Sunday, November 19, 2006
OneNote 2007 and SharePoint 2003 -- problems (update: resolved)
I write this blog entry in frustration and will probably revert away from SharePoint. The experiment was a failure. Back to file shares and using VPN to access them.
Update: Never blog in anger. Scroll to the bottom to see how this problem was resolved.
Now that I've blown off a little steam, let me describe what I am trying to do. Chris Pratley left a comment on my prior entry to let me know that OneNote 2007 could work with notebooks stored in SharePoint 2003, and my Beta 2 collaboration entry said that with file shares, you share the FOLDER ( = notebook), not the section. So finally those two factoids sank in and I realized that maybe SharePoint 2003 might be able to store an entire notebook.
That would be cool, because I was just starting a project with a coworker who is on Vista and as such is afraid to use Juniper Network Connect (warning: PDF warning2: weird fonts) on his machine, and it is highly likely that our PPTP VPN doesn't work from this client. So if we were to do any kind of collaboration with both of us traveling, it would be way easier to use SharePoint than shares on our office file cluster.
I made a SharePoint Document Sharing Site, and then (here is the radical innovation) made a folder called "[Client Initials] [Project Initials] OneNote" under Shared Documents. I then copied the contents of the notebook I'd made on my file share into this folder. I then closed my notebook, and opened the one from SharePoint. So far, so good! I got my coworker to do the same, and we were in business! I had used the Group Project template, and as we looked at the sections to get the project started we realized that some didn't make sense, and one (Meeting Notes) that I'd moved my notes and agendas into would make more sense renamed to "Project Management" (which follows our Interwoven "matter-centric" folder structure -- please don't ask me who designed this) and the "Research" section would best be repurposed as "Client Supplied Materials" in the same vein.
Note to blog readers: do not rename OneNote sections. It leads to corruption of existing materials. That section of the notebook would no longer sync, despite multiple closings (leaving a Misplaced Section) and openings. The lesson of OneNote 2007 + collaboration is to make periodic offline copies if you care about the pages you create. Otherwise the sync will get all fucked up and you will lose important data, like the notes from a meeting. Or at least you will not be able to sync those notes back in until you close the notebook, reopen it, and then copy the notes in from the misplaced section. What makes a file refuse to sync? It is a mystery, but it has happened a lot.
After some time, I believe this particular client project notebook has stabilized and is syncing fine for my coworker and I. I will leave it in SharePoint for now but I don't entirely trust it and will keep my eye on everything I do and manually synchronize my notebook and make sure I see the checkmark as often as possible.
Since I felt I had stabilized my client notebook, it was time to take another step. I run a weekly meeting with my peer managers, my boss, and his boss which mainly revolves around the staffing of projects. (In case I haven't ever mentioned it, I manage a small group of consultants in addition to my billable client work.) Since we are busy as hell lately, I've been using the meeting agenda as kind of a way to keep track of open requests and the other various tasks of our group. In an ideal world, my peer managers and my boss, who all have at least OneNote 2007 B2TR if not already the RTM version, could add items to this agenda, follow up on their tasks, etc. even if they weren't able to attend the weekly meeting. Of course, they don't -- they barely even look at the agenda when I send it out, and still email me things like "can you put [some topic] on the agenda?" I won't get into further detail on this except to say that highly technical professionals with 6+ years of experience can sometimes be annoying Luddites…
Anyway, I figured that, in my peers' defense, they all work very hard outside of the office, and probably rarely have reason to VPN in. What I am touching on is probably worthy of a larger discussion beyond the OneNote/SharePoint context, but many places you visit as a consultant do not have workable VPN access, and VPNing into your office is somewhat of a dated concept, given security (you open a completely unprotected tunnel into your office LAN) and practicality issues (I get all my Outlook email via RPC over HTTPS, why can't I get the rest of my non-static data this way?). SharePoint should be a no-brainer here because, just like with Outlook, you could get your key files as well! (I won't get into SharePoint's overlap with law-firm-specific document management like Hummingbird (Open Text) and Interwoven, although I could probably get a much better job than I have now, which wouldn't require so much god-damned travel, if I could speak more intelligently on that subject. Ahem. Anyway.) So, for this reason, I thought that moving these files to a SharePoint site would maybe make it easy enough for my colleagues to actually participate in the agenda development and maintenance so that I don't have to remind them of their tasks for Monday every Friday morning like as if I'm a father or something of grown-ass men. Ahem. Anyway.
The other significant advantage of moving my files to SharePoint is that it lets me edit them on my home computer, in 1600x1200 on a 21" LCD screen, rather than in 1024x768 on my 12.1" ThinkPad X41 tablet. But, my tablet, which runs my work Outlook and my work Interwoven and my work DTE time entry system and everything else, can update in quasi-real time so that when I finally want to send the updated agenda out (for example), it is all synced up on the laptop and ready to go.
