Using Office 2003 with SharePoint Services

In this Daily Drill Down, Debra Shinder shows you how Office 2003 fits into the SharePoint environment and how you can create and manage document and meeting workspaces and troubleshoot problems with shared workspaces in Office.

Office 2003 is designed not only to provide stand-alone applications and standard collaboration tools, such as change tracking, comments, and comparison and merge capabilities, but it is also designed to integrate with Windows SharePoint Services or WSS (formerly called SharePoint Team Services or STS) and SharePoint Portal Server, to make it even easier for groups of people to work together in a shared workspace.

Office 2003 apps allow you to create shared workspaces directly from the Office program as well as from a shared attachment or from a SharePoint Web site. You can also use the Data Connection Wizard to access data retrieval services installed on SharePoint, including Microsoft Business Solutions data on a SharePoint server.

What’s a shared workspace?
As the name implies, a shared workspace is a collaboration feature that makes it possible for many people to work together. Shared workspaces are actually Web sites, and can be accessed either through the browser or through Office 2003’s Shared Workspace task pane. There are two types of shared workspaces that are supported by Office 2003:
  • Document workspaces provide a way for multiple users to work on and review a particular document (without needing to be “present” at a specific time) and keep track of changes and current versions.
  • Meeting workspaces provide a virtual “place” where team members can share information about meetings (such as date/time, place, attendees) and documents that are related to the meeting agenda.

It is important to note that the meetings do not take place on the Web site; the meeting Web site is not a “chat” or real time communication forum. It is a repository for information used in the meeting, and can be updated and viewed by attendees during the meeting. The meeting can be conducted via conferencing (for example, using NetMeeting), over the phone, or in person.

Both types of shared workspaces include document libraries (containing the documents that are available to workspace members), task lists (where you can assign tasks to other team members), links lists (containing relevant hyperlinks), and the members list (that contains user names of workspace members). E-mail alerts and instant messaging can be used to let members know that workspace items—such as a document or list—have been changed.

The creator of a shared workspace automatically becomes its administrator, and can invite and remove members. Site groups are used somewhat like security groups in Windows, in that different groups have different permissions to the site and you assign members to groups according to the permissions you want them to have.

What’s SharePoint?
SharePoint is Microsoft’s premiere information-sharing technology that’s designed to make it easy for workgroups to share documents and communicate among themselves, search content, and otherwise function as a team.

There are two parts to SharePoint:
  • Windows SharePoint Services (formerly STS) can be used on its own to create Web sites through which small teams can share information. STS is included with FrontPage 2002, Office XP Developer, and Professional Special Editions. A beta version of WSS v2 can be downloaded from Microsoft’s Web site.
  • SharePoint Portal Server (SPS) is built on STS technology and allows for information sharing across multiple servers in an enterprise and supports a more structured publishing process. SPS v2 (SPS 2003) must be installed on a Windows Server 2003 computer (SPS 2001 could be installed on a Windows 2000 server). IIS is required.

Office 2003 integrates with both SharePoint services alone and with SPS.

Creating a document workspace
A document workspace can include one or more documents that are contained in a SharePoint site. There are several different ways to create a new document workspace. For example, you can do so in the process of sending a shared attachment via e-mail or you can use the Web browser to go to a SharePoint Web site and use the controls on the site (you’ll need to belong to a site group that has the appropriate permissions).

Within Office, the most straightforward way to create a new workspace is through the Shared Workspace task pane, which is a new feature in Office 2003.

To access the task pane in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, or Visio 2003, click Tools | Shared Workspace. This opens the task pane on the right side of the document, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The easiest way to create a shared workspace from an Office application is via the Shared Workspace task pane.

The task pane contains six tabs across the tab, identified by icons. They include:
  • Status tab, which gives you information about the document’s status.
  • Members tab, (shown in Figure A) which is used to view the list of workspace members and add new members.
  • Tasks tab, which is used to list and assign tasks related to the document to members.
  • Documents tab, which is used to list the documents in the workspace.
  • Links tab, which is used to create hyperlinks to resource materials and other related documents.
  • Document Information tab, which provides information regarding when and by whom modifications to the document have been made.

