Sharepoint 2010 a grasp of the platform

How SharePoint and I met…

My first experience with SharePoint wasn’t very positive, I was working for a company as an IT trainer, and was asked to do a workshop for a large company. This workshop was to give them a first look at Microsoft SharePoint 2003, at that time it was still a beta release. I can’t recall much of it, but the experience was traumatic enough to block everything but a huge “safe control registration mess” and a whole lot of hacking into all sorts of xml config files scattered all over the server. At the end of the day it made me tuck Sharepoint away in the deepest corners of my brain.

The company I work for has evolved into a Sharepoint company, at least, the department I work for has. But until a couple of months ago I was in the position to be able to secretly laugh at the moans and curses coming from the other side of the desk. Reason for their agony… Sharepoint 2010. Little did I know that it was coming for me too…

When a colleague left I had to take over and now I’m learning SharePoint. And much to my relieve, Sharepoint has come a long way in 9 years time. As I am getting to know Sharepoint, I decided to write a blog and introduce my new friend to others. Writing a blog is a good way to share knowledge and for me writing things down is a good way to memorize them. Ok, so where do we go from here on? Let’s see what Sharepoint has to offer us.

SharePoint to me is a nice mix between technique and business process and workflows. It also challenges me to be creative and work towards a solution within the boundaries that SharePoint sets.

A business collaboration platform?

When trying to find information on a subject, I (like the rest of the world) us Google. One of the first results searching for Sharepoint on Google is “Collaboration Software for the Enterprise”. I interpret that as being software to support collaboration in larger organisations. For hardcore developers, geeks, nerds and the odd “Big Bang Theory” fan: insert Star Trek joke here…

So a collaboration platform… would you let your customers use Sharepoint out of the box to see if it is to their liking? Explore what they can do with it and how to apply it withing their businesses, trying to mold it to fit their custom needs and wishes? I wouldn’t recommend that. An end user, or even an IT specialist, especially one with little to no experience would lose themselves in a maze of options and possibilities, but on the other hand wouldn’t recognize the vast possibilities that SharePoint offers.

In my opinion, Sharepoint is a platform with near to endless posibilities when it comes to building collaboration solutions. But it does need to be configured and streamlined to support the needs and wishes that a particular business has.

The SharePoint Pie

If we go back to good old Google and use the images search in combination with the term “SharePoint 2010″, we come across a lot of graphical representations of what SharePoint consists of from a functional point of view (see image below). I think this is a good starting point to get a grasp of what SharePoint 2010 as a platform has to offer.

SharePoint 2010 overview

SharePoint 2010 overview

Above image represents a high level overview of SharePoint functionality. To give you an insight into the different slices of the “SharePoint pie”, I’ll give a short description of what they do and where to find more about them.

Sites

Creating intranet, extranet and internet sites and use them to stimulate collaboration using templates for sites lists and libraries, the sites part of the pie contains the following:

  • Ribbon UIAn intuitive user interface, based on the Microsoft Office Ribbon as found in the Office 2010 Suite. It can be themed and customized using SharePoint designer and Visual Studio 2010.
  • Sharepoint WorkspaceA tool that gives you a lot of advantages, it is included in the Office Professional Plus 2010 suite. Gives you the opportunity to work with SharePoint in an offline mode. You can configure which items you want to take with you when not connected to your SharePoint environment, you can work on the items and they are synchronized when you reconnect with your SharePoint environment. It integrates with Windows Search to find the information you are looking for.To find out more about Workspace 2010, visit this page: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-workspace/
  • Sharepoint MobileOut of the box support for mobile devices, check this for more about this: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms462572.aspx
  • Office client en Office Web App integrationOffice Web Apps gives users a browser-based viewing and editing experience: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff431685.aspx
  • Standards supportSupport for commonly used standards like (but not limited to) HTML 4.01, XHMTL 1.0/1.1, WCAG 2.0 lvl AA

Communities

The internet is evolving and we’ve come a long way since Altavista , Yahoo and Amazon, which are in my opinion some of the first sites that either interacted with- or offered a service to internet users. We came from searching on sites like AltaVista and Northern Light, and maybe even the “boldly go where no internet users has gone before” Amazon customer (ordering a book online), to sharing things on Twitter, posting pictures and connecting to friends and family on Facebook, building a professional network with colleagues, clients and suppliers on sites like Linkedin, Sharing files with dropbox etc. Why not use these fantastic ways of sharing information in your corporate environment. This is what the communities part does in the pie:

