Once, in a non-too distant past, Mac-users struggled leverage the full capability of the integrated Office 365 Outlook, OneDrive and SharePoint suite. Many found solace in competing platforms offering no-hassle integration. However, the wide-spread application of Microsoft products across the government-industry renders Office 365 a customer-preferred capability across many agencies. For resigned Mac-users, various and complex “work-arounds” often generated a necessary hydra effect, solving one problem at the expense of creating several others.
The night was dark, and full of… nuisance.
Then, gradually, the darkness began to disseminate – Microsoft released several significant production changes that have increasingly enlightened the Mac-user’s experience of O365. Together, the ability to manipulate folder structures, sync SharePoint libraries via OneDrive, and collaborate externally within Groups elevate Office 365 Suite functionality to a competitive baseline on par with the PC/Mac agnosticism supported by Google Apps.
Groups External Sharing
First among these are the ability to invite external-users into Groups, and the improved integration of Groups with SharePoint. This means that quickly-forming project groups now achieve a flexibility matching the fluidity with which teams form and disseminate in a start-up culture.
Because Groups do not require the specialized knowledge of SharePoint, users can easily create a Group with imbedded Outlook, OneNote and OneDrive features, such as a calendar and a document’s library. Management of these capabilities works from two directions: from Outlook and from SharePoint. Additionally, the visualization of Group members eliminates the need to create team contact lists. Groups may have more than one owner, and member permissions are otherwise equal within the Group, making Groups a reliable method for partitioning access to only what is relevant to a particular scope.
For all of these benefits, our experience has noted only two potentially relevant limitations to the O365 user. First, the SharePoint integration is functionally limited. If you are looking to create workflows or to architect intricate layering of user-group permissions, a full-blown SharePoint site better supports this kind of managed automation. Finally, for the Mac-user, Outlook (desktop) still lacks the superior interoperability of Groups and OneNote within the Outlook client. However, this is coming, and soon! This week, Microsoft released this integration with Groups within Outlook (web-browser).
Next, the essential ability to sync SharePoint libraries is now supported for the Mac-user via OneDrive. With the support of this capability, enterprise information management is now a cinch. Personal-team libraries may be stored on member computer-devises, and document management across teams is enhanced to PC-user standards of simultaneous collaborative access. No longer do we need a complex work-around involving a dedicated PC and a dedicated file-moving person within our organisation. The much awaited ability to manage site libraries from the desktop has arrived! Just as with our PC-cousins, Mac-users create an initial connection to a new library path via “Sync”. I personally like to store these libraries in the same parent location within my laptop as my personal One-Drive folder for simplicity — when the project disseminates, and/or when the need for group collaboration is minimal, these libraries may be easily sought out and archived.
Infamously, the OneDrive sync client for Mac sometimes deletes its contents. Yes, you read that correctly. Our team has yet to determine if this is a continued risk for the this sync capability, and as such we continue to practice diligence by creating several backups of our most vital content libraries externally to the O365 server.
Folder System Management
Related to this, the wonderful team at Microsoft has responded to their user-community’s outcry to support folder-level, rather than document-level, management of information. Thanks to the “Copy to” option, Mac-users can now move entire folder systems both within and across SharePoint libraries. Although there remains the slight issue of moving files across Group- vs. SharePoint-created libraries, the work-around is dramatically simplified nevertheless because it is itself a newly extended capability – i.e. download folder to computer, upload folder to appropriate library location.
Within an organisation, the flow of information is analogous to the flow of a river. Free flowing information supporting unencumbered and spontaneous collaboration and communication supports continuous creativity, and therefore innovation. The ability to move complete folder structures within and across OneDrive libraries is a river un-dammed. Because of this newly supported feature, our team has altogether removed the “swivel-chair” constraint that has long-plagued Mac-users of SharePoint.
To be Continued in Part 2/3…
In addition to this improved baseline of Mac-user functional support, the interaction of Microsoft Suite products with iOS, iPad and iPhone applications anticipate the emerging needs of start-up cultures for flexible, millennial-style mobile, intra-net collaboration among and between project groups. In our next article, we delve into experimental capabilities re-defining the Office 365 suite.