Contact lends

A while back I was asked the following question: "I want to access my e-mails across my home network using Outlook 2000, but I'm not sure how to do this. Can you help?"

Here's my take on this problem. For some users it comes as a shock to find that, unless you're using Microsoft Exchange Server, there is no simple, built-in, reliable method for sharing Outlook contacts and calendars across a network.

A lot of this is down to the fact that standalone users store their Outlook data in Personal Folder .PST files, and they just aren't designed to be shared. The same problem occurs if two people try to look at the same Personal Address Book via a network share.

The good news is that the task is tricky but by no means impossible. You can either go down the third-party add-on route or try cheap and cheerful DIY solutions.

DIY method #1

You might not have seen it for a while, but Windows Briefcase is alive and well and living in Windows XP - see Figure 1. And we can use it to share Outlook data across a small network. Firstly, use the Archive or Export function in Outlook to extract the data you want to share into a new PST file. Save this in a shared directory or a server that everyone can access. Give full access rights to all those that need to amend the PST file. If most users need only to read the data and not change it, give them read-only access.

On each of the workstations create a Briefcase: click File-New-Briefcase. You might name it "Outlook Shares" or something similar. Next, drag a copy of the PST file you just created to the Briefcase to make a "sync" copy.

Back in Outlook, click File-Open-Special Folders or File-Open-Personal Folders to open the folder(s) from the Briefcase PST file in your Outlook profile. Repeat this task for each computer on your network that needs access to the shared information.

Now, before using Outlook, each person should select the Briefcase in Windows Explorer and choose Briefcase-Update All. When Outlook starts, each user will have the latest copy of the shared data. Users who have the right to update the shared info should also choose Briefcase-Update All each time they quit Outlook, so that changes are copied immediately to the network copy.

It's important to remember that Briefcase synchronises whole files, not individual folders or messages, and it's a good idea to restrict the number of users involved. Also remember that the "updates" occur spasmodically, not automatically. Furthermore, Outlook doesn't allow access to PST files that are currently being accessed.

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Roger Gann

PC Advisor (UK)
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