  • Tagging, Tag Cloud, RatingsSocial tagging and ratings help categorize information in a way which is meaningful and understandable for a user. It can improve quality of search results and create synergy by connecting users based on said social tagging.
  • Social Bookmarking”The simplest definition is that social bookmarking is any compilation of useful links provided by users of a site, service, or group. To some degree social bookmarking is natural in your business; when one employee says to another, “I know a great article to read about that” and provides them with a link, that’s a social bookmark.” More about it can be found in this great article.
  • Blogs and WikisBlogs and wikis provide ways to quickly share information on a site, without requiring advanced tools or expertise. They are often easier for people to update than a formal document or traditional Web site. To find out more about them: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-server-help/use-blogs-or-wikis-to-share-info-HA010378210.aspx
  • My SitesMy Site is a personal site that gives you a central location to manage and store your documents, content, links, and contacts. My Site serves as a point of contact for other users in your organization to find information about you and your skills and interests. Content providers can use My Site as a method of customizing the information they present to users.
  • Activity Feedsan Activity Feed will track activities that have been posted by your colleagues that you “added”, very similar to Facebook or MySpace. Unless you have colleagues that are actively doing anything on the site, your Activity Feed will be empty. This is important because you may ask…”hey I’ve created a Team Site and I want to see everything that happens on this site, regardless of who did it!” Well, you can’t, unless you want to add every person in your company as a colleague, and even then your activity feed will only track certain activities that your collegues perform. http://blogs.perficient.com/portals/2011/02/18/sharepoint-2010-activity-feed-explained-part-1/
  • Profiles ans ExpertiseA user profile is a collection of properties that describes a single user, along with the policies and other settings associated with each property. The user that a profile describes is represented by a unique identifier in the profile, and the remaining properties provide information about that user, such as the user’s phone numbers, manager, office number, job title, and so forth. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee721054.aspx
  • Org BrowserThe SilverLight based Organizational Browser web part is a standard feature of SharePoint 2010 and is particularly useful if you wish to display your organisation chart on an Intranet page for example.

Content

There is a difference between data and information. To be understood, data must first be given a context; they must be given relevance to a larger unit. A single piece of data has no meaning unless there us context in which to understand it. Minus 128.6 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t have much significance until you learn that this is the coldest recorded temperature in  Antarctica. February 1, 2003, by itself, doesn’t have meaning. Knowing it is the date the Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven crew members were lost during re-entry supplies the date with some context. To do this we use the content pie:

  • Enterprise Content TypesA content type is a collection of settings and metadata that describe how an item created with that type is identified, and how it will behave within your system. A content type could apply to a document, a folder, or a variety other objects. Every document or item in SharePoint will be created from, or assigned to, a content type. When creating a new document from SharePoint, selecting a particular content type can provide a template for the user to complete. http://www.aiim.org/community/wiki/view/Content-Types-and-Metadata
  • Metadata and NavigationMetadata is data that describes information, it says something about the information that is stored, it can be used to classify and categorize data. Metadata can be a date, an author a date etc. It can be used to find and filter data or even “navigate data”. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff608067.aspx
  • Document SetsWhen working on projects, people seldom create individual documents. For many kinds of projects, it might be more typical to produce a set of multiple related documents. In some cases, this set of documents might be the end result of a project, or the “deliverable.” For example, a professional services company might produce a pitch book in response to each request for proposal that it receives from a possible client. In other cases, this set of documents might simply represent different types of information that support a larger project and result in the creation or delivery of something else. For example, a manufacturing company might produce a standard set of documents related to design, testing, and fabrication for each product it manufactures. http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-server-help/introduction-to-document-sets-HA101782466.aspx
  • Multi-stage DispositionWhen doing projects you cannot rely on project members when it comes to disposing documents, maybe you don’t even want to dispose them, because you want to keep them for reference or it might be required by law that you keep them for a certain time. With SharePoint 2010 you can build sophisticated policies for managing the entire content life cycle with multistage disposition. http://blogs.technet.com/b/jessmeats/archive/2010/04/13/multi-stage-disposition-in-sharepoint-2010.aspx
  • Audio and Video Content TypesEnterprise organizations increasingly use digital technology and digital media content, such as audio and video files, to communicate better within the enterprise and with customers. Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 provides optimum support for audio and video files that are smaller than 150 MB in size, includes improved support of metadata extraction from image files, and can support audio and video files designed for demonstrations and presentations up to 2 GB in size. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee556441.aspx
  • Remote Blob StorageIn SharePoint Server 2010, a binary large object (BLOB) is a large block of data stored in a database that is known by its size and location instead of by its structure — for example a Microsoft Office 2010 document or a video file. By default, these BLOBs, also known as unstructured data, are stored directly in the SharePoint content database along with the associated metadata, or structured data. Because these BLOBs can be very large, it might be better to store BLOBs outside the content database. BLOBs are immutable. Accordingly, a new copy of the BLOB must be stored for each version of that BLOB. Because of this, as a database’s usage increases, the total size of its BLOB data can expand quickly and grow larger than the total size of the document metadata and other structured data that is stored in the database. BLOB data can consume lots of space and uses server resources that are optimized for database access patterns. Therefore, it can be helpful to move BLOB data out of the SQL Server database, and onto commodity or content addressable storage. To do this, you can use RBS. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee748649.aspx
  • List EnhancementsMicrosoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 adds features to the list infrastructure that improve user experience in the case of large lists, and that enhance data integrity. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee724401.aspx

