Thursday, March 27, 2003


Another Office 2003 Favorite: Shared Documents Workspaces

When you work in a small office in a small business in the middle of nowhere like I do (well, okay, it's not nowhere, but it is the midwestern U.S.), it's imperative that you stay in close contact with clients on both coasts and around the world. Just a few years ago, working collaboratively and meeting my deadlines meant getting a FedEx truck to my 120-year-old farmhouse in the middle of popcorn fields in southern Indiana...which meant I had to finish a chapter, article, or project by 6:00pm in order to have it delivered the next business day. FedEx made a lot of money (relatively speaking) off my small publishing business--projects circulated from me (the writer/developer) to the technical editor, to the designer, to the copy editor, to the compositor, and on and on, all around the country and sometimes, the globe. Add long-distance conference calls on top of that and we were racking up a lot of expense and effort in order to stay in touch with each other and get our projects done on time.

The Internet--and, specifically, email--has changed everything, thank goodness. Now I can work around the clock, finishing a chapter at 3:00am if I need to, and still have it in my editor's Inbox when she comes in tomorrow morning. (It's not fun, but sometimes it's necessary...). But until I started working on First Look Microsoft Office 2003 , I still had to do all the routing myself, first to this person, then to that one. Now because of the Shared Documents feature in Office 2003, I can easily create a Shared Document Workspace--a web site using SharePoint Team Services--to house all the files our team needs in order to get a project done. The Shared Document task pane enables me to get all kinds of information about my shared document--who my teammates are, which of them are online (I can send an instant message to them if I choose), which tasks have been completed, what version of the document we're working on, and all the important links to resources we might need while we work. The task pane brings all this information right to the Office document I'm working on--in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. It's really amazing stuff.

The Shared Document workspace actually preserves a space on the web where you create document libraries (team members can check documents in and out), schedule events, have discussions, share contacts, and more. The web site is fully customizable and the design templates make it easy for the person coordinating the site to make changes, even if he or she has little or no experience with web technologies. The idea is simple--provide a space for the team to gather all the important documents it needs, and make communication between team members instant and easy. This one feature in Office 2003 may change the way I work more than anything else has since email arrived on the scene. I love it.

Case in point: Because we were on a super-short schedule to produce First Look Microsoft Office 2003 , we thought it would be a good idea to try out the Shared Documents feature while we worked. So this book was actually produced using SharePoint Team Services and the Shared Documents Workspace; and even in beta 1, it worked like a dream. I would finish a chapter and upload it to the document library on the shared workspace. The project leader and packager both downloaded it; it was reviewed and forwarded to the copy editor. She worked her magic on the file and posted it back to the library; I downloaded it for author review and then put the changed version back on the site; finally, the compositor grabbed it, flowed it into the book pages, and we were on to the next piece. Along the way, we each received alerts when a chapter was uploaded (one of the cool new features) and could see which other team members were online (if they were using Windows Messenger) so we could ask and answer questions quickly.

This is just one application--in a publishing model--but you can use shared documents with any Office document you produce: spreadsheets, reports, presentations, and more. If you work with others to get things done, you'll find that this one feature in Office 2003 is worth the admission price and the popcorn. :) k

Another reminder: There is too much information about shared documents and SharePoint Team Services to do it justice in a single post on this blog. (I'm trying to keep these short, but I'm finding it difficult...). The book obviously goes into much more detail and gives you ideas for putting the technology to work. Here's the link: First Look Microsoft Office 2003.

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