Microsoft announced the Microsoft Outlook Social Connector (OSC) 1.1 yesterday, together with a new Facebook provider and Windows Live Messenger provider, joining LinkedIn and MySpace in the family of OSC providers. You can go to our social network providers page to view and download any of these providers.

The OSC is a Microsoft Outlook add-in that allows you to view in the Outlook People Pane an aggregation of emails, attachments, meeting requests from a person in Outlook. In an organizational environment, users collaborating on a Microsoft SharePoint site can see document updates and other site activities of this person on the SharePoint site. Using an OSC provider of your favorite social network, you can also see activities, photos, and status updates of the person on that social network.

The following image shows 2 screen shots of the People Pane on Randy Byrne’s Outlook account. Each instance of the People Pane displays four Facebook activities of a person, Michael Affronti, followed by an Outlook email that Michael sent to Randy. Facebook activities are identified by the Facebook icon, , and mail items are identified by the mail icon, , in the People Pane. The instance of the People Pane in the lower part of the image appears when Randy clicks on a mail item from Michael in the Outlook explorer. The instance of the People Pane in the upper part of the image is a “magnification” of the People Pane; that instance appears when Randy opens the mail item from Michael in an Outlook inspector.

Getting Started

OSC 1.1. works with Microsoft Outlook 2010, Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. Assuming you already have one of these versions of Outlook on your computer, you can choose the appropriate page below to download OSC 1.1:

After installing the OSC, and before installing any OSC providers, when you click a mail item in the Outlook explorer, you can automatically see in the People Pane an aggregation of emails, attachments, meeting requests that you have previously received from the sender of that mail item. If you are a member of Facebook, Windows Live, LinkedIn, or MySpace, you can download and install the corresponding provider from the social network providers page to see activities on that social network of people you communicate with in Outlook.

OSC and Privacy

One can easily associate being able to view activities and status updates of other people on social network sites with respect for privacy for these people. The OSC respects the same privacy settings that social network users have specified on their respective social network sites. For example, if a Facebook user allows everyone to see his profile or activities on Facebook, and if the user has added the email address that he or she uses to communicate with you in Outlook, then after signing in to Facebook via the Facebook provider, you can see that person’s activities in the People Pane, similar to what you’ll see if you search for that person on Facebook. On the contrary, if the Facebook user allows only friends on Facebook to see his or her activities, then you see this user's activities in the People Pane only if the user has added to Facebook the email address that you use to communicate with the user in Outlook, and, if you are friends on Facebook.

Even though the OSC respects the same privacy settings observed on a social network site, you may want to familiarize yourself with the social network site’s own privacy statement, terms of use, and privacy controls.

It’s a fact that if an OSC provider supports on-demand or hybrid synchronization of friends or activities, the provider sends email addresses of relevant Outlook users over the Internet to its social network site. But be assured that the OSC tries to protect these email addresses by first hashing them before the OSC provider sends the email addresses. Social networks do not learn about any more email addresses than those that their users have already specified on their social network account profiles.

Creating a Provider Using OSC Provider Extensibility

Because the OSC is built on an open provider model, you can conveniently use OSC provider extensibility to build providers to work with the OSC to display social network data (such as friends, profiles, activities, and relationship information) in Outlook. Apart from public social network sites, you can also use OSC provider extensibility to build providers for line-of-business applications or internal corporate web sites and to integrate their services into Outlook. You can use any tool that can create a COM-visible DLL component, and program in a managed language such as C# or Visual Basic, or in an unmanaged language such as C++, to write an OSC provider. You can find documentation for OSC provider extensibility at Outlook Social Connector 1.1 Provider Reference. This reference shares part of the technical content with the article “Developing an Outlook Social Connector Provider for Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007, and Outlook 2003” that was previously published for OSC 1.0 (see my blog post in February). The current reference is much more detailed to include new conceptual content for OSC 1.1 to enhance usability. The following are a few ways that I can suggest to approach the OSC 1.1 Provider Reference:

  • If you are considering building an OSC provider for the first time, familiarize yourself with the development architecture in Relating the OSC with Outlook and Social Networks. Then browse through Quick Steps for Learning to Develop a Provider, and start building your first provider!
  • If you are familiar with the provider extensibility in the previous version OSC 1.0, browse the following list for the major enhancements in OSC 1.1:
    • On-demand synchronization of friends and activities
    • Hybrid synchronization of friends and activities
    • Respecting privacy settings as on a social network
    • Hashing email addresses before passing them to an OSC provider

You can find more information about synchronizing friends and activities in Synchronizing Friends and Activities, and respecting privacy settings in Learn more about Outlook Social Connector and privacy.

If you built a provider for OSC 1.0, your provider will still work on OSC 1.1. Note that the ISocialSession::GetActivities method and dynamicActivitiesLookup element are deprecated in OSC 1.1. If your provider supports on-demand synchronization of activities, you should use the GetActivitiesEx method of the new ISocialSession2 interface, and the new dynamicActivitiesLookupEx element.

For more details, see What's New for Providers.

  • Examples often save a thousand words. We have plenty of examples in the reference, such as the following:
    • See OSC Typical Calling Sequences to learn how the OSC and a provider interact in common scenarios such as basic authentication, forms-based authentication, getting and caching information for activities and friends.
    • See the sample provider and provider templates that are available for download for OSC 1.1. For information on the sample provider and provider templates, see OSC Sample Provider and Templates.
    • See examples of OSC provider XML in OSC Provider XML Examples.
  • The 5 interfaces in OSC provider extensibility are closely integrated with the OSC provider XML schema. Read the topics in the section Developing a Provider with the OSC XML Schema to learn about typical scenarios of how the OSC calls the provider extensibility interfaces to get information from a provider. Such information includes the provider’s capabilities, and friends and activities on a social network, all in a format conforming to the OSC provider XML schema.
  • Before you release, make sure you have at some point already browsed through the tests suggested in the section Getting Ready to Release an OSC Provider to verify your implementation and deployment of your provider.

Start using the OSC to stay connected with others on social networks without leaving Outlook! Consider building an OSC provider for a line-of-business application or internal corporate web site. If you have any suggestions for content you want to see in the OSC 1.1 Provider Reference, do send a comment. Thanks!