Blogger: Larry Cannell
Many enterprises buy into Microsoft’s integrated vision of collaboration because they assume their products work well together. While in the case of SharePoint and Office this is technically true (more so with the 2007 versions), many of these integrations are either not used by or not visible to the average Office user.
However, integrations introduced in SharePoint and Office 2010 may change this perception because they are exposed in menus and dialogs used by nearly every Office user. Perhaps supporting SharePoint Online and having SharePoint provide the basis of Office Live Workspaces is encouraging the SharePoint and Office planners to take a more user-centric perspective.
In any case, here are some of the new integrations between SharePoint and Office 2010 that you should look for.
The Office 2010 file manipulation functions (e.g., file/open, insert picture/video, save to, etc.) makes it significantly easier to work directly with SharePoint content. In previous Office editions SharePoint content was accessible but was not easy to find. These integrations include:
- A list of favorite SharePoint sites is presented to the user alongside of “My Documents” in the file manipulation menus/dialogs. This list is managed on SharePoint. No more cutting and pasting URLs to jump to SharePoint content.
- SharePoint becomes a primary source for document templates used in Office applications. Previously, templates opened from Office were mostly limited to the familiar “Blank” templates, downloaded templates stored locally, or the Office Online templates (such as the ever popular Word templates used for creating fancy meeting agendas). In 2010, corporate and group templates should be easier to access through the Office applications.
- A document’s properties can be aligned with SharePoint’s new taxonomy and tagging system using a rich, auto-complete interface. In 2007 specific document properties can be required by a SharePoint content type but the new taxonomy/tagging system enables a potentially more valuable user experience within both the Office application (to select a term or add a tag) and SharePoint (to drive navigation of documents based on these terms/tags).
Office 2010 applications cache files opened from SharePoint and will only transmit new or changed information, rather than retransmitting the whole file over the network. This is enabled by the new MS-FSSHTTP protocol, which can support uses cases such as these:
- Assume a user opens a 50MB PowerPoint file stored on SharePoint. The browser starts up the PowerPoint application and then PowerPoint transfers the file from SharePoint. The user likely knows it’s a large file and waits, so far so good. However, every time the user wants to save the file (File/Save), even if only a single character is changed, the entire 50MB is transferred back to SharePoint (which can take several minutes, depending on the network bandwidth). This is simply how the WebDAV protocol works and is a major inhibitor to working directly with Office files stored in SharePoint. In 2010, the Office application keeps a local cache of the document and only the changes are transmitted to SharePoint (a matter of a few bytes). In short, the performance of saving files to SharePoint should be similar to that of saving changes to a local disk.
- Documents can be simultaneously co-authored by multiple users. In the case of Excel, for example, multiple people can be working in different parts of the spreadsheet at the same time. These co-authoring scenarios are started by users editing files stored within a SharePoint site.
In my opinion, teams working together on documents should store and work with them directly in workspaces, rather than keeping a single master copy on someone’s computer and simply use the workspace to periodically share a copy of “the latest version.” By keeping the master copy of a file in the workspace “the latest version” is instantly available to everyone. Office’s use of local caches and the MS-FSSHTTP protocol will make the behavior of these scenarios more acceptable to users.
However, this is a big change in how many people work. Could you move documents from your personal “My Documents” folder to a SharePoint site? Time will tell if these capabilities are sufficient to encourage this mode of working together. If not, then these new integrations may also go unused.
Incidentally, you can also read what I wrote during SharePoint Conference 2009 on my personal blog under the spc09 tag.