Thursday, July 28, 2011

Solution to a problem that shouldn’t exist

One of the biggest issues I currently see with Office365 SharePoint is the fact that it doesn’t allow you to directly open and view PDF documents in a browser. This has to do with browser file handling on the back end of SharePoint. I have previously detailed in my blog how to change that for on site SharePoint but in Office365 you don’t have access to this to make the change.

 

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So, if you try and open a PDF stored in Office365 SharePoint you are only given the option to save the file locally. Given how common the PDF format is this is really something Microsoft should change in Office365 as soon as possible as it is causing plenty of people grief (including me).

 

I was faced with just this issue when working recently with a client using Office365 for secure storage and viewing of PDF documents. The solution devised was to use OneNote.

 

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When you install OneNote on your system it also installs a Send to OneNote printer on your system. If you print using this printer the output not only ends up in OneNote but it is also indexed for searching (pretty neat).

 

Now if I print that same PDF document into a OneNote file saved on Office365 SharePoint I can click on the OneNote document and view the contents quickly and easily like shown above right in the browser. I agree that this would be a pain if you had lost of PDF documents but at this stage it is the best solution I have found.

 

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For this client, being able to restrict user rights to these files was also important, so users were added to the standard Viewers group in SharePoint. According to the definition of the Viewers group:

 

“Members of this group can view pages, list items, and documents. If the document has a server rendering available, they can only view the document using the server rendering.”

 

To my way of thinking this means that because Office Web Apps (viewing) is installed by default with every Office365 SharePoint account people in the Viewers group will automatically see the OneNote file displayed in a browser. However, because Office Web Apps is considered “server rendering” as noted above, they won’t be able to open the file in a local copy of OneNote.

 

As you can see from the above screen shot, firstly, trying to edit the OneNote file in a browser fails as expected as they don’t have write permissions as Viewers.

 

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But if you go to the document library and display the properties for the OneNote file you’ll see that there is not the option to save the document locally or open in a local Copy of OneNote.

 

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However, it is also important to note that if people can view a document they can always take a copy (even if they take a photo of the screen). The above screen shot shows that they can simply right mouse click on the printed PDF inside the OneNote file and copy and paste it elsewhere.

 

However, overall I think this isn’t a bad solution for viewing PDF’s in a browser but honestly it is a solution to a problem that should never exit to my mind. I understand why Microsoft have denied the ability to open PDF’s in a browser (given the fact that PDF documents can launch javascript locally, which can do nasty things). But honestly, the PDFs as such a standard these days and people expect them to open directly in a browser, I feel it is doing more harm than good to Office365 by prevent this.

 

+1, Microsoft please allow PDFs to open directly in the browser OR allow me to make that decision in my setup.