Chapter 1. Leveraging the power of SharePoint – SharePoint 2010 Site Owner's Manual: Flexible Collaboration without Programming

Chapter 1. Leveraging the power of SharePoint

 

This chapter covers

  • What SharePoint is
  • Why you should be using SharePoint
  • What’s new in SharePoint 2010
  • Introduction to SharePoint by creating a Hello World site

 

Increasing collaboration capabilities has become one of the top priorities of businesses around the world. Imagine emailing a document to a customer with edits and then finding out that they had also been making changes to the document; now you have to merge pages of changes. What if you’re required to work from home because of a snowstorm, and the latest copy of the report you need is accessible only via your desktop at work? Problems with collaboration have caused many lost hours in companies and have therefore become a priority for businesses to resolve.

Using the array of tools that Microsoft now offers, people are finding effective ways to communicate and share their information. One key tool that’s being used to do this type of collaboration is SharePoint. Share-Point is an application that you can use to create websites that help people collaborate and communicate information. End users are using its powerful capabilities in web content management to share information with other users around the world via the web, sharing information with users even if they don’t have Microsoft Office, using features such as Office Web Access, Access Services, and Visio Services. SharePoint also enables you to collaborate simultaneously on the information without fear of overwriting each other’s changes by using versioning and co-authoring features.

SharePoint tools released in 2007 brought a higher standard of effective collaboration to the workforce. The introduction of a new permissions model for document collaboration, enhanced search features, and the Windows Workflow Foundation, along with many other features, enabled a new level of information management solutions. SharePoint tools released in 2010 have taken collaboration to the next level. This release is packed with enhanced features such as the rich Silverlight UI, a new Ribbon interface, and enhanced tools, which enable the power user to build application sites.

Before you continue reading through a series of scenarios discussed in part 2 that walk you through common problems business users are faced with and how SharePoint comes to the rescue, you need to understand what SharePoint is. In this chapter I’ll introduce you to SharePoint, tell you about what’s new to SharePoint 2010, and finish with a short example to get you started.

1.1. Say hi to SharePoint

In the real world when you first meet someone you learn a bit about them; likewise, here I’ll introduce you to SharePoint. This is a great get-to-know-you chapter for those readers who aren’t familiar with SharePoint. Here you’ll see what SharePoint is and why it’s so great. For those of you already familiar with SharePoint, this should be more of a recap of what you already know. In addition to the initial introduction, I’ll also touch on the new features for SharePoint 2010. By the end of this chapter, you and SharePoint will be at the beginning of a long-standing, beautiful friendship.

1.1.1. What is SharePoint?

SharePoint in its most basic form is a website that helps people collaborate and communicate information. It has a wide set of features that, when fully leveraged and configured, is capable of being used as a rich, interactive, and powerful platform. This platform is capable of supporting the most advanced business needs or can be used on your own personal site. Business and personal uses can be found everywhere, and the variations are endless, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Company intranets to communicate the latest company news, share division information, and provide insight into policies such as those of HR and Payroll
  • Company team sites for easy collaboration and document management
  • Company extranets for easy collaboration with other companies/partnerships with different organizations
  • Public-facing sites available via the World Wide Web for product sales or important communications
  • Creation of applications to automate business processes or to gather business intelligence

Here are some examples of personal use:

  • Blog sites
  • Family sites for sharing photos and videos
  • Community sites such as user groups
  • Wedding sites

You can create all of these sites without having to understand a single line of code, and all levels of users and developers can learn to use them. Also, if you’re using SharePoint Foundation, the license is free, which is good to know if you’re considering it for personal use. The majority of this book is focused on building out scenarios, like the ones listed here, and guiding you on how to configure these sites step by step, using the out-of-the-box functionality. Don’t worry or get overwhelmed; you can do this, even if you aren’t a techie. SharePoint is so user-friendly that after completing this book, you’ll feel like you have a computer science degree.