To create the document workspace, you can use any of the following tabs: Members, Tasks, Documents, or Links. You will usually use the Members tab to create workspaces because the task pane opens to that tab when you open it from the Tools menu. Type a name for the document workspace (by default, the name of the document is entered in this field, and enter a location (URL) for the workspace on the SharePoint server. Then click the Create button to create the new site and store the document in its document library.

If you create a workspace by sending a shared attachment to e-mail, you will not be able to specify a workspace name—the workspace will have the same name as the document. Thus, if you want to give it a different name, you should create the workspace from the task pane.

Creating a meeting workspace
A meeting workspace can be created using Outlook 2003 or using the controls on an existing meeting workspace site or other WSS or SPS site accessed through your browser. Meeting workspaces contain, in addition to task lists and document libraries, meeting-specific information, including agenda, objectives, and attendees. You can use Instant Messaging (Windows Messenger, MSN Messenger, or Exchange Messaging Service) to send messages to other meeting attendees.

To create a new meeting workspace from Outlook 2003, first create a meeting request by clicking File | New | Meeting Request (or open one that already exists). Click the button labeled Meeting Workspace, and this will open the Meeting Workspace task pane, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
You can use the meeting request dialog box to create a new meeting workspace from Outlook 2003.

Note that you can also link the meeting request to an existing meeting workspace. If you select to create a new workspace, you’ll be asked to select a location (URL for the server) and a workspace, creating a new one by selecting a template language and template type. Templates are used to specify the look and default parts for the workspace site. Built-in templates include: Basic meeting, Blank meeting, Decision meeting, Social meeting, and Multipage meeting workspaces.

The site administrator must enable site and workspace creation for the site group to which you belong before you can create a new document or meeting workspace. Site administrators can create workspaces by default.

After the meeting workspace has been created, you will be able to click a link in the task pane to go to it, and a link will be added to the text box at the bottom of the meeting request form that is sent to those who are invited, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
When you create or link to a meeting workspace in a meeting request, a link to the workspace is added.

Clicking the link will take you to the Meeting workspace site on the SharePoint server, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D
Clicking the link will take invitees to the meeting workspace on the SharePoint server.

Assigning members to site groups
You can control the level of access that users have to documents, lists, and other resources on the SharePoint site. You can do this by assigning users to one of the following default site groups:
  • Reader:Has read-only access; cannot make changes or add content
  • Contributor: Can add content to document libraries and lists, but cannot create them or make changes to the site
  • Web Designer: Can make changes to the Web site and create new document libraries and lists
  • Administrator: Can do anything, including adding and removing members and controlling their access

If you are a site administrator, you can change a member’s permissions by editing the site’s group membership from the SharePoint Web site, using the Site Settings control, as shown in Figure E.

Figure E
Use the SharePoint site to assign members to site groups in order to control their permissions on the site.

Working with documents in the workspace
When you have a shared document open in an Office application, such as Word, you can make changes to the document. These will not be replicated to the copy of the document that is stored on the workspace site until you click Update Workspace Copy in the task pane, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F
To replicate the changes you’ve made in a document to the copy stored on the SharePoint server, click Update Workspace Copy.

To get updates that have been made to the document by others who share the document in the workspace, you can click the Get Updates button. You can also configure the document to get updates at the time you open a document and at set intervals (the default is every 10 minutes). You can also set the document to send your updates to the SharePoint server when you close the document. These configuration settings are made by clicking the Options… link, which opens the Service Options dialog box for the shared workspace, as shown in Figure G.

Figure G
You can configure when and how to get updates to a document or save your own updates to the copy on the SharePoint server.

Once a document workspace has been created for a document, the Members tab in the task pane will show you which members of the workspace are currently online. You can also add new members or send e-mail to all members via this tab, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H
When working on a document that is stored on a shared workspace, you can view, add, and e-mail other workspace members.

The document workspace Web site can be opened from within the document by clicking the Open site in the browser link at the top of the task pane. The workspace, by default, will have sections for announcements, the documents that are part of the workspace, tasks, members, and links, as shown in Figure I.

Figure I
The document workspace Web site includes sections for announcements, members, tasks, and links as well as the document(s).

SharePoint technologies, which include Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server, provide a convenient way for multiple users to work together through shared workspaces. Office 2003 integrates nicely with SharePoint by allowing you not only to open documents stored on SharePoint sites but also to create and manage many aspects of a document workspace or meeting workspace from within Office applications.

About Deb Shinder

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

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