Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Spotlight on 2010: The SharePoint/Office Integration Story

By Laura Rogers

Microsoft SharePoint and the Office Suite of Applications have had integration points with each other for several years, but now with the 2010 versions there have been significant enhancements to this story. Collaboration has become an intuitive part of the user experience, and is a familiar ingredient in all of the Office 2010 Applications. With the powerful combination of SharePoint and Office, not only will individual efficiency increase, but teams will be able to communicate effectively, stay in touch, and of course work on shared content. In this article, some of the major new integration features will be summarized.

Live Co-Authoring

When working in Word, OneNote, PowerPoint, or the Excel Web Application, live co-authoring is now possible. It is no longer necessary to wait and take turns to check out files during the collaboration process. Multiple users can open and work on files at the same time. During this co-authoring process, users see a list of the other collaborators, and can communicate with each other from inside the document.

Backstage View

Think of this view as an augmented replacement for the old “File” menu at the top left corner of previous versions of the applications. There are several common tabs down the left side of the backstage view, with the Info and the Share tab containing the most SharePoint integration functionalities. Quickly save or publish files to SharePoint, look at a list of file versions, or even make Note Board notes from the backstage view.

The Ribbon in SharePoint 2010

The new menu user interface within the Office Applications that was introduced in Office 2007 exists throughout SharePoint 2010. In document libraries and lists, there is a section of the ribbon called “Connect & Export” that contains buttons for connectivity and integration with various Office applications. Some of the more common items are Sync to SharePoint Workspace, Connect to Outlook, and Export to Excel.

PowerPoint - Broadcast Slide Show

A new feature of PowerPoint is the ability to easily broadcast a live slide show of a presentation. On the Share tab of the backstage view, when Broadcast Slide Show is selected, a service is then chosen to broadcast through. By default, your Windows Live ID can be used to broadcast via the Internet. A publicly accessible URL is provided by PowerPoint, which is then shared with colleagues or friends. During the broadcast, viewers see a live view of the slides, as the presenter clicks through them. How is this a SharePoint integration feature? This slide show can be broadcast through a SharePoint site instead of through the public Internet. When the Office 2010 Web Apps have been installed and deployed on the SharePoint 2010 Server, there is a site template called a PowerPoint Broadcast Site. Once that broadcast site has been created, the URL is used as the broadcast service in PowerPoint 2010.

Outlook 2010 Integration

In some SharePoint lists and libraries, there is the ability to connect to the Outlook client. SharePoint items are easily and quickly accessible from Outlook, and available for Offline editing. There are some new integration points in addition to familiar ones like managing SharePoint alerts from Outlook. SharePoint calendars can now be configured to display multiple Exchange and SharePoint calendars in an overlay view in the browser. There is also a new Social Connector in Outlook, which allows users to connect to social networks such as SharePoint and Facebook. It contains an interface to see information on users’ activity feeds and other pertinent user data.

InfoPath 2010 Integration

The InfoPath integration improvements in 2010 are huge. The InfoPath Form Web Part is used to insert an InfoPath form on any web part page. Select from any form that has been deployed via InfoPath Forms Services, or to a library or content type on the site. Also, regular SharePoint list forms can now be customized as InfoPath forms. The previously complex task of modifying the default SharePoint list forms has now been made easier and more accessible to a wider range of users.

Visio Integration and Visio Services

With the new Visio Graphics service application, when Visio diagrams have been created on client machines and published to the server, the client software is no longer needed. Once the diagram has been published to Visio services, the server itself knows how to refresh that diagram and maintain the data connections inside of it. There is a new Visio Web Access web part that can be inserted on any page in SharePoint, to display Visio Web Drawing (VDW) files. The shapes in these files can be connected to live data, and web part connections can even be used for a very interactive experience.

Integration with Microsoft Access 2010 & Access Services

Ever since SharePoint and Access 2003, there has been the ability to connect SharePoint to Access, using the SharePoint lists as tables in a database. This allows for querying between tables, and viewing Access report views in lists. Now with Access Services, entire Access databases can be published to SharePoint. Once this is done, the database exists completely in SharePoint as a sub-site, and forms can be filled out by users without needing the Access client software installed. Also, Access template files can be uploaded to SharePoint as solutions, which means that new sites can be created from these database templates.

