SharePoint and Office 2013 Finally Get It: Offline Document Sync

Your company has just rolled out a shiny new SharePoint environment designed to enhance your day-to-day efforts with respect to collaboration and information-gathering. You finally have a place to go every morning to get your daily dose of Company updates and important information. Not only that, but the new document management features with Version Control will finally put an end to the longest filename ever contest.  Remember JulyExpenseReport_KS_7-12-11_v.3.xls?

It’s all going so well. That is, until you have to fly to Dallas for work and you want to take a few documents offline, work on them and re-sync with SharePoint when you return to the online world. And it would be great if you didn’t really have to think about it right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. SharePoint 2010 does many, many things right and it’s without a doubt a fantastic product. However, it does fall a little short in the area of offline content synchronization.

Aside from manually downloading documents to your computer and later re-uploading them to SharePoint, there are really two options available for offline content sync:

  1. Connect to Outlook This function allows you to connect a SharePoint document library to your Outlook. It’s treated like a folder in that each message is actually a document. The problem is, it is only a one-way street. You can easily push content down from SharePoint, but there is not a simple way to get it back in. It’s great for simply reading documents on that 2-hour flight, but falls short if you need to make updates.
  2.  SharePoint Workspace If your company has Office 2010 Professional Plus, you are in luck. This little gem is a standalone application that allows users to sync entire sites (or specific document libraries and lists) to an offline repository. Edits made offline are automatically pushed back to SharePoint when you are back online. What’s the catch? Performance is inconsistent. In 2 months of testing, I’ve come across numerous errors with confusing messaging such as The field ‘AppAuthor’ contains a lookup to list ‘AppPrincipals’ that cannot be resolved. Microsoft was kind enough to provide a Resolve Error button, which is supposed to be a one-click fix, it just doesn’t work every time.

The bottom line is that the offerings aren’t anything to write home about. If SharePoint Workspace were was consistent, it would serve those who have access to it quite well. The problem is, people are getting used to a higher standard thanks to the Dropboxes and Cubbys of the world. These are applications that do one thing and they do it very well: constant synchronization of documents across multiple mediums with a seamless offline sync.

Enter Microsoft SharePoint 2013, Office 2013 and SkyDrive Pro. It seems Microsoft has been doing its homework and providing its faithful users with a nice, simple offline sync function. Microsoft has now fully integrated its SkyDrive functionality throughout SharePoint 2013 and Office 2013.

In what’s sure to be the most talked about and utilized function, users are now provided a Sync button when viewing any document library.

SkyDrive1

Once you click through a confirmation screen, SharePoint will take a few seconds to do its thing and voila!

SkyDrive2

There are a few things to take note of:

  1. A new SharePoint Libraries link has been added to the favorites section. This will list all document libraries in which you have set up a Sync. As you can see, it looks a lot like Dropbox and Cubby. It’s pretty obvious that was not an accident.
  2. Each document will appear here and is available offline (land, sea, air, space?). Any changes made to these documents will then be sync’d back to SharePoint once you are back online.
  3. All of this magic is managed from a nice, simple tool in the system tray. You can see the sync management options in the screenshot below:

SkyDrive3

 

This is exactly what SharePoint need: a simple way for the frequent traveler to work on documents offline that just works. It looks like Microsoft got the memo.

 

 

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