In December, offered us the possibility of working in our inboxes and still having access to SharePoint. This week it announced that it will be offering the ability to gain access to IBM Connections through a social sidebar from an Outlook email box later in the year. Oh, and it also added some top new features to the free edition.

The December release focused on cutting down on the number of clicks it takes to get information from email into SharePoint. This release aggregates IBM social objects, SharePoint documents, presence, awareness and unified communications into one email window.

Social Business Tools Access

The objective is to streamline user’s access to social business tools -- including the earlier SharePoint email app -- so that users will truly be able to live in the inbox. No doubt everyone will be pleased about that -- those who enjoy their inbox, that is.

And while in an ideal world it would be great to communicate in real time all the time, most of us can’t and have to work out of our inboxes.

With this release, which also works out of the inbox, users will be able to adopt new collaboration tools without changing their daily work habits.

IBM seems happy enough about it too, although given how pervasive Outlook is, it doesn’t really have much choice. Jeffrey Schick, Vice President of Social Software, IBM, had the good grace to admit it, too:

Just because a company chooses to use another email platform does not mean they should miss out on becoming a social business…social enabling email is the first step to connecting people with people, and people with information, in the context of a business user’s daily work habits.”

According to, a recent uSamp survey says 78% of users are happier using collaboration and social business tools if they can do it from a familiar email environment, with 90% of users saying they will publish documents and emails on a collaboration platform when they can do it from their email accounts.

Free Edition Upgrades

But all that’s for an unidentified date later in the year. While dangling the prospect of future goodies on a long stick that reaches somewhere into future months, it has also offered something that users can get their collective teeth into.

This time, is offering a pile of new social and collaboration capabilities to the free release of its SharePoint -- Outlook Edition products, which give access to key SharePoint functions, also in Outlook.

Using an activity stream in the email window, users will be able to follow document updates in real time, creating what are effectively social documents.

Social analytics capabilities will also help users identify networks and network members based on communication patterns and facilitates the performance of SharePoint tasks up to six times faster than from the SharePoint web interface by eliminating SharePoint’s multi-step navigation.

According to, basic document sharing functions, for example, in SharePoint take nine steps, which can be eliminated using the drag-and-drop function in

It can also carry out other essential document functions such as defining metadata, having access to document histories and having access to SharePoint profiles and carrying out directory searches from the window.

Enterprise Edition

The enterprise edition also adds one-click phone, instant message, video conferencing and email connectivity to colleagues form document or activity streams.

It also adds the ability to manage Outlook email messages in SharePoint, centrally deploy, provision, and manage installations and premium technical support not available in the free edition.

The new free edition of for SharePoint -- Outlook Edition can be downloaded and as soon as we know more about Connections we’ll let you know.