SharePoint 2010 Workspace

The SharePoint Workspace desktop application was previously known as Microsoft Groove. SharePoint Workspace is useful for taking SharePoint content offline. With this tool, SharePoint sites become convenient and portable, and can be set up for quick automatic and customizable synchronization. This is a wonderful tool for those of us who are frequently on the go.

Laura Rogers is a consultant with SharePoint911

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MindJet Rolls Out MindManager for SharePoint

Mindjet is bringing its core information visualization technology to SharePoint with the announcement today of MindManager for SharePoint. The tool is designed to give SharePoint users a look into tasks and issues while retaining a big-picture view of the overarching project.

“SharePoint is like rabbits. The sites expand out of control,” said Michael Deutch, director of product development. This creates a number of silos, and leaves users searching for information rather than using information.”

Deutch said that large enterprises, with more than 1,000 workers, waste from $2.5 million to $3.5 million searching for non-existent data, failing to find data that does exist, or recreating existing data that couldn’t be found.

MindManager for Sharepoint, which costs $499 in the United States, enables users to update the status of tasks, change work priorities, link to a document or record and update that, with the changes automatically reflected in the map, Deutch explained.

-- David

Is SharePoint 2010 Relevant? I believe so!

On his website, Mark Miller asks if discussion about SharePoint 2010 is relevant yet. He says that after much discussion with users, that SharePoint 2010 uptake won't really happen for about another two years.
I agree in large part with this assessment, but won't overlook that there are plenty of people out there champing at the bit for the general release of 2010.
From my own discussions at SharePoint Saturdays, other events and with attendees to SPTechCon (the SharePoint technology conference for which I am responsible for selecting classes), it is clear that many people are going to be staying right where they are on MOSS 2007.
The move from 2003 from 2007 brought much new functionality, and really made SharePoint an enterprise-class collaboration and document management solution. SharePoint 2010 brings more for developers and on the social side, but much of the heavy lifting for SharePoint already has been done.
After his keynote at SPTechCon, Microsoft's director of SharePoint Tom Rizzo shared with me that he was surprised that so few of the people at his talk were even evaluating SharePoint 2010, and he wondered why that was. Some speculation pointed to the 64-bit requirement that comes with 2010 -- that means upgrading your Windows Server and possibly your SQL Server as well as your SharePoint Server. We also acknowledged that Microsoft did a great job with 2007, which now is a tough act to follow.
All of these factors point to a slow migration to 2010.
Yet, at SPTechCon, we received a lot of feedback from people wishing there was MORE information on 2010. These are folks who view SharePoint as a platform, not just a document repository or collaboration tool. They're bought in to the promise of SharePoint, and want to take advantage of new features such as Business Connectivity Services, FAST search, PerformancePoint reporting and more.
I think a big part of the reason that it's too soon to talk about SharePoint 2010 is simply that is has not been released yet. And, given Microsoft's track record for first releases, most people will wait at least until the first service pack comes out to give 2010 a look. At that time, I believe there will be a greater desire to migrate up to 2010.
As for our SPTechCon (coming to Boston in October), we will again try to provide a mix of sessions that will appeal to both users of MOSS 2007 and folks who want to move to 2010. By then, the new software SHOULD be in general release, and we'll have more information and answers to share. But we also realize a great many of you won't be moving off 2007 just yet, and we'll include a lot of new information for you as well.
Interestingly, looking at the feedback forms form the just-concluded SPTechCon in San Francisco, we heard from some people that the conference was focused too much on SharePoint 2010, and an equal amount from people who felt the conference was focused too much on SharePoint 2007.
To me, that means we hit it just right.
-- David

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spotlight on 2010: Patches and Collateral Damage

By Todd Klindt

One of the benefits of being a vagabond consultant is that I get to see a wide variety of SharePoint farms with different combinations of software and configurations. While sometimes that means I have to learn about new configurations, once in a while it means that I get to see something more than once and I look like a genius when I know the answer off the top of my head. Trust me, there are way more of the former than the latter.

