Microsoft partner offers offline SharePoint access

A Microsoft partner is testing new software that will allow users of SharePoint Portal to collaborate offline.

A Microsoft software partner has launched the beta of a new product that will allow users of Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server sites to collaborate and share documents and information even when working offline.

Colligo for Sharepoint, from Vancouver-based Colligo Networks, is designed to give offline users full access to SharePoint-based portal sites, said Barry Jinks, president and chief executive officer of Colligo. A full production version of the software is expected to be released at the end of January, he said.

The new product allows users with access to SharePoint Portal sites to view and open those sites even when they are not connected to a network, said Brent Bolleman, strategic marketing manager for Colligo. Users do this by typing in the URL of the SharePoint site they want synchronized locally on their laptop through the Colligo application, which downloads and organizes all of the available content on the site for offline use, he said.

When accessing that information locally, a user can also provide updates to the site via their laptop. These updates will automatically be synchronized with the SharePoint site when the user is online again, Bolleman said.

Colligo also plans to offer peer-to-peer file sharing capabilities in a future version of its SharePoint product that will allow offline users link up and collaborate on projects in real-time, he said.

Colligo already has a general flagship product, Colligo Workgroup Edition, that enables users of Windows applications that use shared drives to serve out information via peer-to-peer networks when disconnected from a corporate server, Jinks said. That product was released first in 2001.

The company also has a Lotus Notes edition of Colligo Workgroup that enables workers of IBM's Lotus Notes application to collaborate in real time without needing a connection to a Lotus Domino server. Colligo for Lotus also allows Lotus Notes users to work in real time offline by establishing peer-to-peer networks between users' computers so they can share and update information on the fly, he said.

Jinks said Colligo decided to release a SharePoint product when customers told them that while Microsoft's portal is cost-effective and efficient for online collaboration, it is sorely lacking a rich offline client for workers who don't always have access to networks.

"We heard from customers that [SharePoint is] an online-only product and we have teams of people and individuals that need to access data in a SharePoint Portal environment offline and in some cases need to share that information with others," he said.

Cliff Reeves, a general manager of .Net at Microsoft, discussed this problem in a recent blog entry that highlighted Colligo's work to make SharePoint a better collaborative environment for offline workers.

"Windows SharePoint Services -- which offers shared document libraries -- has long suffered a technical disadvantage compared to Notes/Domino because it provides no automatic offline and synch support," Reeves wrote in a September entry on his "Most of the time" blog. Auditors using SharePoint will not have a local copy of the SharePoint files unless they copied them manually. However, Colligo now plans a plug-in for Sharepoint."

Microsoft has worked closely with Colligo to develop its SharePoint product, according to Reeves and Colligo's Jinks.

Microsoft plans to enable some offline capability for SharePoint through the next version of Office, code-named Office 12. But Bolleman, who is under a nondisclosure agreement with Microsoft about specific Office 12 features, said that SharePoint offline functionality offered in the product will be limited. Colligo's product, however, will keep the organization and design points of SharePoint sites intact when providing offline functionality instead of serving up capabilities in pieces, he said.

"Colligo's aim here is to emulate the functionality that a SharePoint site designer builds into the site and allow you to use that business logic and organization offline," Bolleman said.

Jinks, which has about 200 customers, said Colligo's software is used mainly by large accounting and consulting firms, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, that have employees at various locations who need to access corporate documents in the field.

Colligo has not released pricing information for Colligo for SharePoint, Jinks said. Colligo Workgroup Edition currently sells for US$99 per seat, while Colligo Workgroup for Lotus Notes sells for US$149 a seat.

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