1.1.2. Why SharePoint

Many facets differentiate SharePoint from other web content management systems. Let’s discuss a few of those aspects:

  • Second to none across the information system work streams—Microsoft is the only company that gets ranked as leader for all of the following Magic Quadrants by Gartner: enterprise content management, information access technology, BI platforms, horizontal portals, social software, web conferencing, and unified communications. According to the September 2009 Gartner Magic Quadrant reports, no other vendor was listed as leader in all of those areas. They continued to lead in enterprise content management in November 2010.
  • Consolidated collaborative solutions—SharePoint offers consolidated collaborative solutions; you can meet all of your business intelligence, social computing, internet site, enterprise search, and enterprise content management needs with one tool. The competition will require you to deploy and know multiple tools instead of just one to meet all of those needs.
  • Powers the best intranets—In the annual 10 best intranets by Nielson Norman Group for 2010, SharePoint remains at the top, with 5 of the 10 selections running on SharePoint.
  • Empowers the tech-savvy business user—The no-code approach and ease of deployment make it an attractive choice for nontechnical users to quickly adapt to the technology.
  • Office interoperability—SharePoint offers a rich set of integration features with other Microsoft technologies, including all of the Office products.
  • Cloud-ready—Lastly, it’s cloud-ready. If you don’t have the infrastructure to host SharePoint or the on-site skill set required, then go to SharePoint online or use other providers to have them quickly set up SharePoint for you.

Now that you have a good understanding of the differentiators, let’s jump into the new features associated with SharePoint 2010.

1.1.3. What’s new in SharePoint 2010

In this section I’m going to give you a glimpse into some of the exciting new features associated with SharePoint 2010. In chapters 2 and 3 you’ll get a more comprehensive view into what features and functionality are associated with the different versions of SharePoint, but here I want to whet your appetite:

  • Ajax—Ajax-based usability allows you to retrieve and display data without impacting the display of the page you’re on. This gives the end user a much more modern user experience.
  • Theming—Easy theming using a no-code approach allows you to quickly change the colors and fonts within your sites. Many out-of-the-box themes are provided, but you can also quickly create new ones by using PowerPoint to create a theme and import it for use in SharePoint.
  • Cross-browser support—Cross-browser web access is provided using Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.
  • Ribbon—The Office Ribbon is now a feature of SharePoint, as shown in figure 1.1. This is the toolbar that’s displayed at the top of the page, exposing most of the commonly used commands.
    Figure 1.1. The Office Ribbon is now included in SharePoint.

  • Embedded rich media—Embedded rich media, shown in figure 1.2, lets you display and watch videos directly from your SharePoint pages.
    Figure 1.2. Media web part, which can be embedded in SharePoint pages

  • In-context collaboration—With in-context collaboration, shown in figure 1.3, as you’re reviewing items you can hover over the user information and quickly reach out to the user via instant messaging, send them email, schedule a meeting, or just check out their My Site. It also displays their presence information so you know whether they’re available. As you see, I’m busy right now because I’m writing this section.
    Figure 1.3. In-context collaboration lets you quickly collaborate with your peers.

  • Office Web Apps—Integration with Office Web Apps, which is a browser-based version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote, allows users to review and make some edits to information through the browser, thus not requiring them to own Office.
  • Mobile access—You have easy access to your content via mobile devices through Office Web Apps and SharePoint libraries.
  • Cloud-ready—Cloud offerings are available with SharePoint Online. If you don’t have the IT support or infrastructure, let Microsoft host them for you.
  • Co-authoring—Co-authoring enables multiple users to work on the same document at the same time.
  • My Site enhancements—My Site is enhanced with activity feeds, status update capability, a note board, and a rich Silverlight organization browser.
  • Rich content management—Rich content management capabilities allow you to quickly tag and rate media. Ratings are shown in figure 1.4.
    Figure 1.4. Ratings configured for a document library

  • SharePoint Designer—SharePoint Designer (which is free) allows you to easily build no-code solutions to automate business processes through workflow tools, enhanced page-modification capabilities, and ease of access to external data.

These are just a few of the many commonly used new and great features of SharePoint 2010. You’ll get to see the rest of them in real scenarios as you read through the book. Each scenario comes from my own experience working at Microsoft based on internal applications we built, requests from customers I’ve worked with, and sites I’ve built for my own personal use. The goal is to exercise your imagination so you can see the possibilities and see how easy it is to use, even if you’re not a developer. Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself here. So you’ve met SharePoint, you know what it is, why it’s important, and what it can help you do. Now let’s see some of SharePoint’s core concepts in action.

1.2. SharePoint sample (Hello World)

Let’s go over some of the core concepts of a SharePoint site. We’ll cover the components available once you create a site page, where the content is stored, and how permissions work. This intro is primarily a visual exercise so you can see and understand SharePoint if you’re not familiar with it.

 

Why Hello World?

I anticipate that not all of the readers have been exposed to technical books in the past. For those of you who fall into that category, I’ll explain this commonly used techie term. In the development world, it’s common to have the first introductory tutorial for creating a program display the text “Hello World!” It’s done with a simple bit of code that helps users get an understanding of some of the basic syntax. To keep with the theme, I’ve chosen to call our first site Hello World.

