Using the Briefcase to Share Outlook Folders

Last reviewed on May 8, 2014   —  No comments yet

This solution from Aaron Jacques was originally posted at the Outlook Resource Site at U.S. East. It does not require Microsoft Exchange Server.

Creating a shared resource | Why it works | A safer variation
Design for a better solution | More information

Creating a shared resource

  1. Using the archive or export function in Microsoft Outlook to extract the data you want to share into a new Personal Folders .pst file.
  2. Place this file in a shared directory on the local machine or on a server that everyone has access to.
  3. Give full access to anyone you would like to have the ability to update the shared resource. The fewer people updating the data, the better, as you’ll see below.
  4. Give only read access to people you want to view this file.
  5. On each of the computers in the office, create a Briefcase. You might name it "Outlook Shares."
  6. Drag a copy of the .pst file from Step 2 to the Briefcase to make a sync copy.
  7. In Outlook, choose File | Open Special Folders or File | Open | Personal Folders to open the folder(s) from the Briefcase .pst file in your Outlook profile.
  8. Repeat steps 5-7 on each computer, for each profile that needs access to the shared information.

Now, before starting Outlook, each person should select the Briefcase in Windows Explorer and choose Briefcase | Update All. When Outlook starts, the user will have the latest copy of the shared information.

Users who have the right to update the shared info should also choose Briefcase | Update All each time they quit Outlook, so that changes are copied immediately to the network copy.

Why it works?

The Briefcase allows you to copy the local copy over the server copy, if you have permission, so updates from the local machine can be added.

Remember, though, that the Briefcase synchronizes files, not individual items within files. There is danger, therefore, that, with many people updating the data in their local copy, then synchronizing, you’ll get updates from Martin, but those will overwrite Mary’s. For this reason, it’s probably best to have as few people as possible doing the updating.

Note that Windows 2000 offers a similar feature for taking files offline, but by default, it excludes Personal Folders .pst files. See Error Message Files of This Type Cannot Be Made Available Offline.

A safer variation

Instead of using the Briefcase to add a new set of Personal Folders, try this variation using import and export for people who need to read, but not update shared contacts:

  1. Each user creates a new folder to hold contacts in her primary set of folders, calling it Group Contacts.
  2. Each time the user starts Outlook, she uses File | Import to import from the .pst on the network drive, choosing Replace duplicates with items imported.

This method keeps the local file current without introducing the need for the Briefcase. The user could also make updates to the Group Contacts folder, filter them by the Modified date, drag them to a new folder, then export them to a .pst file and e-mail that file or put it on the network for an administrator to use in updating the main Group Contacts file. It might not be too hard to automate this process.

Design for a better solution

A better solution would be to create a Microsoft Access database that stored all the information. Using database methods in Outlook, you could update the Access database:

  1. Every time you add an entry to the connected folder
  2. Every time you open the connected folder
  3. On a set interval say every 15 minutes update the local .pst file from the Microsoft Access database.

This solution is not as effective as Microsoft Exchange Server. The data replication would slow your network down.

More Information

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

Please post long or more complicated questions at Outlookforums.

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