a SharePoint library, including when it was last modified and by whom. The view can be filtered to show only checked-out documents. The drag-and-drop functionality is handy; it works from both Windows Explorer and Outlook. Cut and paste operations can also be performed using the context menu. The Favorites functionality lets users follow a SharePoint library so that their Harmon.ie feed will display changes to existing documents and notify them if new items are added to the library. Finally, there's integration with Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) and Microsoft Lync so that users can initiate calls or chat sessions.
Working with Email
Harmon.ie lets users decide if email messages and attachments should be saved to SharePoint before they're sent. Alternatively, this setting can be centrally configured by system administrators. All email messages saved to SharePoint as well as email metadata are mapped to SharePoint columns to make sure the information can be searched.
Administrators can configure Harmon.ie to automatically replace attachments in outgoing messages with links, which is great way to save space in a Microsoft Exchange database. The whole process of replacing an attachment with a link and saving the data to SharePoint adds a slight delay when sending an email, but nothing too significant. Administrators can also configure Harmon.ie to automatically delete outgoing messages from Exchange after they're sent, designating SharePoint as the main storage location for them.
Benefits Outweigh the Slight Slowdown
The benefits Harmon.ie provides outweigh the minor disadvantage of slowing Outlook a little. In the month I've had it installed on my system, there have been no crashes or problems created by the add-on. Because of the features built into Harmon.ie, I haven't needed to visit my SharePoint team site. Considering that Outlook is where the majority of office workers spend most of their time, the product is successful in that users don't need to leave the Outlook UI. The learning curve to use Harmon.ie is short. Users might need to be told about its drag-and-drop functionality, but otherwise it's intuitive so it's unlikely that specialized training will be needed.
Harmon.ie for SharePoint, Outlook Edition