Archive for February, 2010

Sharing knowledge and being social.


Wherever we may be !

Learning tree instructors are located across the world. For each course that we teach we try to share information and provide feedback to each other. As I mentioned in my last post how I am located in Ireland and Dux is in Washington. It’s not always practical or desirable to travel so collaborating remotely provides a nice solution.

The Web provides the basic infrastructure for this to happen and SharePoint being a Web based technology provides the higher level details.

Knowledge Sharing

Organisations can gain great benefits by encouraging their employees to contribute by sharing knowledge and ideas. SharePoint provides the place to store and capture these ideas.

I often explain the benefit of this when teaching as follows (not sure where I heard this but the concept is great).

Two people meet in the street – each has a piece of fruit. Each gives their piece of fruit to the other. They now still have one piece of fruit each.

Two people meet in the street. Each has an idea. They each give each other their idea. Now both have two ideas.

Some fundamental tools for getting ideas and information out into the open are the discussions list and the Wiki library. Discussions give us a threaded forum style list and Wiki’s a series of linked pages. The wiki has become so popular in SharePoint that the home page for a new team site is by default a Wiki page. Wiki pages allow you to very easily create other associated pages. This allows you to build up simple knowledge bases very easily and go way beyond just two ideas.

Both concepts have been around on the web for a while but SharePoint adds to these features by providing – central Storage, Consistent look and feel, managed permissions and the information is automatically indexed for searching.

Social Collaboration

One area that SharePoint server 2010 has greatly expanded is that of Social networking and collaboration. This is found as part of a new ‘My profile’ feature area where you can store personalised data. Groups of colleagues can be created for sharing and finding information. A nice feature for example is that of ‘What’s Happening’ – a twitter like facility to let people know what you are up to (hopefully good thingsJ)

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With all the changes happening around us many companies are looking for the edge to stay ahead of the competition. One way is to find out more about their employees in terms of skills and knowledge that may not be apparent from their day to day work. Encouraging social networking within a business context can help identify previously hidden skills. The employee can share as much of this as they wish which may help their career prospects. Such information can be entered via properties on the ’My Settings’ page. Information such as this can be made available for searching allowing people to be found by their interests and skills as well as the more traditional fields such as email address, names and location.

A place of my own

Within the ‘My Profile’ section you can store your own personal content. When you select my content a new personal site is created for you. This was formerly known as ‘My Sites’ in SharePoint 2007.

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The idea is to have a place of your own where you can keep personal content which can be shared with people you identify as colleagues and public content that anyone can see. The image above shows the Shared Documents and Personal Documents folders used for this purpose. Within the ‘My Content’ area you can track updates from your colleagues such as blog posts, Tags they have added to content and so on. As this is all content stored by SharePoint it can be made available for search indexing.

Whilst our new SharePoint 2010 course will cover these in much more depth, hopefully this post may have stimulated your interest in looking at some of the new and existing collaboration and social networking features and of course a nice side affect of coming to a class is that you can discuss and share your ideas with a whole new group of like minded individuals.

Dave

What are you deploying? If you think it is SharePoint, you got it wrong!


I have had many discussions with clients that tell me “I am implementing SharePoint” and ask my advice on how to best deploy SharePoint in their organization. I am going to argue they are not deploying SharePoint and I bet they don’t appreciate what they are really deploying. If they did, I think they would deploy it differently and questions about how to deploy would be easier to answer.

What is SharePoint, you ask? Look around and you will hear, “it’s a communication and collaboration platform”. Okay, but what does that really mean? Let’s break down the majority of the features included in SharePoint for “communication and collaboration” and see what that really means.

Document Libraries: Storage for documents, replacements for LAN drives includes document management features such as version control, check in / out, and content approval. Sounds like Enterprise Content Management?

Lists: Storage for lists of items, ability to create views to show only the data relevant, set security, set alerts to keep track of changes in the lists. Lists easily integrate with Microsoft Office and can be published to SharePoint web sites. Sounds like a project management solution: to-do lists, task lists, calendar lists?

Wiki pages: Collaborative content creation, similar to the Wikipedia web site, which allows teams in your organization to build documents together. This allows modification and editing of documents to combine the group’s knowledge into the document. Sounds like a good way to collaboratively create user guides, or other company documentation?

Blogs: An informal publishing of articles and thoughts where readers can comments on articles, Sounds like a good way to communicate with staff without sending global emails and a good way to publish information on a corporate web site?

