Archive for August, 2011

Simple User Interface Enhancement With the Content Editor

Sometimes we need to develop custom solutions or customize SharePoint sites using SharePoint designer. Examples might be when creating detailed user interface elements such as interfaces to complex business system via web parts or changing the styling or branding of a complete site by modifying master pages. At other times we just need to enhance the user experience by adding a small piece of functionality.

One great example of this is to be found in the document centre.

A large upload button is provided to make it easier for our users to start the upload process.

This is implemented by using the content editor web part and some simple HTML/ JavaScript.

  1. Open up a document center site
  2. Switch the page into edit mode
  3. Investigate the HTML source for the content editor web part
  4. Create your own version to use against other libraries
5. This assumes you have SharePoint server standard or Enterprise installed and that you can create or access a new site that is based on the document centre template

6. The site will look something like this – note the button on the right

7. Use Page | Edit page to switch the page into editing mode

8. Click on the big grey button (Content Editor Web Part) then click on the HTML Source ribbon item

9. The source for the web part is now editable and will be similar to the following which has been slightly reformatted for easier reading

The key part is highlighted in blue. A call to a JavaScript routine provided by SharePoint that opens the upload document dialog.

Using a different address such as DavesDocuments/Forms/Upload.aspx allows me to either modify the existing button or create a set of buttons each opening their own library dialogs.The button itself is an image file (uploaddoc.png) above which can also be replaced.

The result is an enhancement that is simple to do if you know some basic html and JavaScript. Combine this with some css and even more useful effects can be achieved.

In summary, if you haven’t used it yet, the content editor web part is well worth a look as it is easy to use and gives a lot of potential for enhancing pages without needing the heavier duty development or customization tools.

Dave Severn

How Long is a Piece of SharePoint

A frequent type of question asked on SharePoint courses goes something like this –

How big should my content database be or how many web applications or how many site collections per application, how many servers do I need etc, etc?  The answer of course is – It depends!

You have to get the requirements and think through what it is you are trying to achieve. Document your existing network and server topology then sketch out what you think your solution will be. Check this against requirements and technical limitations and see if it fits. If not re-model and start again. Doing this up front on paper is big step forward before implementing test systems and running performance tests.

Consideration needs to be given to what you are trying to store, which users are allowed to access it and where will it be used amongst other things.

Microsoft’s TechNet site contains valuable information for planning your SharePoint infrastructure from server farms through to individual enterprise features.

For technical restrictions, their guide on SharePoint Server capacity management is well worth looking at as well.

Planning for SharePoint isn’t just about SharePoint, it encompasses the network, Windows Server configurations, Active Directory, Security, SQL server requirements, Performance and of course security. Training and governance will fall in there as well.

Treat each enterprise feature implementation as a project with requisite planning and design rather than just as a feature to be switched on and used.

I wish it was as simple as just giving an answer such three servers , two web apps and three site collections but it isn’t! Which is just as well as life wouldn’t be as interesting if SharePoint was this simple J

And just like the proverbial piece of string, one size does not fit all.

Dave Severn

Office 365 SharePoint Online

Cloud or no cloud?
Within four hours today we had several changes of weather from mildly gloomy to flood like rain followed by bright blue skies with incredible sunshine only to change and cycle again. Some things change quickly other more slowly. Back and forth like the eternal question of whether to use distributed or centralized systems.

Centralized or distributed?
Since the first computers were created a debate about whether to use large central processors or a network of distributed smaller systems has resulted in the latest greatest thing to be one or the other. From IBM mainframes to Unix based networks running SUN Unix Systems through Novell NetWare and Windows networking, connecting relatively cheap workstations through to More powerful servers. As time moved on ease of internet access has meant distributed computing has become a necessity for many of us in our daily lives.

Back to the centre
And now we see the trend moving back to the centralized model only this time one or more vendors are hoping to lure you to their data-center with a variety of service offerings. Much of the technicalities of the cloud will be blogged about here but what of SharePoint and the cloud.

A big concern for many organisations is that of keeping the skills of their employee up to date. Changing to the cloud has to be utilize those skills not require a complete new set. I have recently been using Office 365. First I used the beta and now I’m using the live versions.