Search

When we use the word “search”, we often implicitly mean that we hope to find the item we search. “I’m searching for document X, actually means, “Where can I find document X”. Also relevant is the relevance of our search result, if I’m not searching for a certain document, but am looking for information then relevance of that information is very important. When I search for “car” on Google, what results do I get, a toy car, a new car, a person named Car? This is where the Search pie comes into play:

  • Social RelevanceWhen searching for a document SharePoint will keep track on context and number of times that the document is used, the more users click on a document, the higher the relevance.
  • Phonetic SearchMost of us experienced searchers, know how to use search and have become quite experienced in finding what we want by using the right search terms and being creative with the use of wild cards. But what do we do when we look Jeff Johnson. How do you spell Jeff, or is it Geoff, Jeffrey or Geoffrey. This is what Phonetic Search solves for you. More about this: http://www.kowalski.ms/2010/07/09/sharepoint-server-2010-phonetic-and-nickname-search/
  • NavigationSite navigation provides the primary interface for site users to move around on the sites and pages on your site. Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 includes a set of customizable and extensible navigation features that help orient users of your site so they can move around on its sites and pages. This article describes the navigation controls that are available in SharePoint Server 2010. It does not explain how to add navigation controls to Web pages, how to configure navigation controls, or how to create custom navigation controls. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee695757.aspx
  • FAST IntegrationWith FAST Search for SharePoint you get the same crawling capabilities also available in SharePoint Search in regards to obtaining data from multiple types of content sources (SharePoint sites, Web sites, File Shares, Exchange Public Folders, Databases through BCS, etc.), but with the added bonus of being able to apply custom processing rules to content coming from all of these distinct content sources. http://searchunleashed.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/reasons-to-go-with-fast-search-for-sharepoint-instead-of-regular-sharepoint-2010-search/
  • Enhanced PipelineThe item processing pipeline prepares an item from a content source for indexing and searching. This preparation includes text extraction, language detection, and tokenization. Some applications may require extensions to the item processing. You can generate additional searchable metadata from the content, or forward a piece of information from the item to a third-party application for statistical or monitoring purposes. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ff795801.aspx

Insights

According to Wikipedia an insight is the understanding of a specific cause and effect in a specific context. The way I see it, is that insights give you an overview or a presentation of data that is stored in SharePoint. There are several ways to get an overview of data stored in SharePoint:

