Ok I know what you’re thinking, SharePoint 2010 already has web parts that can talk to Exchange and render your inbox, calendar, etc. right on a page. Why change them? Because, for the most part, we found that trying to shoehorn OWA functionality into a web part is not what our users are looking for. We have rich-clients (Outlook) and a good remote experience (OWA) so why try to shove all that onto a SharePoint page (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turducken). We also ran into usability issues: They require integrated authentication to work properly for starters (which is an issue for us with external access secured by UAG forms authentication) and the branding does not work well with our designs. I am debating the wisdom of why you would want to have your inbox or calendar in a web part anyway – it’s not very functional. On the other hand, rolling up your inbox, calendar, and tasks data into a web part is appealing – and allowed us to demonstrate how to integrate other systems into our SharePoint Intranet.
This web part began as an exercise on how to 1: Integrate external systems into SharePoint. 2: Demonstrate how to present that data. And 3: Serve as a test-bed for future web parts using features like Ajax (which we used to develop the SalesForce Chatter web part, described in an earlier post). Our criteria for the web part was simple: rollup data from a user’s Exchange mailbox and present total number of unread messages, next scheduled meeting/event, and top 3 open tasks.
Above: The My Outlook web part.
The web part was surprising simple to build – thanks to Exchange Web Services (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb204119). The only hiccup we had with the design was authentication. EWS can use the default credentials of the user – but the double-hop condition from the web server to Exchange will render that option useless. So we created an account that has read-only permissions on user mailboxes so the web part can gather the information on the user’s behalf. You can also use Kerberos delegation with EWS if you have SharePoint setup to use it.
Each of the items is also a hyperlink to the respective page on OWA – so you can access your inbox, calendar, and tasks – but without trying to fit it into your page layouts.
We have more plans for EWS too – including a free/busy timeline in a user’s My Site profile – so colleagues can easily check each other’s availability.
Keep checking back – greater things to come. Also – be sure to look for my tweets and blog updates from the SharePoint Connections Conference in March.