Public Folders vs. Site Mailboxes vs. Document Libraries vs. Shared Mailboxes

Microsoft has increased the limit on the number of public folders available in Office 365 to 100,000 folders, which is a 10x increase in capacity. 

Public Folders in Exchange admin center

In Exchange 2013 (or Office 365), there is also now a new feature called “Site Mailboxes” which represent a new way to collaborate by allowing users to store both email and documents in a SharePoint document repository.  There is also a new concept in Exchange 2013 called a Shared Mailbox which allows you to make it easier for groups of users to send emails from a common account.

There is also the traditional SharePoint document library which allows you store just about any kind of document in it and provides access to content via SharePoint search, browse, etc. 

With so many options, this opens up the key governance question, “Which mail/collaboration option is appropriate?”. 

Here is a quick comparison of the options available and in what scenarios they could be used.

SharePoint Document Libraries

  • Documents are stored in SharePoint which comprehensive document management and records management features.
  • Document libraries can be “mail enabled” which means that you can assign the document library an email address and any email messages sent to that address will be stored in the document library.
  • There are configuration settings to decide on how to store attachments and enable security as to who can send emails
  • Document libraries can be surfaced directly in Outlook in the same way as a public folder by adding the URL of the document library to your Outlook favorites.

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Site Mailboxes

  • Key requirement for Outlook integration – Office 2013 on the desktop or use the Office 365 web app
  • Emails are still stored in Exchange
  • Site mailbox is an app that you add to your SharePoint site.
  • Once you have created a site mailbox, you can’t change it’s email address.
  • Site mailboxes are designed for teams collaborating by email and by documents by storing team emails and documents together in SharePoint.
  • Invoking the site mailbox is done by cc’ing the email address of the site mailbox. 
  • You can add folders from your site mailbox to your outlook favorites so that it is directly visible in Outlook.
  • When viewing a site mailbox from outlook, both email and documents are visible.
  • You can add documents by attaching them to an email message.
  • Security is driven by SharePoint team site permissions – if you have access to the team site, then you have access to the site mailbox.Sharing documents through outlook means that Outlook generates links to the SharePoint document library instead of attachments!

Public Folders

  • Public folders and all the content within them are stored in Exchange.
  • Public folders have been around for ages, so they work well with enterprises with older versions of Office still deployed.
  • Documents stored in Exchange don’t have the benefits of SharePoint document libraries (e.g. workflows, version control, metadata, etc.) and aren’t visible within SharePoint
  • Public folders can be mail enabled so that any emails sent to an email address are routed to a public folder.

Shared Mailboxes

  • Designed to provide a generic email address that can customers can use to send emails to a team.
  • Access to shared mailboxes governed by Exchange permissions.
  • Allows users to monitor and reply to an email
  • Reply email address is the shared mailbox email address