The new version of Microsoft SharePoint has a lot of new capabilities that make it appealing to businesses and developers. Ed Bott shows four of them that should pique your interest.
Over the years, Microsoft SharePoint has earned a reputation as a top-shelf, top-dollar, top-down working environment for Really Big Corporations. Companies that are big enough to hire small armies of custom developers and pay big bucks to integrators who can spend months putting together a SharePoint site. I’ve used a couple of those sites in the past, and they worked just fine. But I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to set them up or keep them running.
Which is why I was pleasantly surprised when I installed a beta copy of SharePoint 2010 last fall on a test server here. Compared to my experiences of three years ago, the experience was vastly improved. I found it remarkably easy to set up. More importantly, I found SharePoint 2010 equally simple to use, right out of the box. There’s still plenty of room for developers and integrators to get involved, but this time around they should be able to spend their time building interesting applications instead of tinkering with plumbing.
Last week I rebuilt a couple of servers using the final SharePoint 2010 code, which was released to manufacturing at the same time as Office 2010. If you have an MSDN or TechNet subscription, you already have access to everything you need; that was my starting point. A lot of SharePoint features don’t make sense until you begin using them, which is why I recommend setting up a small pilot site (use a virtual machine and it’s even easier). That way, you can quickly see whether SharePoint makes sense in your organization.
In this post, I’ll show you four areas worth paying close attention to.
I was able to get a SharePoint 2010 site up and running very quickly on a server in a virtual machine with Windows Server 2008 R2 installed. For a pilot project, you definitely want to use the smaller, lighter (and free) SharePoint Foundation 2010 rather than the full-blown SharePoint Server 2010. Large organizations will need the full-strength server product, but smaller companies and autonomous workgroups or satellite offices inside of an enterprise will probably find SharePoint Foundation suitable for production use.
One thing I especially liked about the setup was its step-by-step installer, which actually took care of the scut work of installing prerequisites and enabling Server roles and features.
Yes, I still had to RTFM to get past a couple of small sticking points, but from start to finished site it took only a couple of hours.
The Ribbon Meets the Web
SharePoint 2010 looks different. It really does look and feel a lot like Office now, with the Office ribbon neatly integrated throughout the SharePoint environment. That’s a big (and welcome) change visually, and there are similarly dramatic improvements in usability. Many of the functions available in this Library Tools tab were also in SharePoint 2007, but good luck finding them.
One interesting feature showed up only when I upgraded an existing SharePoint 2007 site to SharePoint 2010. I was given the choice of sticking with the old interface or choosing a Visual Upgrade option to apply the Ribbon and other interface elements. In practice, that means you can get the benefits of the newer software and delay the Visual Upgrade until you’re ready to train users on it.
Oh, and in case you didn’t notice—that management screen I just showed wasn’t running in a Microsoft browser. SharePoint 2010 is surprisingly browser-agnostic, officially supporting Internet Explorer 7 and 8; Firefox 3.5 on Windows, Mac, and Linux; and Safari 4 on Mac. And as that screenshot shows, SharePoint 2010 also works well in Google Chrome.
No Code Required
From an end user’s point of view, it’s easy to create new sites using the built-in templates. You probably will still want some custom code, but the building blocks are much, much better now than before. The “canned” sites are slick and full featured enough, in fact, that you can basically create a simple departmental site, turn it over to a power user within that department, and let the team begin building document and meeting workspaces, blogs, wikis, issue-tracking databases, and other collaborative sites without having to write any custom code.
The tools for sharing documents in Word and other Office programs are worth exploring. Even more impressive is the ability to connect SharePoint lists and libraries to Outlook, where they remain in sync and even allow previewing without requiring any visits to a browser.
Office Web Apps
Once you have SharePoint 2010 installed, you can add the Office Web Apps fairly quickly. They’re currently in beta, but should be ready for release within a matter of weeks. Unlike the public, ad-supported Web Apps on Windows Live SkyDrive, the SharePoint version offers complete support for viewing and editing Word documents, Excel workbooks, PowerPoint presentations, and OneNote notebooks.
Again, the experience doesn’t require Internet Explorer, as the below screen shows.
As the screen shot above makes abundantly clear, the Office Web Apps offer a stripped-down set of features compared to the standalone alternatives. You’re not going to create any charts or PivotTables in the Excel Web App, for example. But being able to view and do light edits is good enough for many business scenarios, especially if you know that every user on the team has a full copy of Office installed on the PCs they use most often.
SharePoint 2010 is a big release, well worth looking at it if you already have a SharePoint infrastructure and you’re planning to migrate to Office 2010. And if you don’t? Well, the entire package should be available from Microsoft and its partners as a hosted service later this year. If our experience is any guide, that will be a winning combination.
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