Part of office 365 is SharePoint online. You get both intranet (team) sites and Web (public facing) sites. The key thing about this is that I have SharePoint server facilities for a monthly fee. I am basically renting a SharePoint server. Why is this good? Well apart from being cheaper than doing it all myself I can rely on Microsoft to take the backups, keep the system running, and do the tuning. For larger companies the complexity of software is making it more difficult to keep enough staff with the right degree of technical knowledge, and a cloud or hosted solution may be worth considering for some parts of the business.

Skills in place
In terms of applying my existing SharePoint knowledge. All I have to do is use the system.

It’s SharePoint 2010 with a slightly different look and feel.

Now most people at some time will find that they need to customize SharePoint and this is where a hosted offering differs from having access to an on premise fully accessible server. I can access and customize it using SharePoint Designer. In addition I can upload Sandbox solutions developed using Visual Studio and the SharePoint APIs. More on this in a future post.

Equally I cannot install farm-level custom solutions and there are currently no business connectivity services, but these are features you would get by going for a fully serviced server within the cloud.

Some of the other differences are a slightly different user interface (theme) note the links to connect to Outlook, team or public sites and the different styling to the ‘normal’ SharePoint 2010.

Another nice feature is the Silverlight based site template browser shown below.

It’s another option
For me, having a SharePoint online solution has brought another option to the table. I can now select cloud, my own servers, or a mixture of the two depending on business needs.

At the moment it seems like a nice option but experience in using it and learning more will help identify any potential problems. As I gain that experience I will decide whether to move more of my business to the cloud or not. The key thing is that SharePoint online is SharePoint and the level of which I wish to use it is not affected by whether I can use it technically but whether it suits my business when considering issues such as governance, data protection, security, and value for money.

The debate about centralized and distributed will no doubt continue on together with cloud or no cloud. This cycle will keep many of us busy evaluating the best options for us and our clients. Continual change sometimes predictable, sometimes not. Much like the weather really. J

To learn more about SharePoint, check out the courses that Learning Tree has to offer.

Dave Severn

SharePoint 2010: More Than a Year Already

SharePoint in the past year

Since SharePoint 2010 was released I have been working on various projects and will start to share some of my experiences and suggestions over the coming months. During this time Learning Tree produced a number of new courses ranging from basic usage to Enterprise Application development in addition to the SharePoint 2007 courses which are still very popular. Why so many courses ?

Both Business and Technical SharePoint Skills Are Needed

The skills taught on these courses are required because of the complexity of both versions of SharePoint. They are powerful products but without proper planning a poor implementation can result in less than desired results. The starting point is to decide why you want to use SharePoint. Concentrate on the business value and work forward from there. There are so many features that it can be difficult to know where to start so good requirements definitions will be essential.

Preferably start with a simple project. Maybe a training planning site complete with a calendar for dates when you are attending our courses. J

The suggestions I posted here still make sense and hopefully will help you get started.

Use a Guide

Guidance from someone who has been through this process of planning and designing SharePoint sites may be another good way to start – for example, someone like an experienced Learning Tree Instructor. SharePoint is a large and complex product. Any advice that helps reduce your project’s delivery time is worth considering.

Flexibility is the Key

In the light of your own experience if you find that the early sites you create aren’t quite what you want then you can easily make changes and move things around until you arrive at a better solution. SharePoint is great in this regard, as it’s flexible, and when you are ready you can easily save your site as a re-usable template. If you need more guidance, Learning Tree offers a variety of SharePoint courses to choose from.

Review and Learn

As you make changes it’s worth documenting what you have done and why so that you can review these later and assess what has worked and what hasn’t over time. An iterative process will normally result in a better solution than trying to plan everything up front. As your experience grows these documents will also help you move in to tackle the bigger projects such as public facing web portals, Enterprise search environments, and Business intelligence dashboards.

User Feedback

Use WIKI’s, Surveys, and discussion forums to get real-world feedback from your users and then implement the changes that make sense.

Give It a Go

In reality it’s unlikely that you will have all the possible skills you need before you need to use them and certainly with the increasing responsibilities I.T. departments face, time will also be lacking. The important thing is to make a start. So carry out as much planning as you can but don’t get stuck in endless requirements sessions and re-designs without making a start.

Create a simple test server within a virtual machine and experiment. As your confidence grows start planning for a more serious production installation.

For now making use of tools found within in SharePoint and using basic governance will allow you to build SharePoint outwards and reap business rewards rather than letting it spiral out of control.


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