Three weeks ago, when we lost power for a few days at our office, we looked around at what changes we might want to make to be better prepared for “work without servers” and one idea was to use SharePoint Workspace. We have a lot going on this month, so that idea fell quickly into the “yeah, yeah I need to look at that” bin. Thursday, after a long day in the office, I decided to finish a few tasks from the comfort of home – within 45 seconds of sitting down at home, the lights went out. As soon as they came back on, task #1 was to sync the site I was working with.
Going from “I know SharePoint Workspace is installed on this laptop” to working in SharePoint Workspace, could not have been easier. I set aside my SharePoint expertise, put on my “user” hat and clicked the option under Site Actions that said “Sync to SharePoint Workspace.” Just as I had hoped, SharePoint Workspace (I’m going to just call it Workspace) launched and walked me through a simple sign-on/setup process. After mindlessly clicking “Next”, “Next”, “Finish”, my site was synchronized. I was in a hurry to get back to work, so I wasn’t trying to evaluate this newfound technology, but I did notice a few things that I really liked.
The project I was working on involved the creation of a group presentation for our Policyholder meeting. The person who opened the PowerPoint file the last time, left it checked-out. Workspace knew that, and enforced the check-out in my off-line workspace. Actually, that was a problem for me, but I got that person to check the document in, pressed “Sync” and I was ready to roll.
One of my tasks was to add a few images to this presentation, and this task was definitely easier using Workspace than using SharePoint by itself. The first thing that I liked was when I found an image on Flickr that I wanted to include (CC license with attribution). I opened Flickr’s View All Sizes action, selected the size I wanted, and copied the image to the Clipboard. Then I pasted the image into Workspace, which downloaded the file, and I renamed it – Done. Then I realized that in previous years, I had stored images for this meeting in a separate folder. I created a new folder for this year’s meeting in Workspace, and I simply dragged the new image into that folder. Moving content from one location in SharePoint to another has never been easier.
The presentation I am working on is large, and working on it from a distance has meant opening it in PowerPoint over a VPN connection (45 seconds) or downloading a copy and working on it locally. Opening the file in PowerPoint makes for very quick saves, since PowerPoint seems to only update what you actually change. Downloading the file makes for a much faster operation, but it leaves me with a distinct copy on my laptop, which means I’m in charge of synchronization. The total round-trip time on the download and upload back into SharePoint is about 22 seconds, not counting the delay while I edit the version comments. Working on the presentation out of SharePoint Workspace streamlines both opening and saving the file. Opening is fast because the file is local. Saving is fast because Workspace only transmits the updated packets when it synchronizes with SharePoint. Of course, the real benefit lies in the fact that I no longer have to be at all concerned with where the latest version is. Once I sync’d Workspace, my changes, new files, new folders, versions and comments were visible to the world, as it were.
I think I would have been happy with those few features, but then something else literally popped up at me. While I was working on something else, Workspace popped up a message telling me that there were “unread changes” in a document that I had been working on. Sure enough, someone had modified the presentation.
I know that all of these things probably seem trivial to someone who is constantly connected to their SharePoint server. I thought I was one of those people, until recent events left me in the dark. I thought that SharePoint Workspace could fill a need for synchronizing critical documents, but now that I’ve used it, I think it has the potential to make my life easier on a daily basis.