Finding the best ways to collaborate can be your key to corporate productivity and efficiency and, as a result, increased profitability and success. Among the leading corporate collaboration tools, Microsoft SharePoint and Hosted Exchange public folders have become the most popular. In this article, we will discuss some of the differences between SharePoint and public folders.
Many companies that use hosted or in-house Microsoft Exchange Server also utilize Exchange public folders for collaboration on documents and files. However, according to Microsoft, public folders may not be included in the next major release of Exchange, which means that businesses currently relying on public folders will need to re-evaluate their collaboration solution in the future. There are many advantages in moving to hosted SharePoint for your collaboration, content management and business process needs. This article will help you understand the benefits and strengths of SharePoint as well as public folders, and equip you with information to consider when selecting the collaboration solution that is best for you.
Document storage and management
Generally, public folders were not designed for document sharing and collaboration. They were developed as a central repository for static data or file storage. For example, a company can utilize public folders to store a set of administrative documents such as paid time off requests, expense reports etc., and have employees access the files, and print them out or save them to their local machines without making any changes in the public version. Marketing collateral, sales presentation templates, corporate logos and images, and training materials that might be needed by your employees can also be included. However, in order to access the documents, employees need to access the files from either their office PC or VPN in to their office from another location.
Microsoft SharePoint, on the other hand, provides your users with many document management features such as version control, check-in and check-out functionality, and automatic notifications of content changes. It is a superior solution for environments where files are accessed by multiple users who wish to contribute to documents and make changes frequently. Rather than using a collection of hierarchically structured folders as with public folders, SharePoint relies on a document library, allowing users to perform keyword searches within the file name or content to locate the necessary documents, which is very important if you use SharePoint to store multiple files that are frequently accessed by your employees. After locating a document, users can choose to just view or modify it. In order to make changes to any document, they are able to check it out and after the changes are made, check it back in. This prevents other users from modifying this document while you are working on it, which is important when editing files that have multiple contributors to their content. You can see whether the document is checked out by another user directly from your team workspace, whereas if you are using public folders, you must first open the document in order to be notified that it is being modified by someone else.
As a SharePoint site can be accessed from any web browser, users can access documents from any Internet-enabled computer, which also makes it easy for mobile employees who need to make quick updates to the documents while on the go, and can do it without having to VPN in to the office.
Another feature of SharePoint which is not available with public folders is versioning. When a document is modified, the previous version is not overwritten; it cannot be seen by the viewer but is still retained within the library. If someone wishes to revert back to an earlier version of the document, they can review the document’s history to retrieve a previous version.
Usability and interface
As public folders reside on an Exchange server, users are able to access these folders and their contents directly through their Outlook interface. As a result, public folders can be mail enabled. This means that a public folder can be associated with a particular email address, and users can update the contents of this folder by sending an email to that address.
Alternatively, ensuring that public folders are being used properly requires you to train employees and apply the appropriate permissions to your folders. The lack of user knowledge on the appropriate use of public folders may result in unintended and undesirable consequences. For example, if a user sends a message to all of his contacts and his contact list includes public folder email addresses, his/her message would also be posted to that folder which will clutter up the folders with inappropriate content and significantly increase the folder file sizes. On the other hand, users might delete content from public folders as they would do with the content of their Inbox, without realizing that it will impact other users.
SharePoint allows users to create team workspaces, helping teams communicate and collaborate by providing easy access to people, documents and information. Although you can’t post to your SharePoint site through Outlook, you can set alerts to be sent to you any time an update to a folder or document is posted, keeping you and your users informed as new files associated with specific projects are updated or uploaded. You can also access the contents of your SharePoint site through Outlook while offline by synchronizing your Outlook client with SharePoint.
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