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As more organizations consider a move from Exchange Server, public folders continue to vex many administrators for a variety of reasons.
Microsoft supports public folders in its latest Exchange Server 2019 as well as Exchange Online, but it is pushing companies to adopt some of its newer options, such as Office 365 Groups and Microsoft Teams. An organization pursuing alternatives to public folders will find there is no direct replacement for this Exchange feature. There reason for this is due to the nature of the cloud.
Microsoft set its intentions early on under Satya Nadella's leadership with its "mobile first, cloud first" initiative back in 2014. Microsoft aggressively expanded its cloud suite with new services and features. This fast pace meant that migrations to cloud services, such as Office 365, would offer a different experience based on the timing. Depending on when you moved to Office 365, there might be different features than if you waited several months. This was the case for migrating public folders from on-premises Exchange Server to Exchange Online, which evolved over time and also coincided with the introduction of Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Office 365 Groups.
The following breakdown of how organizations use public folders can help Exchange administrators with their planning when moving to the new cloud model on Office 365.
Organizations that use public folders for email only
Public folders are a great place to store email that multiple people within an organization need to access. For example, an accounting department can use public folders to let department members use Outlook to access the accounting public folders and corresponding email content.
Office 365 offers similar functionality to public folders through its shared mailbox feature in Exchange Online. A shared mailbox stores email in folders, which is accessible by multiple users.
A shared mailbox has a few advantages over a public folder with the primary one being accessibility through the Outlook mobile app or from Outlook via the web. This allows users to connect from their smartphones or a standard browser to review email going to the shared mailbox. This differs from public folder access which requires opening the Outlook client.
Organizations that use public folders for email and calendars
For organizations that rely on both email and calendars in their public folders, Microsoft has another cloud alternative that comes with a few extra perks.
Office 365 Groups not only lets users collaborate on email and calendars, but also stores files in a shared OneDrive for Business page, tasks in Planner and notes in OneNote. Office 365 Groups is another option for email and calendars made available on any device. Office 365 Groups owners manage their own permissions and membership to lift some of the burden of security administration from the IT department.
Microsoft provides migration scripts to assist with the move of content from public folders to Office 365 Groups.
Organizations that use public folders for data archiving
Some organizations that prefer to stay with a known quantity and keep the same user experience also have the choice to keep using public folders in Exchange Online.
The reasons for this preference will vary, but the most likely scenario is a company that wants to keep email for archival purposes only. The migration from Exchange on-premises public folders requires administrators to use Microsoft's scripts at this link.
Organizations that use public folders for project communication and data sharing repository
The Exchange public folders feature is excellent for sharing email, contacts and calendar events. For teams working on projects, the platform shines as a way to centralize information that's relevant to the specific project or department. But it's not as expansive as other collaboration tools on Office 365.
Take a closer look at some of the other modern collaboration tools available in Office 365 in addition to Microsoft Teams and Office 365 Groups, such as Kaizala. These offerings extend the organization's messaging abilities to include real-time chat, presence status and video conferencing.