SharePoint Explorer View hassles show benefits of cloud storage

Many of us want access to our documents from anywhere these days, and if you are still storing documents on a Windows server then remote access to documents usually means either VPN or SharePoint. VPN is heavy on bandwidth and not great for security, so SharePoint seems the obvious solution.

SharePoint is a mixed bag of course, but once it is up and running the browser user interface seems reliable as a means of getting at your documents over the internet. That said, it is inconvenient to run up the browser and navigate to a web site whenever you want a document. A user recently highlighted another issue. Their company uses a web application that frequently requires documents to be uploaded. This is straightforward if the document is on a local hard drive or network share, but not if it is in SharePoint. The workaround is to save the document out of SharePoint to the local drive, then upload it.

Fortunately there is another option. SharePoint Explorer View lets you access documents through Windows Explorer; you can even map SharePoint as a network drive. Now you can browse documents without a web browser, and upload directly to a web application.

Sounds great; and when it works, it is great. Troubleshooting though is a world of pain. If you have looked into this, you will know that there are really two Explorer Views, one using Internet Explorer and ancient FrontPage protocols, and the other using WebDav and Explorer. It’s the second of these that you most likely want. However, achieving this is notoriously troublesome, raising uninformative messages such as “Your client does not support opening this list with Windows Explorer", or from the command line System Error 67, or System Error 53 “The network path was not found”.

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Another common complaint is incessant login dialogs.

I discovered a few useful resources.

This white paper on Understanding and Troubleshooting the SharePoint Explorer View is essential reading.

From this you will discover that if you are using Windows XP, the WebDav SharePoint Explorer view will not work over SSL or on any port other than 80. You are stuck with the FrontPage view, which is less useful. Apparently Microsoft has no intention of fixing this. Upgrade to Vista or Windows 7.

In addition, many XP and even Vista users find this update essential before anything starts working. It is necessary on Windows 2003 since the web client is not installed by default. It does not apply to Windows 7 though.

A good resource on the repeated login issue is here. It can be tamed.

Windows 7 is better, though I experienced an odd issue. One Windows 7 machine cheerfully opened the Explorer view to a remote site on port 444. I could engage Explorer View from the SharePoint web site, or from Network in Explorer, and it just worked.

On another machine, same network, also Windows 7, same web client settings, I could not get it working. I was on the point of giving up when I happened on the right incantation from a command prompt:

net use s: https://your.domain.name:444\shared%20documents /user:domain\username password

In this example S is the drive letter for a mapped drive, your.domain.name is the URL for SharePoint, 444 is the port number, shared documents is the folder name. For some reason this worked instantly.

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