Updated Exchange Public Folder Guidance


The last time we talked about the future of Exchange Public Folders, was in Terry Myerson’s blog post titled, "Exchange 12 and Public Folders".  The main theme of this blog focused on the statement that Public Folders are being "de-emphasized".  While Exchange 2007 is supported for 10 years from release, those new to public folders were encouraged to look at SharePoint.  Since this blog was written, there has been a broad range of questions and speculation about this topic, and we felt it was time to update our guidance regarding Exchange Public Folders.

General Guidance

Since Terry’s blog post, there seems to be much confusion over the use of the word "de-emphasized".  Many people have interpreted this guidance as "Public Folders are dead, and we need to migrate to SharePoint now!"  This is not true.  Our updated guidance is centered around the major scenarios in which Exchange Public Folders are used today.  Depending on each scenario, the strengths of each server and known issues, you should find our guidance more specific to your environment. For this reason, Microsoft will continue to support Public Folders in the next major release of Exchange Server, after Exchange 2007.  This means Public Folders will have full support for 10 years from release of the next major release of Exchange Server.  Moreover, Microsoft will continue to invest heavily in SharePoint, which has focused platforms to support discussions, team calendaring and collaboration in Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and more mature enterprise content management with enterprise search in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS).

Guidance by Scenario

By looking at the primary scenarios where Public Folders are used, we hope to provide more clarity for your organization, allowing you to invest properly in your IT infrastructure.  For each scenario, we are providing specific guidance to help you decide whether Exchange Public Folders or SharePoint is the right option.


Scenario

Use PF’s Currently?

New to PF’s?

Document Sharing

SharePoint may be better option

SharePoint is better option

Calendar Sharing

No need to move

Use either*

Contact Sharing

No need to move

Use either*

Discussion Forums

No need to move

Use either*

Distribution Group Archive

No need to move

Use either*

Custom Applications

SharePoint may be better option

SharePoint may be better option**

Organizational Forms

No need to move

Use InfoPath

*  Depending on scope of scenario, use Exchange PF’s or SharePoint
** Depending on the scope of the application use Exchange Web Services and/or SharePoint

While this table is focused on Exchange PF’s and SharePoint, another alternative direction may be to build a custom SQL Server application to replace Exchange Public Folder use case scenarios.

Strengths of Servers

It is helpful to understand why we are providing the scenario guidance, in the previous section.  Feedback from customers has indicated they feel a strong push to migrate from Public Folders to SharePoint, today.  This general feeling does not take into account, the complexities of the migration.  You should first understand the strengths of Exchange Public Folders and SharePoint.

SharePoint

  • Team Workspaces – SharePoint helps teams communicate and collaborate by providing easy access to people, documents and information.
  • Documentation Management – PF’s were not designed for document sharing and collaboration.  SharePoint provides versioning and other document management features, such as check-in and check-out functionality, and automatic notifications of content changes.
  • Workflow Applications – SharePoint provides many application templates that provide customer scenarios for building workflow on the SharePoint platform, to address specific business processes or sets of tasks.

Exchange Server Public Folders

  • Outlook integration – Public Folders are fully integrated into Outlook and Outlook Web Access.
  • Replication – Exchange Public Folders have a true multi-master replication architecture, allowing the PF hierarchy and content to be replicated to other servers in the organization for efficiency and fault tolerance.

Important Factors to Consider

Exchange Public Folders will be supported for 10 years from the release of the next major release of Exchange Server.  There is no emphasis here to push you off of Public Folders.  If you do decide you are going to migrate your Exchange Public Folders to SharePoint, please consider the following during this process:

  • Public Folder Hierarchy – The volume and organization of your current PF hierarchy, will have an impact on the amount of time it will take to plan the migration properly.  A small number of PF’s, or nicely organized into business/project groups, will be relatively easy to plan.  Having an extremely large number of PF’s, or very disorganized, will require a significant manual identification effort.  In either case, owners of PF’s will likely look at a different organizational structure of content in SharePoint.
  • Public Folder Content – The volume and type of content in your Public Folders will impact how you approach the migration. 
    • 1. There are certain considerations in SharePoint content storage which may become an issue if migrating Public Folders with a very large amount of content.  Therefore, it is important to plan your SharePoint content storage accordingly.
    • 2. The type of content in a Public Folder will impact what type of list is created in SharePoint.  Public Folder used for team calendaring or contact sharing can be moved into similar lists, within SharePoint.
    • 3. Compound documents (i.e. messages with attachments) should be considered.  In SharePoint, a document library is a list of individual items. This is not a problem if you export the Exchange items as .msg files, but if you want to split the item into multiple pieces you need to devise a strategy to "keep" these items together.
  • Public Folder Permissions – Most likely, owners of Exchange Public Folders will want the permissions on that PF to follow over to the newly created SharePoint list.  If leveraging a 3rd Party migration tool, ensure the permissions are factored into the migration process.  If manually migrating Public Folders over to SharePoint, PFDavAdmin (free Microsoft download) can help export the permissions on each PF (but, doesn’t help import those permissions into SharePoint).
  • Public Folder Names – SharePoint has some restrictions on filenames, lengths, and size, as well as character restrictions.  These restrictions will affect Public Folders being migrated, as well as documents within those Public Folders.  If leveraging a 3rd Party migration tool, ensure this is factored into the migration process.
  • Mail-enabled SharePoint Document Library’s – While these libraries can store any document type, e-mail sent to mail-enabled document libraries usually show up in .eml format (Outlook Express format).  If you try to open the .eml file from the document library, it will open using the web browser and will only contain the message body (no header or attachment).  You can create your own application to convert to .msg format, or you can search on the web and find any number of .eml to .msg converter utilities.
  • Public Folder Replication – Exchange Server allows for replication of content of Public Folders to additional Exchange Servers.  SharePoint does not have this multi-master replication architecture.  If replication of content is important, post migration, then you should investigate 3rd Party replication technologies.

There are many advantages with moving to SharePoint for your collaboration, content management and business process needs.  In contrast, not all Public Folder usage scenarios are best served by SharePoint.  Consider the strengths of each server, and the factors listed above, when making this decision.  A very realistic option for moving to SharePoint, is to deploy SharePoint in your organization today.  Begin integrating it into your organizations workflow, and slowly reduce your reliance on Exchange Public Folders.  As we’ve already said, Exchange Public Folders will be fully supported for 10 years from the release of the next version of Exchange Server.

Migration Tools

The only "free" migration tool to help customers migrate content to SharePoint, is a community-based tool, created by Kimmo Forss.  Customers interested in migrating their Exchange Public Folders to SharePoint should also investigate 3rd Party migration tools, which work to address the considerations listed above.  PF migration tools are available from:

Jim Lucey


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Comments (21)
  1. Vince says:

    Public Folders haven’t had a GUI in Exchange 2007 until SP1.  That’s not "full support" in my book.

  2. Mike Crowley says:

    While, I suppose Microsoft’s reversing statements like this, does give us additional flexibility, it makes me hesitant to quote MS in the future.  I’ve already told tons of clients to begin thinking of non-PF futures, because MS was doing away with them come next release.  Now I look like I dont know what I’m talking about.

  3. Karsten says:

    Thank You for continue supporting PFs. Would be nice if some cuted features (like the Wizard of Exchange 2003 to give PF settings from top to lowest) would be implemented again into the GUI. A second nice to have would be a new feature – alowing to search (indexed) PFs with OLk recursiv (Top folder and all below) – which is now only possible for Mailboxes.

  4. Damien says:

    That’s not an april fool, for sure?

  5. Ken Hughes says:

    Now we need a similar statement / guidance on MAPI.

    .. KJ

  6. Ed Woodrick says:

    Hallelujah!

    Finally everyone came to their senses and realized that SharePoint only does a small fraction of what Public Folders can do.

    Public Folders don’t solve all of the world’s problems, but for a few of the more common problems, they do an awfully great job.

  7. Joey K says:

    Beautiful!

    Can Microsoft develop more helpful and useful tool like PfDavadmin…or should I call PFDavAdmin on steroids?

  8. bday says:

    Now that this has been said, I hope development into better PF admin tools will start up again. PFDavadmin (a great freakin tool!) could stand another update or to be merged into the Exchange Admin tools altogether.

    PF replication… ugh. Maybe it is just me, but even with only 2 PF servers I struggle to make sure they’re both connected up to date with each other.

    Can we get an option to automatically create a replica to another PF server if a folder is created? Right now I have to go in roughly on a monthly basis with PFDavadmin to add our second non-default PF server to any folders created during the last time I ran it.

  9. Dave Whitney says:

    Vince: Depends on how you define support, I guess. There’s been no visible change to Outlook users, and there’s been no retraction of administrative ability. Just a lack of pretty GUI, some of which has been reintroduced in SP1.

    Mike: Microsoft never once stated PFs were being removed from the product. At no time did Microsoft state that Exchange 2007 would *not* have PFs.

    Karsten: While the wizard GUI isn’t there, the ability is. There are several scripts in MicrosoftExchange ServerScripts which recreate the features of that wizard.

    Damien: No. No joke.

    Ken: Depends on what you mean. MAPI support on the server has always been shakey at best. I don’t foresee the removal of MAPI on the client any time soon (that would be a major overhaul of Outlook), but I’m not privvy to those kinds of Big Decisions.

