SharePoint 2010 is a collaborative business tool that makes it easier for employees to work together by being able to share information and documents. Because this information is available anytime, from any location, SharePoint can boost productivity in a very concrete way.
Public folders in Exchange are somewhat similar in that they are specifically created to allow employees to share information with each other, too. And if you create a public folder in Outlook, you can also share contacts, messages, calendar items, etc.
So what makes them different? And which one is better suited to an organization’s specific needs?
That’s a question customers frequently ask us. We would like to break it down into simple terms, comparing an Exchange 2010 public folder (PF) infrastructure and a SharePoint (SP) Foundation 2010 environment.
Public Folders: The Upside Public folders have been around for the better part of a decade. The advantage of Public folders is their location in Outlook and Outlook Web Access (OWA): You have a direct access to them straight from your messaging application.
The other advantage of public folders is that they provide organization administrators and users a simple way of sharing data via Exchange and Outlook. They are a public space that is viewable by every authenticated user in the environment.
(Of course, as a cloud provider, Audcomp has to add security levels by applying further segregation to ensure that only the members of a particular domain can see the PF. Imagine a tree view, like Windows Explorer, to which you can assign 4 basic permissions: owner, contributor, author and read. And if you have BlackBerry Enterprise Server with Audcomp, public folders can also be synched to your BlackBerry.)
Public Folders: The Downside
Although they certainly increase the availability of information and data, public folders are less flexible than SharePoint: They have a maximum quota of 2Gb and allow no more than 250 sub-folders. The permission management system is also fairly restrictive.
SharePoint: The Upside
SharePoint goes beyond the functionalities of a public folder in that it’s a sophisticated collaborative platform specifically designed for business needs. The SharePoint platform is much closer to a website. Permissions are much more flexible and granular, and there is full interoperability between SharePoint and the MS Office suite. You can open Excel documents directly in SP or a SharePoint document library directly in Outlook.
SharePoint encompasses 6 major areas: Collaboration, Portal, Search, Content Management, Business Forms and Business Intelligence. Each one of these areas is basically a fully fleshed-out product in and of itself. Moreover, these products are seamlessly integrated with each other to provide endless opportunities for improving productivity and operations.
SharePoint is more flexible in the sense that permissions can range from very simple to very complex; it also has a much more appealing and customizable interface. There are no limits on the number of sub-sites or number of users, and you get up to 100Gb quota limit for your site. It also comes with an impressive collection of built-in, easy-to-use templates that are geared towards your business needs.
You can also open up parts of your site to the public, something that is not possible with Public Folders.
SharePoint: The Downside
SharePoint can get a bit more complicated and training is an integral part of using SharePoint. Fortunately, the familiar Microsoft interface somewhat softens the learning curve.
SharePoint Vs. Public Folders: Which One Is Right?
Choose Public Folders If…
You have a small organization that wants to keep things simple and only have a small number of items you need to store. As long as you don’t have complicated needs, you should be able to live with PF’s permission management.
Choose SharePoint If…
You want a fully realized solution that will improve data management and workflows in a very concrete way. SharePoint is also the clear choice for organizations with more complex and flexible permission needs, and/or want to offer their employees with a much more appealing and customizable interface.