Discussion boards: A discussion web site where users can post questions, comments, concerns,etc. for discussion. Sounds like a good way to create offline discussions without emailing groups of users?

Site Creation: Ability to easily build and modify fully functional web sites without any code. Site templates provide layouts for particular purposes that can be easily modified to meet your specific site requirements. Sounds like web site application development; when do we need to create web sites, does your IT department always have to create sites?

Security: A fully integrated security model that can integrate with Active Directory or other security providers. SharePoint security allows users to manage security on their own sites and contents. Sounds like downloading typical IT desk functionality?

So what feature(s) are you deploying? If you break down the features of SharePoint and then look at the impact each feature will have in your organization, you will have a better idea how to implement each feature.

Gord Maric

Fundamental Concepts at the Heart of SharePoint


 

SharePoint has several features that can be used in many differing combinations to meet business needs. At its heart SharePoint primarily addresses the need for us to collaborate to produce electronic information then to publish this to a wider audience.

The basic structure has not changed in 2010. A Server farm made up of one or more physical servers contains one or more logical Web Applications. Within each Web application there are one or more site collections. Within each site collection there are one or more Web sites. Each site is made up of lists, libraries and pages.

Having created your overall structure most users will work within a small number of sites, maybe even just one.

Lists are the fundamental data store made available to us within SharePoint. Each list is based upon a template. The custom list is the most basic of these templates providing a few simple columns. It is intended that we add our own columns i.e. customise this for our own use. There are many other list templates provided enabling us to quickly create Calendars, Announcements, Issue lists and tasks list (to name but a few).

Document Libraries are a specialised form of list that allows us to store documents or files that have been created outside of SharePoint commonly with Microsoft office products such as Word or Excel.

Like lists, libraries can have custom columns added to them. This allows us to store values with the document that can be indexed and used as search values by our users.

In addition we can use one list as a lookup or reference for use by another list. For example a tasks list being used to manage a simple project may have a look up to project No list.

Here we see a new task item being added with values in the project no rop down coming from another custom list named Project Numbers

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Having added the project number reference to my Tasks list I need to be sure that the project number record doesn’t get deleted if any tasks exist that use it i.e. I need referential integrity – a common feature found in modern database systems. The good news is that with SharePoint 2010 this has been added. When you add a look up column to a list you will have the option to prevent or cascade deletes of associated records

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One key feature that has been enhanced dramatically and moved from MOSS 2007 to SharePoint foundation is that of Business Connectivity Services, formerly the business data catalog. This feature allows us to connect to databases and line of business systems then present the data from them as if they were standard SharePoint lists.

Our users can now use the SharePoint interface across the Web to work with data held in SharePoint itself or to work with data coming from external databases and systems.

This opens up many more opportunities for us to use SharePoint as a base for building business applications. I will revisit this subject in more detail in a later post.

All of the above benefits from the new user interface options in 2010. If you have Silverlight installed you will get the Silverlight experience. If not but you have Javascript enabled you will get the nice responsive Ajax style interface. If you don’t have either of these you will get the ASP.net web form interface similar to that seen in SharePoint 2007.

Course Update

Our first version of the course load has been setup and I have connected to it from my office in the West of Ireland to the datacenter in Washington.

As SharePoint is a Web based solution I realise this is nothing new but I am always in awe at the amount of technology involved that allows this to happen. In principal I could just connect to the server and test away however part of my role is to test it as if I were taking the class. To do this I am going to use Learning Tree AnyWare technology which will allow me to log in and run a Client machine running Windows 7 which will be setup with all the necessary course files.

Dux is hard at work creating the exercise manual in a cold snowed in part of North America as I blog and drink coffee on a beautiful rare sunny morning in the West of Ireland. Collaboration is definitely working in my favour at present. However this is just the calm before the storm , time is getting closer to the pilot in April – once the material starts flowing through I will be working with Dux to make sure it all works.

Dave

Building the Course Load


 

A key part of our course is the practical work that attendees will carry out in the form of Hands on exercises that reinforce the theory. Building a course load is therefore an important part of the course development process. In many ways we face the same decisions that production SharePoint administrators face when considering how to upgrade from their existing version to a new version of the software. Admittedly we haven’t got terabytes of data to contend with so the implications of our decision are much less critical but still important.

