Back at Macworld Expo in January, we announced that we were going to release a standalone app to help SharePoint users have easier access to their SharePoint and Office Live Workspace documents while using their Macs. At that time, we'd already been working on it for some time, and I had already completed my first usability study of a prototype version of it a few months earlier.
Let's back up and identify a problem: Mac users in a corporate environment with SharePoint or Office Live Workspace couldn't easily access documents stored there. Our goal with the Document Connection was to help alleviate some of that. We quickly decided that the fastest way to make this available to our users was through a standalone application, and then add hooks to that standalone application to Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.
We started sketching out ideas, and those ideas came together into a prototype. Using that prototype, I conducted a usability study of it. Since this was a very early prototype, and I wanted to test it with existing SharePoint users to see if they understood what we were trying to do, I turned to the Mac-using community within Microsoft to show it to them. (Remember, MacBU isn't the only group of Mac developers in the company! My colleague Nathan Herring is one of those non-MacBU Mac developers.) There are drawbacks to using internal Microsoft people, such as the fact that they're quite tech-savvy and are more likely to know SharePoint better than the average user, but we learned a lot from that first study: we needed to clean up the interaction to make it faster and require fewer set-up steps.
As a result of that study, we made changes to the app. We went out in a limited beta, and learned more from that beta. Taking those learnings, we decided to make some more changes and head back into the usability lab. I conducted another study, this time with external users who weren't necessarily familiar with SharePoint. The results were improved over the first study, and we made a few more changes to the application that is now a part of Office:Mac 2008 SP2.
I've noticed a couple of reviews of it out already. Here's one from The Apple Blog: hands on with Microsoft's new Document Connection tool, which includes plenty of screenshots.
Let us know how this is working for you. If you've got ideas for how this could work better for you, submit a suggestion here.
FYI, The Document Connection Tool isn't a product choice on Mactopia's Product suggestion page.