  • PerformancePoint ServicesDashboards are a fundamental component of any performance management solution, and SharePoint 2010 PerformancePoint Services provides a rich set of tools and services for building highly interactive dashboard experiences that can help organizations of all sizes monitor and analyze their performance. This unit will introduce you to the fundamentals of performance management and how to develop rich dashboard experiences with SharePoint 2010 PerformancePoint Services based on SQL Server 2008 R2 Analysis Services data. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/gg192778
  • Excel ServicesExcel Services in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 is a shared service that you can use to publish Microsoft Excel 2010 workbooks on SharePoint Server. The published workbooks can be managed and secured according to your organizational needs and shared among SharePoint Server 2010 users, who can render the workbooks in a browser. Excel Services was introduced in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 and is available only in the Enterprise edition of SharePoint Server 2010. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee424405.aspx
  • Chart Web PartOne of the new additions to Microsoft’s SharePoint Server 2010 platform is the Chart Web Part (CWP), which allows you to create static and dynamic charts for your site without a line a code. One of the complaints from MOSS 2007 was that users wanted to be able to drop a chart onto their site to create dashboard or display information from Excel documents, or provide metrics to other users in a graphical way. http://thesharepointblog.com/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=2
  • Visio ServicesVisio Services lets users share and view Visio Web drawings. It also enables data-connected Visio 2010 Web drawings to be refreshed and updated from various data sources. Visio Services runs as a SharePoint Server 2010 service application. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee663485.aspx
  • Web AnalyticsWeb Analytics service as part of Microsoft® SharePoint® Server 2010, is set of features to help you collect, report, and analyze the usage and effectiveness of your SharePoint Server 2010 deployment. Web Analytics features include reporting, Web Analytics workflow, and Web Analytics Web Part.  There are three categories of the SharePoint Web Analytics reports: Traffic, Search, and Inventory. The reports are aggregated for various SharePoint entities like Site, Site Collection, and Web Application for each farm.  http://sharepointconnoisseur.blogspot.com/2011/02/sharepoint-2010-web-analytics-service.html
  • SQL Server IntegrationIf your organization currently uses or plans to use both SharePoint Server 2010 and SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) 2008 R2 as separate products, you should consider using SSRS in SharePoint integrated mode. You’ll have only one security model to manage and, even better, business users will have only one environment in which to create, find, and share information, whether that information is in the form of reports, lists, documents, or other content types. Furthermore, you can manage reports using the same content management, workflow, and versioning features that you use for other SharePoint content. http://www.sqlmag.com/article/sql-server-2008-r2/reporting-services-2008-r2-and-sharepoint-server-2010-the-next-generation-of-integration
  • PowerPivotPowerPivot(formally known as Project Gemini) is a great analysis tool from Microsoft which can be used in both Microsoft Excel and SharePoint. It adds great computational power to your excel sheet and provides fast manipulation on large data sets(often in millions of rows), and streamlined integration of data. Once you have achieved faster results in your massive excel sheet then you can use SharePoint to share it further. http://www.addictivetips.com/windows-tips/microsoft-excel-2010-powerpivot/

Composites

Composite materials, often shortened to composites or called composition materials, are engineered or naturally occurring materials made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties which remain separate and distinct at the macroscopic or  microscopic scale within the finished structure. Translating this to SharePoint is not very hard, it comes down to integrating external data into SharePoint and also exposing SharePoint data to external sources:

  • Business Connectivity ServicesMicrosoft Business Connectivity Services is a set of services and features that connect SharePoint-based solutions to sources of external data. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/ee518675
  • InfoPath Form ServicesInfoPath Forms Services, as part of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, provides a Web browser experience for filling out InfoPath forms. When deployed to a server running InfoPath Forms Services, forms based on browser-compatible form templates (.xsn) can be opened in a Web browser from computers that do not have InfoPath 2010 installed, but they will open in InfoPath 2010 when it is installed. Additionally, because the same form can be used in the browser or in the InfoPath editor, the form template design and management process is greatly simplified. The InfoPath Forms Services technology is built as a feature on the Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 platform. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms540731.aspx
  • External ListsExternal Lists are a great new feature in SharePoint 2010 that allow you to expose your Business Connectivity Services (formerly known as the Business Data Catalog) entities to end users through the familiar SharePoint list UI. This feature supports both reading from and writing to your line-of-business data sources via SharePoint. The major benefit of this is that it allows users to get at and update all of the data they need for a particular business process in one place regardless of whether that data is housed in SharePoint or elsewhere. In many cases, all of this can be done without writing a single line of code. http://blogs.pointbridge.com/Blogs/monnette_jeff/Pages/Post.aspx?_ID=23
  • WorkflowThe workflow feature in Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 helps automate business processes and provides consistency in the way business processes are run. http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/ff819861
  • Sharepoint DesignerUsing SharePoint Designer, you can rapidly create SharePoint solutions in response to business needs. Compose no-code solutions that encompass a variety of common scenarios, from collaborative sites and web publishing to Line-Of-Business data integration, business intelligence solutions, and human workflows, all leveraging the building blocks available in SharePoint in an easy to use environment. Developers can use SharePoint Designer 2010 to get a quick start on SharePoint development projects. http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/en-us/product/related-technologies/pages/sharepoint-designer.aspx
  • Visual StudioIntegration with Microsofts well known development platform, for configuration deployment and development. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint/aa905688
  • API EnhancementsUsing the SharePoint Application Programming Interface to consume and manipulate SharePoint data and functionality. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh313619.aspx
  • REST/ATOM/RSS3 seperate techniques to exchange data with users or applications.

Ok, thats it for now, congratulations for making it to the end of my blog. The information that is used in this blog is gathered from different resources, if there is information or links missing then please let me know. I also appreciate feedback.

Till we meet again, until then, happy Sharepointing.