Category: Development

SharePoint or Application Development related posts

Impact of SharePoint Designer Free Distribution

This week it was announced that SharePoint Designer 2007 and future versions are now freely distributed.

Announcement

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The developer community was quick to applaud the news since this is a useful tool, but I assume also because getting software purchases approved in the current economy is difficult at best even in stable companies.

The news however brought a different set of comments from the system administrators and IT management folks who are worried about what the ramifications will be. They are right to be worried. Many companies are already struggling with governance and end user site ownership issues. With that in mind I think it gives them that much more incentive to get their policies, procedures, and training plans in order.

From a Program Management perspective, I think it is critical to the platform to enable end user groups to design, manage, and interact with their own content. That includes maintaining their own access control lists (ACLs), libraries, lists, and design their own workflows. I see SharePoint Designer as an extension of the platform, not much different than MS Word or Excel. Site Owners and Designers need to be able to manage this in most situations.

In a medium to large organization it would take an army of IT team members to manage this for every group, it is just not feasible and not the purpose of the SharePoint platform.

So how should you proceed?
Governance – Address custom design and development in your Governance plan. Determine who can have it, and what it can be used for.

Training – Address its use in your training plan, and make sure that Design and Developer resources are available. Perhaps you can pick up a copy or two of Professional Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 (Wrox Programmer to Programmer).

SharePoint Designer Collaboration Site – Provide site owners with a place to collaborate and provide guidance. You can include samples, links, and FAQs to help them.

Through proper governance you can help guide their decisions and enable their success. Their success and approval leads to the success of the platform in your organization.

What can be done to prevent use of Designer?
Installation – For now you can look at local computer policy and prevent installation of unapproved software. For people in companies that already do this, they know that it takes a lot to manage that.

Security – You can also review site security and make sure that the appropriate set of users have access to make changes.

Disable at the Site Level – There is some work in the community right now to come up with a solution to prevent specified sites from being changed or customized with SharePoint Designer.

UPDATED: John Ferringer and Brian Farnhill have posted a Beta for the project, setup as an HTTP Event Handler to block SP Access. It can be found here: No SPD HTTP Event Handler.

What is your response to the news? Excited, terrified? Post a comment!

The Importance of a Content Syndication and Aggregation Plan

One of the keys to managing a successful SharePoint implementation is having a Content Syndication and Aggregation Plan. Address the plan early in the design process to avoid more difficult changes later in the life of the system.

The plan should cover:
Content Locations – Helping users develop a methodology for where to locate content (Centrally / Group Level) and how to aggregate it when needed.

Role of Content – Is the content to be consumed (read) or updated? Content that needs to be modified from remote locations needs to be handled differently.

Content Types – By thinking about the content and content types early on in the process data can be addressed in a consistent way which will make it easier for people to understand and easier to aggregate the data thanks to common structures.

Why is a plan needed?
As Site Collections continue to grow in scope and size it will become clear that different groups need to work with the same data or that the same data has relevance in more than one context. The promise of collaboration tools like SharePoint is that they can deliver targeted information in specific places instead of making users visit dozens of different sources. One of the frequent complaints that I hear is that related data is in too many disparate sites, with another being that files are copied to multiple sites where they are consumed.

What are the methods for syndication and aggregation?
Really Simple Syndication (RSS) – Most people have a good understanding of what RSS is and how it can be used to pull content into the sites, but not all realize that they use it to share data within SharePoint sites.

As the full name suggests it is Really Simple, but that also means there can be some limits to what it can be used for. I tend to use it for communicating simple data like News, Announcements, and of course Blog updates.

Web Parts – With this approach web parts are configured to include data from one or more sources for display somewhere else. This can be done with a DataView configured in SharePoint Designer or with the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) if you have MOSS. One limit with these two options is that data must exist within the Site Collection; it cannot access data outside of that boundary.

Another option is a custom web part or a third party “Rollup” web part that provides similar functionality but offers the ability to access the data via a web service call opening up the data from any accessible SharePoint site.