SharePoint 2010 runs only in a 64 bit environment. For production this means Windows Server 2008 (including R2) x64. The SQL server database used must also be either SQL Server 2008 or SQL Server 2005 with Service Pack 3. Current memory requirements are 4Gb Ram for Microsoft SharePoint Foundation and 8Gb Ram for SharePoint Server. These are estimates based on the beta code. However we can see that these requirements have gone up since 2007. Ensuring you have enough memory, Disk space and processor power will be among the initial considerations for planning your upgrade. In our case we run our course loads within virtual machines so extra memory needs to be available on the physical hardware for use by the Host and Guest operating systems.

When SharePoint 2010 is released much debug code will be removed and production code will be optimised which may reduce some of the resource requirements. Part of our process is to deliver the course as a pilot before the final public release. This will give us an opportunity to monitor the resource requirements chosen and see how they hold up during the practical sessions of the course.

If we were creating an upgrade of our SharePoint 2007 course  we may have tried to upgrade the existing course server. This uses a 32 bit version of WSS 3.0 and MOSS 2007. There is however no direct upgrade path from the 32 bit version to the 64 bit version of SharePoint 2010. It is possible to take a content database from a WSS 3.0/ moss 2007 environment and attach it to a new SharePoint Foundation / SharePoint server installation. This will cause the database to be upgraded to the format of the new version of SharePoint. For some of you this will be a good option to take. As we are creating a brand new course we have the luxury of starting with a clean install and then create all new content.

Another interesting new option for developers and/or trainers is that of being able to install either product directly onto 64 bit versions of Vista or Windows 7. Instructions can be found here http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee554869(office.14).aspx

In practice for many companies the upgrade process will be large and complex. A key thing is to understand where you are coming from i.e. what features you are currently using and where you are going to – which features you will need. Once you know this then you can plan the upgrade project in more detail. Our new course will aim to make you aware of several key new features which will hopefully help in this process.

A great blog site for learning about the install and upgrade process is http://blogs.msdn.com/opal/archive/2009/11/16/installation-notice-for-sharepoint-2010-public-beta.aspx

For our setup we are keen to utilise SharePoint’s collaborative features and so we will use a central class Server that enables all attendees to actually work in a collaborative environment during the course. It also allows us to investigate options for how we should secure our data from different groups of users. It’s always nice to be able to try these things out in a safe training environment and then transfer this knowledge back to the workplace. Hopefully you will come along and try this yourselves.

Dave Severn

Just Getting Started – Development of SharePoint 2010 Training


My role in the development of the new intro to SharePoint course (#1501) is to be involved in the selection and organisation of content then to review and pass feedback to the author as he develops the new material.

Our goal is to produce a course that provides real world value in a way that is easy to understand. Ideally what you learn today you can use today.

SharePoint 2010 brings many new features and plenty of changes for us to convey in the course however we also have to cover the fundamentals so at present we are just getting started on laying it all out. We currently have a detailed outline and Dux is now writing the exercise manual. This really drives our course forward as we need a set of meaningful exercises that build up from the basics to more complex pieces of work. When this is done he will write the course notes and at every stage of the way I am looking over his shoulder (metaphorically) to make sure he does what we agreed and in a way that will be really useful.

New features of the interface:

One of the exciting new features is that of the new fluent (ribbon) interface which is similar to the ribbon found in the Office 2007 products. This is a context aware menu system that makes it easy to get to the task you are working on.

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Naturally you can expect to see this covered in detail in the course and by the end of the week attendees will have mastered it. However the Ribbon brings about a fundamental change for companies deploying SharePoint 2010. In the past users would simply use the SharePoint interface and find it was fairly simple – just a bunch of hyperlinks, images and content. Many companies customized this and if it was designed well it would be easy to use.

Now the Ribbon brings a big decision point for SharePoint adoption as now the user interface is at first glance more complex and many more users may need training to get the hang of it than in previous SharePoint versions. Such topics may also end up as discussion or workshops in the course which can add to the interactive nature of the way we like to teach.

Another challenge we face is what to leave out, SharePoint 2010 is so feature rich that we would like to cover it all. Dux and I argued for a 20 day version of the course (just to cover the basics) but Karen won’t give in which means we are going to focus really hard on what is important. Whatever content we finally end up with there is just so much good stuff in SharePoint 2010 that it’s going to be a great course.

Dave


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