How do I... Edit SharePoint documents using Outlook 2007?

Cached Exchange Mode and Outlook Anywhere (connect to Microsoft Exchange using HTTP) have changed the way mobile users work. Although Outlook Web Access has dramatically improved, and we can now set the Out Of Office Assistant and server-side rules from any Web browser on any computer, there is still something comforting about using our own familiar PC to access our e-mail within Outlook 2007 when we're away from the office.

With Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 and Outlook 2007, you can now incorporate SharePoint into your offline routine. By connecting a SharePoint library to Outlook, you can edit files offline and synch them back to the network using the Internet. Here's how to do it.

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.

The process

From any SharePoint library, click Actions | Connect To Outlook (Figure A). Click Yes to the message confirming that you want to connect the library to Outlook. You may be prompted for your SharePoint login credentials if you are not connected to your corporate network when you attempt this step. You won't have to do this again. Outlook will automatically synch updates from the SharePoint site to your Outlook list whenever you're online so that you don't need to navigate to the SharePoint site just to see the documents. Figure A

Now, let's say that you're leaving the office to get on a plane and you want to edit a PowerPoint presentation en route. Simply go into the document library and check out the document before you disconnect from the corporate network. This ensures that no one else will save over the document while you have it reserved for editing. The library you connected to is listed in the left navigation pane under SharePoint Lists (Figure B). Find the document you checked out and double-click on it to open. Figure B

If you're connected to the Internet in the terminal, but you aren't logged in with your SharePoint credentials, you'll click Open if prompted about the trustworthiness of the document. There will be an Edit Offline button in a toolbar at the top of the screen (Figure C). If you see the button, click it and then click OK to acknowledge that the edited document will be saved to a folder called SharePoint Drafts in your My Documents folder. (If prompted by a PowerPoint security message, click Enable.) Figure C

When you reach a cruising altitude, make sure your wireless network adapter is switched off, power up your laptop, and open Outlook. Double-click on the document to open it and make as many changes as your battery life will allow. Remember to click the Save button as often as you would with any file. When you begin your final descent, close out of the file. Notice the message that appears in the preview pane of the document in Outlook (Figure D). Figure D

Note: This message will not appear if you opened the document while connected to the Internet in the terminal and then simply closed your laptop lid to get on the plane, but it will pop up as soon as you connect to the Internet again. For me, this is great to know, since I rarely power down my computer. The process still works in spite of me.

When you arrive at your hotel and connect to the Internet, open up Outlook and log in to your SharePoint list if prompted. You can quickly identify the file you have checked out because you'll see an icon with a red arrow next to it (Figure E). This is especially convenient if you edited more than one document while en route. Figure E

To update SharePoint and check the document back in, open the document from the SharePoint List in Outlook and click the Save button. When you close out of the document, it should prompt you to check it in so that others can view your changes (Figure F). Figure F

If your company does not allow you to access SharePoint over HTTP, you can still use Connect To Outlook to edit documents when you're out of the office, but you'll need to connect to your corporate network (via VPN, for example) before you open the document from the SharePoint list in Outlook. You should be prompted to update the Server (Figure G) at that time. Figure G

No VPN? Remember that the edited copy is in your My Documents folder under SharePoint Drafts, so you could even e-mail the file to your site administrator (he or she will have to discard the check-out) to upload the new version to the SharePoint library.

Didn't check it out?

If you forgot to check out the document before you left, be aware that others may have updated the document while you were editing an offline copy. You will still be prompted with the message above and you can still upload your new version over anything that was done while you were out, so you want to be careful not to overwrite another person's changes. Someone will need to go into the Version History and compare and merge the documents. This is why check-in/check-out and library versioning are crucial when working with SharePoint documents offline. To prevent the need to compare and merge documents later, it's a good idea to get in the habit of checking them out before you leave the office.

Tiffany Songvilay is a Microsoft Office Specialist and co-author of So That's How! 2007 Microsoft Office System: Timesavers, Breakthroughs, & Everyday Genius. She has presented productivity scenarios at Microsoft's Convergence, ITEC Conference and Exhibition, and for IAAP. Currently engaged as a business analyst for Microsoft Enterprise customers, she designs and implements training plans that help companies transition their workforce smoothly into new technology. Her Office Over Easy blog covers a variety of IT and end users issues.