Thursday, March 20, 2008

Colligo: SharePoint Unplugged

One of the bigger issues with SharePoint is how to make it available to offline or remote users, such as frequent business travellers. There are many vendors working in this space including iOra (now Infonic) and Syntergy, and tools such as Groove are also very useful for this kind of requirement.

One vendor I've heard good things about is Colligo. Colligo has a product that presents SharePoint sites in a seamless online/offline manner so users don't need retraining.

This morning I decided to download the Colligo Reader. It provides a one-way sync from a SharePoint site to a computer or laptop, and is free for non-commercial use. It works for Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 and 3.0 sites, for SharePoint Portal Server 2003, and for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Colligo requires a .NET framework client install on the destination computer, and uses the SharePoint web services so it will be fully supportive of any upgrades and does not require any additional components or installs on servers or any other kind of tinkering.

Downloading it required a quick and painless sign-up at Colligo's website, and then a small install process taking only 30 seconds. Following that I had to quickly activate the program over the internet and I was off and running.

The user interface is spartan and SharePoint-like: this is a good thing as such a tool should be simple and effective at displaying and managing the site content rather than tossing up lots of bells and whistles. The SharePoint look-and-feel is also a must as it makes the whole experience seamless to end users. Here's a screenshot of the basic interface.

 Basic View

To create a sync to a SharePoint site, I used a personal WSS 2.0 site I've had for a few years. In the top left-hand side of the screen I selected the "Site" dropdown and clicked "Download Site". This popped up a very simple box that asked for the URL and the security credentials.

In only a few seconds I was connected and presented with the names of all the SharePoint lists in the site. Next to each was a checkbox so I could choose to synchronize with them. Having selected them all, it began to download the contents:

Synchronization

Sync options include sync'ing a particular site, sync'ing multiple sites, and sync'ing everything. At the bottom of the screen is a "Sync Issues" panel that helps manage any items that failed.

Following the successful download, I was able to read all the content on my WSS 2 website. Each list showed the appropriate views and metadata columns. Filter and sorting were enabled to help manage the content display. On the left hand side the Quicklaunch menu items were all present and there was breadcrumb navigation at the top of each list.

One thing I didn't see (at least in the Reader version) was a search functionality. This would have been very useful. One of my main criticisms of Groove is that its lack of search makes it virtually impossible to find offline content once you have a lot of content and folders. Although Colligo Reader does a much better job at presenting and organizing content (due to its SharePoint nature) search is a must-have in any offline synchronization tool.

Security is applied to the site and list content according to the credentials used to access the site. At least in the Reader version this means no switching between various user accounts for different permissions. Frankly I doubt anyone using the Reader would want to do that - that tends to be an administrator / developer activity. For the purposes of such a tool it only makes sense to manage the content using one set of credentials so I don't regard this as a drawback.

You can download Colligo Reader at their website. http://www.colligo.com/products/sharepoint/reader_how_it_works.asp. In addition to the Reader, there is a two-way Contributor version that allows offline modification of SharePoint lists. This is obviously the real value-add for Colligo. According to their website, pricing for this varies depending on the flavour of Contributor you buy - there are versions that integrate with Outlook and others that work on  PocketPCs.

All in all I was favourably impressed with the Colligo Reader - it is simple and intuitive and functioned exactly as I expected, and I plan to use it in the future.

2 comments:

  1. Nick,

    Thanks very much for your kind comments and review of Colligo Reader. If you'd like a copy of Colligo Contributor, feel free to send me a message through my blog at www.offlinesharepoint.com.

    Regarding search: you may be interested to know that early on during the development of the Colligo for SharePoint product line, we made a decision to store the cached files on the Windows file system, rather than in a proprietary database like some of the other solutions you mentioned. Using our technique means that content can be searched with standard windows desktop search. There's a knowledge base article on how to set that up on our support site here: http://support.colligo.com/Lists/Knowledge%20Base/AllItems.aspx. Of course WDS won't search metadata or lists, but it's useful for finding locally cached SharePoint files by name.

    One of the other benefits of the open file store is that it preserves document links. So, for example, if you have a link to a spreadsheet in another spreadsheet, it will resolve the link and work offline, just like it works online. Try that with the products that store files in a database.

    Again, thanks for your review. We welcome any and all comments about our products.

    Barry Jinks,
    Founder & CEO,
    Colligo Networks, Inc.

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  2. iSixty Innovations (Pty) Ltd21 November 2008 at 01:53

    Look out for SP Accelerator 2009 - Five editions being released in 2009 for Offline SharePoint. Full product guide in 24 languages can be found at www.isixtyinnovations.com

    ReplyDelete

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