Colligo's Offline Sync for SharePoint

For SharePoint developers, effective offline synchronization has emerged as a veritable Holy Grail. The workforce today is mobile, and mobile workers need to be able to view and modify team spaces offline, and then sync them with the corporate server. Almost overnight, offline synchronization has become a must-have, add-on capability among SharePoint users.

Until recently, Microsoft hasn't offered much in the way of offline capabilities in SharePoint Portal Server 2003. The company is improving its support for disconnected scenarios in both Office 2007 and Groove 2007. But, says Barry Jinks, president and CEO of Colligo Networks, there are still a lot of people out there building custom offline clients for SharePoint.

"Those developers should be spending their time focused on the online experience," Jinks says. "They should have a completely generic offline capability that works with whatever content is developed on the site."

Jinks' Vancouver-based company has been working with Microsoft on a new .NET application- and data-synchronization technology designed to enable mobile users to leverage the rich-content management and team-collaboration capabilities of SharePoint when they're working offline.

Colligo is probably best known to the SharePoint crowd for its free Colligo Reader for SharePoint, a read-only client released last spring. The second offering in that product line, Colligo Contributor for SharePoint, is a .NET rich-client app that emulates the functions of SharePoint team spaces on a laptop. Contributor is designed to allow users to download, create, organize, view, edit, and save content on their unconnected machines, much as they can on a SharePoint server.

Microsoft's SharePoint technologies provide a highly extensible collaboration platform built on Windows Server 2003 and ASP.NET. The company claims 75 million paid users of SharePoint Portal 2003. "Corporations love this technology," Jinks says. "They're struggling with piles of unstructured information stored in emails and IM threads, on people's hard drives and DVDs—just everywhere. So they're pushing their employees to use products like SharePoint that allow them to better manage corporate content."

Contributor for SharePoint provides two-way synchronization for SharePoint document libraries and lists, including links, announcements, contacts, and tasks. It also supports enforcement of SharePoint authentication, permissions, and security; custom properties (metadata) and the ability to view, edit and synchronize changes to properties; and synchronization conflict resolution.

The product also supports an offline version of a key SharePoint feature: custom views. The ability to organize content through custom views is a key feature used extensively by SharePoint site designers to simplify and personalize the presentation of information.

Colligo's Contributor competes directly with a product from London-based Digi-Link called Revelation. And, as Gartner analyst David Smith has observed, both vendors are facing the slow but steadily improving support for offline sync from Microsoft itself. (Smith should probably get joint credit with a host of bloggers for the Holy Grail comparison.)

"Microsoft has begun to solve a few parts of the problem," says Jinks, "but not all of them."

Upcoming versions of Colligo's SharePoint products will enable users to synchronize offline SharePoint team spaces directly with others over an ad hoc wireless link, without the need to connect to a SharePoint site, says Jinks. Future versions are also expected to include scripting capabilities that will allow developers to build widgets on the server that can be expressed offline.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].