Today was finally the big day when Microsoft’s cloud productivity platform BPOS was replaced with Office 365, which is now available for subscription. Having played with the beta version for a while now, I’m overall quite impressed with how close the SharePoint Online environment now is to its on-premises counterpart. While the limitations are still somewhat more visible than when comparing CRM Online vs. CRM 2011 on-premises versions, I think it’s already close enough to enable a significant part of traditional business requirements for SharePoint to be fulfilled with the cloud platform.
Microsoft confirmed already last fall that also Dynamics CRM Online will eventually be migrated onto the same Online Services Delivery Platform as Office 365. In addition to being a natural fit with SharePoint and Exchange, CRM Online should also gain benefits into both its subscription management as well as authentication options as a result of this migration. However, there’s no official timeline or feature set communicated yet, so we’ll have to keep waiting possibly until Q4/2011, when the next update for Dynamics CRM has been scheduled to become available, as announced in the latest Statement of Direction document.
Ever since Dynamics CRM 2011 was launched with built-in SharePoint document library integration, there’s been a bit of anxiety on when this functionality could be leveraged with the cloud versions of CRM and SharePoint. Since BPOS was built on SharePoint 2007, it wasn’t possible to utilize the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 List Component for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 in the Online environment. This meant that setting up a document management enabled trial environment with CRM Online required an on-premises SharePoint server, which wasn’t too convenient. Nor was it for any customer looking to go “all in” with their MS applications. Oh well, but now that Office 365 is available, that’s all a thing of the past, isn’t it?
Wrong! Despite of the better together marketing message surrounding Office 365 and CRM Online, there’s actually still no way to integrate the SharePoint document libraries with the CRM List Component. Sure, you can upload the solution file into a SharePoint Online site and publish it. What you cannot do in the Online version is to take care of the second part of the installation steps, which involves the AllowHtcExtn.ps1 PowerShell script,used for enabling .htc file extensions to be served from SharePoint.
Why is this important? Because without the .htc support, you can’t actually do anything with the document library. The folder creation can be configured and it flows through as it should when accessing the Documents menu for a new record, such as an account. However, after that you are presented with the following prompt:
“The action buttons are disabled because the SharePoint server that you are using does not allow HTC component files. To enable the buttons, contact your system administrator.” What this means is that the document library will be rendered nicely inside the CRM entity form, but you can’t upload any documents to it. Clicking on the buttons does nothing, as they’re all disabled.
How about on the SharePoint side of things then? We can see that the entity specific document libraries are created and also the corresponding folders for each record where the document location has been defined. We can also of course use the native SharePoint UI to upload documents into the library.
Then when you access the corresponding record through CRM, you can see that the document does appear in the library. But with all the controls disabled, you again cannot do anything with it, like open the document, for example. How nice…
How did we end up in this situation where the latest and greatest cloud offerings from Microsoft are not working together like they obviously were inteded to? That’s a very good question. The problem with Office 365 SharePoint Online limitations and their implications to Dynamics CRM document management functionality has been a known issue throughout the whole beta phase of Office 365. There are several threads on the Office 365 community forums regarding this. Yet the response from Microsoft has been that this cannot be resolved by GA (general availability) of Office 365 (as in “today”), but rather we’ll have to wait for the first service update, probably. Come on! How can 6 months not be enough to allow one .htc file to perform its work and provide the document integration between CRM and SharePoint? I find it extremely strange that the product management behind Office 365 has allowed such a flaw to be included in the initial release version.
Of course eventually this issue will be solved and we’ll be able to experience the full document management process flow with Microsoft’s cloud applications.