So, today I moved my files from the file share on the office cluster to a new folder I had created under my team site. To keep the speed up and save bandwidth, I Citrix'd into my office, opened SharePoint, switched to Explorer view, then opened the file share in another window and dragged the files in. (Note: if your file is called "Agendas & Minutes.one" you will have to rename it to "Agendas and Minutes.one" because the "&" is a reserved character. SharePoint doesn't tell you this in Explorer mode, it just refuses to copy. Uploading the file gives an error that is clearer.) I closed my file share notebook on both my laptop and my home computer (I can VPN into the office from my home computer, even though I know I shouldn't). Then I opened the new notebook from SharePoint. Both computers synced. So far, so good.
On my laptop, I started making some minor adjustments to one of the pages in my notebook and quickly noticed that it didn't allow me to do so. Shortly afterwards, the designation "(Read-Only)" appeared next to the page name. Remembering this from my short-lived ON2003/SP2003 days, I right-clicked on the section but the "Open for Editing" option has of course disappeared. "Oh," I figured, "my home computer has it open." Closed out OneNote on my home computer, closed it out on my laptop, waited for a bit, and then opened it on my laptop. It opened instantly but still said read only. It has now been about five hours and it's still read-only. I can't take notes in my notebook for tomorrow's meeting so I copied the agenda into my "generic meetings" section and then sent it to the team from there. Great.
So then I went into OneNote on my home computed, opened up the same notebook from SharePoint, made the edits, and then noticed the "This notebook is not connected" icon next to the notebook. I clicked the icon, pressed "Sync this notebook now", waited for five minutes, and finally received "This section contains changes that cannot be synced because access to the section file is denied. Correct the file permissions or save your copy of this section elsewhere." In the sync screen, this shows as error 0xE000004A. Remember, this is a BRAND NEW NOTEBOOK with three sections in it. One section is 15MB and has 100 pages in it (weekly meeting notes for two years) and the other sections are under 200KB. It is the "large" section that cannot be synced. What has it open? I am not in SharePoint; I just have the two computers with the file. This I thought was a radical new feature of OneNote 2007. Will the problem just go away tomorrow like similar OneNote problems? Is this something that happened because of the way I transferred the sections from my file share notebook to SharePoint? Is it because I upgraded the sections from OneNote 2007 B2TR to OneNote 2007 RTM? (Even though after I uninstalled B2TR, loaded RTM, and then launched RTM, nothing came up that indicated that it was doing anything to my notebooks, they just opened.)
Is the OneNote notebook syncing just this fragile? It seems not really ready for production use. Except that I am using it for production use, really for everything that contains data that I update regularly and want to share with colleagues, which is why I'm so frustrated.
Update: After having the same problem with my client page the next afternoon, I asked my colleague on the project, who also has responsibility (and administrative access) to support our server infrastructure, and it turned out that our SharePoint server was out of disk space. (It is somewhat of a "rogue" server (I'm the only one who really stores anything on it) so it's not monitored.) The condition was cleared and the manager document workspace was able to sync again. The client workspace is still showing as "Waiting for update" as of two hours ago but is sort of updating. So the moral is, before you get all huffy about SharePoint's viability as I just did, make sure you monitor your SharePoint server properly. I am still leaving this rant/entry up because I am still having a problem syncing my client billable production data, but my problem from last night was solved by what turned out to be a fairly obvious solution.
I don't suppose there's a debugging mode in OneNote 2007 that will show you a reasonable excuse for why a synchronization might fail?
Update2: Once I got home and connected my laptop to the internet, it seemed to find our SharePoint server, sync, and everything seems fine. It also continued to sync at work once the disk space condition was cleared, though its display did not reflect that.
I am with the OneNote team and would like to clarify the OneNote/Sharepoint issues you mentioned in your blog.
Can you please send your email address to firstname.lastname@example.org so that i can email you directly?
I use two tablets, one slate style, and one convertible. They both run Vista .The convertible (Tecra M4) runs RC2, and the Salte (ST4110) runs RTM. My Tecra syncs fine, but the ST4110 does not. I have 3 OneNote notebooks, and only one is giving me trouble. It reported the error you stated while trying to sync over the Internet, but once on the same lan as my server (SBS2003 with SP2003) is just shows the green syncing icon with no motions, no ok symbol, and no error symbol. When clicking on it it says "Waiting for update. Last sync 25-11-2006". I can be contacted by email if you add the at sign after my name and then add pocketbase.dk
Full description of problems and attempted workarounds here:
Acer - 15.6"Aspire Notebook 4 GB Memory - 640 GB Hard Drive
Acer - 14" TravelMate Notebook - 4 GB Memory and 128 GB Solid State Drive
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