One of those rare, “Todd looks smart” moments happened a couple of weeks ago. I had a farm where SharePoint 2007 would not install, no matter what I did. Now, I’ve been around the SharePoint block a few times and I’ve been installing SharePoint 2007 for over three years now and I thought I’d seen it all. Turns out I hadn’t. Before we solve the mystery of why SharePoint wouldn’t install, we need to go back to the week after Christmas…

The Monday after Christmas we got a frantic call from one of our customers. Their SharePoint 2007 farm, which had been running happily for months, just stopped working, on Christmas Day no less. No web pages, including Central Administration were accessible. When the users tried to browse to SharePoint all they got was a very cold and unfriendly, “Internal Server Error 500.” Someone must have gotten a lump of coal in their stocking at Christmas. No amount of IISRESETs, reboots, or screaming at the screen would bring SharePoint back to life. They were desperate, really desperate. They were so desperate they called me. Turns out a Windows patch, KB 973917, had patched IIS but broken SharePoint. Removing the patch brought SharePoint back to life and made me look like a hero.

Back to our story about the failed install. After checking all the regular stuff, almost as a joke, I asked the customer if they had KB 973917 installed on all these servers. They did. I asked them to remove that patch and try the install again. That was the magic bullet. SharePoint happily installed and once again I looked like a superstar. That’s twice in a month. I’m pretty sure that’s my allocation for the whole year, and maybe part of next year. You can read more about the adventure I had with that patch in this blog post.

If there’s a moral to this story, it’s to test patches in a test environment before rolling them out to production, and no matter how silly the fix might sound, sometimes it’s right.

Todd Klindt is a consultant with SharePoint911

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Spotlight on 2010: How Developers Can Optimize SharePoint Integration

By Paul Andrew, Technical Product Manager, Microsoft

At last week’s SPTech Conference, developers had many opportunities to explore the new features and integration aspects of SharePoint 2010. Forums on integration will continue after the conference throughout the developer community with key topics to consider moving forward.

SharePoint 2010 integration capabilities are among the most promising new feature areas for developers to build on. Capability improvements in the new version include workflow integration, Office 2010 application integration and improvements to the Business Data Catalog – now renamed as Business Connectivity Services (BCS) to better represent the new capabilities.

The advances to the BCS are changing the game, and every software developer needs to know about them to harness the benefits. These new opportunities for developers come from strong customer demand to show line-of-business data from disparate back-end systems within SharePoint sites. While SharePoint excels at allowing users to create and manipulate unstructured data for collaboration, there is also a need to share structured data from existing back-end systems. Business Connectivity Services (BCS) provide for this and -- once data is available to SharePoint -- can be manipulated with the regular SharePoint list user interface. BCS can also be used as lookup data in other SharePoint document libraries and lists and can be indexed for SharePoint Search. Another exciting aspect of BCS is that it can be synchronized offline with the SharePoint Workspace application and other Office Client Applications, such as Outlook and Word.

New features in BCS include the addition of write-back capability -- as BDC was read only -- making the base functionality available in all SharePoint products. This provides comprehensive tooling in SharePoint Designer 2010 and Visual Studio 2010, extending use of External Content Types to Office 2010 applications and integrating with SharePoint 2010’s new Claims Based Authentication. Using BCS requires the creation of an External Content Type, which defines the schema for external data, method of access and authentication requirements.

Developers can create an External Content Type in three ways. SharePoint Designer 2010 allows for the creation of External Content Types for SQL Database connections and for Web Services. Visual Studio 2010 allows for the creation of External Content Types in .NET code for any data that is accessible with .NET. Using .NET means External Content Types can encapsulate business rules, perform schema modifications from the back end and use the wide variety of protocols and transports available to .NET developers, such as the WCF Adapter Framework. Best of all, the tools don’t require manual XML configuration.

With great tools, several options to create External Content Types and many ways to use them, we expect integration to be a valuable part of any website created with SharePoint2010. When users combine the structured data from back-end systems with unstructured data from SharePoint’s collaboration features, the result is a product capable of solving many business challenges. As developers delve further into integration topics this year, there will be numerous opportunities to exchange knowledge of best practices. It will be exciting to participate in the conversation.

Microsoft VP Jeff Teper Answers Your SharePoint Questions

With the beta release of SharePoint 2010 in the hands of so many, and the general release a mere few months away, SPTechReport threw open the windows (er, pardon the pun!) to its readers to ask Microsoft veep Jeff Teper about the new software. Here are those questions, along with Jeff’s answers that offer a glimpse of what users can expect.