    JoeyK: Please indicate what PFDavAdmin does that the cmdlets do not. I’m not insisting we didn’t miss anything here, but it would be helpful to know what customers need in the "official" admin tools.

    bday: New public folders inherit the replica list of their parent folder. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to root-level public folders, as they have no parent. You should restrict user ability to create root public folders, and then your problem should go away.
    As for connectivity issues, you should ensure your hub servers are functioning normally. The replication engine is based on email flow, and things will go sour if there’s a problem with that. I’ve not had a problem with PF servers replicating with each other
    if they’re just left alone to do their thing. If you’re having consistent trouble, I recommend read Bill Long’s extensive blogs on diagnosing the problem.

    Part 1: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/01/17/417611.aspx

    Part 2: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/01/19/417737.aspx

    Part 3: http://msexchangeteam.com/archive/2006/01/23/417974.aspx

  10. Nobbie says:

    Pfff, I’ve just migrated from Groupwise to Exchange 2007, and discovered that I’ve lost a lot of functionality in OWA that I had in Groupwise.

    What a whaste of money!

    The only thing I want, is to have a public folder and have the shared calender functional again in OWA for my collegues.

  11. Exchange says:

    Nobbie,

    I am not 100% sure that I understood your requirements but – I did want to say that with Exchange 2007 SP1, you do have access to public folders from Exchange 2007 OWA.

  12. Colin Bowern says:

    Probably worth noting that SharePoint struggles when handling items > 100MB in document libraries.

  13. Milton Lopez says:

    I appreciate the clarification, but I’m afraid it is actually evidence that common sense has been missing from Microsoft’s software development efforts. Perhaps we should have a Hippocratic oath for developers; something like:

    1- I will make software that is actually useful, not just create or change things because I think it’s cool.

    2- When providing upgrades, I will not take remove or diminish functionality from the previous version.

    3- When adding new features, particularly those already present in other applications, I will include the means to help users convert or migrate their data.

    4- When changing a GUI, I will allow the user the choice to continue using the previous version because I understand not everybody thinks like I do, or wishes to change the way they do the same things.

    I’m sure there is more that should be included, but that may do for a start.

    M.

  14. Robert says:

    Wow. Nice backpedaling. At Exchange Connections in 2006, the keynote speaker clearly stated that Exchange 2007 would be the last version to have Public Folders. The line was something like "You have until 2016, to migrate to SharePoint. Start planning now!" I’m currently in the middle of evaluating Quest’s migration tool (pretty slick, btw). I guess that project is going to get shelved now.

  15. Dmitrij Zaharov says:

    Among all other missing features, related to the Public Folders, there is one that could be solved by my product – Public Folder Watcher.

    This is an addon for Outllook, that watches Public Folders for the new posts and displays the notification when something new is posted (the same with common emails)

    You can get it here : http://www.artfulbits.com/Products/PublicFolderWatcher.aspx

    Also the blog is available here: http://publicfolderwatcher.blogspot.com/

  16. Julien says:

    I think Nobbie tries to access public folders from OWA with a web browser that is not Internet Explorer. Public folders are not available on OWA light.

    I have the same problem with all my linux and mac users that cannot access public folder neither from OWA or any mail software different than Outlook in Exchange configuration.

    If you have any tip, it would be helpful.

  17. Gary Cawley says:

    I hope this means that the new search will be integrated with public folders. Currently Exchange 2007 does not index public folder data.

    I think Microsoft got the picture. Public Folders add value to Exchange. Let’s get it right in the next version and speed up indexing and access to public folder data.

  18. Frank Johansen says:

    We have been using PF as a way to have departmental email (For example all emails to IT@ go to an IT public folder, and all replies to messages are also kept in the public folder, using colour to differentiate between incoming and outgoing messages).  Of course we had to do some coding to get this to work, but I would be interested to know what the best way would be to achieve something similar exchange/outlook/MOSS 2007.

    Currently we use personal inboxes for personal messages, but ALL work related emails go into departmental mailboxes (basically a public folder with assigned email address).

  19. Kevin Fletcher says:

    You said:  "Outlook integration – Public Folders are fully integrated into Outlook and Outlook Web Access."

    This URL from MS says:

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa998911(EXCHG.80).aspx

    For Public Folders – "Retain a computer that is running Exchange 2000 or Exchange 2003 in the Exchange 2007 organization if you need this functionality".

    I’m confused!

    Is it full functional or do I need OWA from Exchange 2003?

  20. Exchange says:

    Kevin Fletcher,

    You are right, this is confusing… I’ll open a bug on the documentation.

    Since Exchange 2007 SP1, public folders are in Premium OWA client.

  21. Mark says:

    Full support? Has the problem described by KB article 933306 been addressed?

    A contact user cannot use a custom contact form after a contact item is replicated to other public stores in Exchange Server 2007

Comments are closed.