Document Link Content Type – If the “Document Link” content type is added to the document library, it will enable the sites user’s to put a shortcut/link in the document library that points to the document’s source location. This is a simple, but effective way to list documents in more than one library without the storage overhead or the confusion around which is the correct location to edit the document.

Publishing – The MOSS Publishing features support configuring a Custom Send to Destination within the library’s Advanced Settings. This provides a mechanism for pushing documents from a source to a destination library which really comes in handy with a document control process that separates the Work in Process (WIP) library from the document library users consume information on.

Content Synchronization – There may be instances when you need to be able to synchronize data or files to another farm or site collection. Examples would include pushing content from an internal system to an extranet or visa versa. There are a few third party solutions that can help facilitate this, or a custom solution can be developed.

Examples of where it can be used.
Here are some common examples that I’ve run into:

  • Company Holidays and Calendar
  • Common Company Forms
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Project Information and Summary Status Reports

Summary
SharePoint has a great foundation for content syndication and aggregation. By developing your plan early in your design and communicating it to your community it will help shape design decisions and educate users on how to maximize the effectiveness of the content sharing. All of this will help avoid user frustration and lead to wider end user adoption and satisfaction with content that proves to be much more portable.

Buy versus Build

A discussion broke out on the MSDN/TechNet SharePoint Forums this week that started to approach the subject of build versus buy. It is something I have had to put a fair amount of thought to in the past so I decided it might make for an interesting blog post.

As a developer, I enjoy developing. It is always fun to dig into code and solve a problem or fill a need. Unfortunately I don’t get nearly as much time to develop as I used to or would like. It ends up being something I do between meetings, on weekends, or in support of a project when the other developers are not available. As I’ve moved through the roles of developer, team leader, architect / program manager I have had to look at things from different angles including that of what is best for the company or the users the solution is being deployed for. Sometimes those personal goals and enjoyment have to be set aside in support of the company’s and users’ best interest.

One of the main trends of computing over the past 10+ years is the move towards interchangeable components, services, etc that can be stitched together offering reuse and decreasing the total cost of managing systems. SharePoint is a great example of this as a platform that has a rich market of third-party vendors. There are 100s of available solutions, web parts, etc that are publically available.

Here are some considerations when evaluating whether to Buy or Build solutions.

Requirements – Is there a solution available that meets the requirements? Is there something close enough to consider as an option? If not, and its needed then its clear you would have to develop it.

Initial level of effort – Do you, or does somebody on the team have the skills and know how to develop the solution or is this a learning opportunity? How long do you expect it to take? If it is full of unknowns or if the projected cost based on a standard rate ($50 an hour?) comes to 80% or more of a commercially available solution it probably isn’t something that should be custom built.

Are there other things that are a better use of your time? The last few organizations I’ve worked with I’ve had a running backlog of projects averaging two years. It is normally easier to purchase components than it is to add to the headcount. Purchasing components or solutions makes it that much easier to deliver value quickly.

Ongoing maintenance and support – Do you or does the group have the time to support the solution going forward? You may have time now, but if you squeeze it in what happens when they come back for changes or you need to upgrade? Will you have time to work on it? You can rely on the vendor for this in most cases if you purchase support for the solution.

On the flipside, make sure you take into account the vendor’s stability and history and make sure that they will support the solution going forward and/or still be around. I have made the mistake of purchasing a solution from one company that sold me a dead-end product that was replaced.

Quality / Grade – Do you, or your team have the skills to meet the needed quality and grade of the solution? In most cases the commercially available solution has a team supporting the development effort to include qualified quality assurance professionals.

Budget – Do you have funds available for the purchase. In some cases there just is not money available, we are in a recession after all, but smart businesses will find the funds if the solution does add value and save time. Mature organizations probably understand this a little better, and therefore tend to have larger budgets to support the purchase of technology.

Summary
By taking these considerations into account it will help you make decisions that add value to the organization and its end users.

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