SPTR: With initial feedback of SharePoint 2010 coming in, what changes will be made in the product prior to its release, if any?
JT: Customers and partners have given us great feedback from the beta. Most of the changes have been around fit and finish, performance, stability and interoperability vs. new features. We are also significantly improving the documentation for administrators and developers.

SPTR: What are the key functional areas you are looking for MS Partners to continue to provide assistance in (i.e., backup and recovery, records management, etc.)?
JT: The SharePoint services opportunity for partners today is $5.6B and expected to grow to $6.1B in FY11. We are very fortunate to have such a successful and innovative partner ecosystem addressing a wide range of needs. Some areas for partners to add value will be more horizontal – such as administrative or developer tools or templates and web parts for end users. Others will be more vertical – such as solutions for law offices or for interoperability with other systems. We also see a great opportunity for partners to help customers fully utilize SharePoint – Server or Online. This includes areas like information architecture, governance and custom portal development.

SPTR: With the size limitations on lists greatly expanded in SP 2010, what is the anticipated impact on server performance, and what actions does Microsoft recommend to minimize such impact?
JT: We will cover this in both our capacity planning and developer pattern guidance. In general, part of the work in SharePoint 2010 was improving the scalability, but we are also introducing throttling and isolation. For example, by default, a user or a custom application is prevented from doing some queries - such as creating a view that returns an unusually large result set. However, administrators can tune this.

SPTR: Has Microsoft begun to think about the direction it will take SharePoint in the release AFTER 2010?
JT: SharePoint Online will be a big focus for us with an update coming in the second half of 2010 . We are also working on the Duet Enterprise release with SAP that simplifies connecting SharePoint and Office to SAP systems. Beyond that we are careful to not lock down our plans too early. We really want to focus on working with customers and partners on their deployments and hearing their feedback. In parallel, we are always doing research and prototyping on a wide range of ideas. I am very excited about the potential to use the FAST technology even more broadly in SharePoint 2010 – there are a lot of new scenarios for internet sites, content management and social networking that go beyond what people traditionally think of as enterprise search.

SPTR: Does Microsoft intend to continue support for WSS 3.0?
JT: Yes, we will support Windows SharePoint Services through a standard Microsoft enterprise support lifecycle.

SPTR: What is the migration path from WSS 3.0 to SP 2010?
JT: We have provided detailed guidance on the SharePoint Blog and TechNet. The main thing customers should plan for is SharePoint 2010 requires 64-bit hardware, so those running on 32-bit will need to upgrade. We gave our customers a heads-up on that over a year ago. The other area is helping users smoothly upgrade their customizations. We have a new feature in SharePoint 2010 called Visual Upgrade, where the site can be upgraded looking exactly like it did on SharePoint 2007, and users can preview and tweak the site before switching to the new UI. We have also been upgrading pre-scanning tools our customers can run today to flag anything they might need to plan for their migration.

SPTR: Is any pricing information available for SP 2010?
JT: It is too early for us to communicate pricing information at this time. It will become available as we get closer to the release of SharePoint2010.

SPTR: When can we expect .NET 4.0 support in SharePoint 2010? The framework is due out in April 2010, yet with SharePoint on a three-year release cycle, any major new functionality is unlikely until 2013. And, Microsoft is already three years behind releasing SharePoint 2010 on .NET 3.5 (ASP.NET 2.0 core).
JT: We’re currently focused on shipping SharePoint Server and Online 2010. The response from developers to the platform improvements and Visual Studio 2010 integration has been great. SharePoint is a large application and this release was optimized for .NET 3.5. Each release we do builds on the latest platform technologies available when we’re in the coding phase. We’ll be continually updating developer guidance on MSDN after we release SharePoint 2010. For now, we are very focused on shipping a high-quality server and service and are not yet into formal planning for what comes next.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Spotlight on 2010: First-Class Social Computing

By Paul J. Swider

The term Social Computing can be defined as the use of technology allowing people to connect with each other, usually online. Examples include blogs with responses, wikis, and social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. In addition there are new rating type applications, web applications and social technologies being developed allowing users to connect and benefit from the strength and knowledge of a community.

Today your business users are more social aware and social applications can be easily adopted. One of the reasons for the quick adoption of SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 was that people needed to connect as a group to collaborate efficiently. When the 2003 version of the product was released users had fast PC’s, quick Internet connections and the software tools needed to be productive as individuals. The next logical step was learning to use software and creating new applications that facilitated being productive as groups and organizations instead of individuals.

Microsoft has been experimenting with social technology since before the term social computing had been adopted to bring the social concepts to the public Internet. Several releases of Internet Explorer contained electronic Post-It style notes that could be left on websites. As other users who shared the same note server browsed the sites your notes would be visible and they could respond with comments of their own.

A decade ago when team sites were first introduced, the technology allowed users to connect online via a website and collaborate on documents, enter into discussions forums and communicate with team members. Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 is a collaborative portal solution that connected people, teams, and information.

Enhanced online communication features including blogs and wiki technology were introduced in SharePoint 2007. The marriage of wiki and blog technology with an enterprise content management system was ahead of its time. Since the initial release of SharePoint Server 2007 the use of social computing technology has grown significantly in part due to the popularity of internet sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Concepts like micro-blogging and tagging have proven to be effective ways to stay connected and find information.

The new release of SharePoint Server 2010 is designed from the ground up to support a user-centric model and brings forth new ways to collaborate using both social and enterprise computing tenets. Traditionally enterprise software defines a user as an identity that can be assigned access and privileges to data and applications. This is not the case with SharePoint 2010. The product aligns software and services in such a way that the user is at the center of the experience allowing a mash of social and enterprise computing.

Social networking tools are now a “first-class citizen” in SharePoint; an example is the enhanced content tab in My Sites. Having the ability to add many types of enterprise content to your My Site allows navigation of content based on a person and social properties rather than a folder or site hierarchy. Other examples include social tagging, ratings, networks, activity feeds and the new organization browser. But the main feature is the improvement in the My Site. The My Site is now a personal portal for users to consume information from colleagues and those with the same interests. Attend sessions about SharePoint 2010 and social technologies at SPTechCon for additional information.

Paul J. Swider is an Enterprise SharePoint Architect for OnClick Solutions. With over 15 years of software consulting experience, Paul has trained thousands of students, developers and architects. Paul’s specialties include enterprise SharePoint deployment and development, .NET development, SQL Server, Business Intelligence, BizTalk Server 2006 and Windows Workflow Foundation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

User Group Meeting at SPTechCon

We're pleased to be hosting at SPTechCon a big, honkin' user group meeting for the Bay Area/Silicon Valley SharePoint user groups. The meeting, which will feature a presentation from SharePoint MVP and "Best Practices" expert Bill English, begins at 8 p.m., but members are invited to join us at 6 p.m. for a reception on the SPTechCon exhibit hall floor.
To attend, user group members should stop at the SPTechCon registration booth and pick up an "EXHIBITS ONLY" pass (but please pre-register, using the code USERGROUP to sign up for this pass). Then, stop at the QuickStart booth on the show floor to sign up for the user group session.
Look forward to seeing you all in SF next week!
-- David

'Ask the Experts' at SPTechCon

Once again, 'The Doctor Is In' at SPTechCon!
For four hours in the exhibit hall, speakers at the conference will make themselves available to answer your questions about SharePoint. Bring your nickel for some solid advice on what to do about your vexing problems!

The schedule is as follows (and of course is subject to change without notice):
Wednesday, 6-6:30 pm Dux Raymond Sy
Wednesday, 6:30-7 pm John Ross/Randy Drisgill
Wednesday, 7-7:30 pm 'Chaks' Chandran/Josh Haebets
Wednesday, 7:30-8 pm Shadeed Eleazer
Thursday, 10:30-11 am Fabian Williams
Thursday, 11-11:30 am Jennifer Mason
Thursday, 3-3:30 pm Laura Rogers
Thursday, 3:30-4 pm Heather Solomon

-- David

Bamboo Shoots for SaaS Market With SharePoint-Based Apps

Bamboo Solutions is heading up the food chain, building off its position in SharePoint web parts to deliver a hosted requirements management solution as the first of several SharePoint-based hosted applications the company plans to roll out this year.

Bamboo took the SharePoint presentation layer and leveraged web parts for team e-mails, custom navigation, reporting and more to create Bamboo RM, which is available now on a free trial basis provisioned for up to 10 users.

Visit the SharePoint page on to read more.

-- David