 

If you wish to build this site, you’ll find the instructions for doing so in appendix B. In appendix A you’ll find the steps to set up a test Share-Point environment. Many users reading this book will likely have access to SharePoint through a hosted service or through their employer. If that’s the case for you, you can just use that. If you’re not so lucky, don’t worry; the appendix goes over the process for setting up a test SharePoint environment on your PC, and it has lots of pictures and additional details to make it easy for you to follow. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll most likely not need to follow this example step by step. You can get the core concepts from the visuals, and you’ll get plenty of opportunities to do these steps in the following scenarios. So let’s get started by introducing you to your Hello World website.

1.2.1. The Hello World site

Figure 1.5 is the result we’re after. I’ve created a blank site, with the Hello World sample implemented. What you’re looking at is the homepage of that site. I’ve rendered a logo of a fake company called Durante Inc and added some text to the right of the image. I’ve also displayed a document.

Figure 1.5. Hello World site that we’ll use as our first example of a SharePoint site

To give you a bit of background about what’s going on, the text is the only thing stored directly on this page. You have the capability to create many pages for each site, and each page has a shared set of libraries and lists that you can access to render data via web parts on the page. For example, the Hello World Example Doc is pulling from a library on that site and is being displayed via a web part. This web part can be modified to filter out certain documents by the properties. I could filter it to show only documents that have been modified or created within the past seven days. To access additional site functionality, you can select the Site Actions menu shown in the upper-left corner of your screen. In the next section we’ll cover some key links on the Site Actions menu.

Site Actions menu

On every page of your SharePoint site you’ll always see the Site Actions menu, shown in figure 1.6. Two key links to become familiar with as you get started are the View All Site Content and the Site Permissions links. The other links are important, and we’ll cover those in detail in the later chapters, but to get started you need to understand these two.

Figure 1.6. The Site Actions menu is found on all pages of a SharePoint site. Highlighted are two key links: View All Site Content and Site Permissions.

All Site Content page

This page provides you with links to all the lists and libraries associated with this site, as shown in figure 1.7. Here you can also access the Recycle Bin for deleted content and click links to associated sites. If you wish to create a new library or list, you can select Create and choose from a variety of options.

Figure 1.7. The All Site Content page is the hub for all content that you can use on your pages.

The All Site Content page is the hub for all the information that you can use on your pages. Do you recall the Durante logo shown in the example page? That image is stored in the images library, which you access through the All Site Content page. This allows you to have one central location for your information, with lots of options on how to display different views of that data on your site.

The next key link we’re going to discuss that’s available via the Site Actions menu is the Site Permissions link.

Site Permissions page

The site that you just created will have default permission groups set up, as shown in figure 1.8. The key groups that you need to understand are the Hello World Owners, Members, and Visitors. Each group is associated with a permission level. As a site owner who has the ability to manage permissions and modify the page, you should be in the Hello World Owners group, which has the Full Control permission. Your site collaborators, those who should be able to add content to the libraries and lists, should be in the Hello World Members group, with the Contribute permission. The Hello World Visitors group is for the end users who consume the data in a read-only format and can’t make any modifications to the site; they have the Read permission.

Figure 1.8. Site permissions groups and permission levels

To add a user to one of these groups, you select the name of the group, and it will display the current users and provide you a New option, which links to a lookup tool for selecting users to add. We’ll cover other key topics regarding permissions in the governance sections, such as inheritance, item-level permissions, custom permissions, and authentication options. This brief section introduced you to the core aspects when first working with permissions.

You now have a good overview of the mechanics behind a SharePoint site, at least the main bits. The steps we took were very basic. If you need to see this process broken down step by step, you can get that from appendix B. Let’s quickly summarize what you’ve learned.

1.3. Summary

You should now have a good understanding of what SharePoint is even if you’ve never worked with it before. If you have, hopefully I’ve interested you with a glimpse of some of the new functionality offered with SharePoint 2010, and most of all you should be excited about the possibilities of quickly and easily building robust sites with rich functionality without having a development background.

The next two chapters cover core terminology, out-of-the-box functionality, and features of the different versions. It’s basic information, but it’s important to understand so you know what’s available out of the box. Don’t feel compelled to read it all in one go; you can skim the material and jump to the scenarios in part 2 if you learn best by doing hands-on exercises. You can always refer back to these chapters later. I do ask that prior to creating your own sites you make sure you understand these chapters. I see on a regular basis site owners hiring developers or figuratively banging their head against a wall by trying to reinvent something that’s already available. Imagination and creativity are the key ingredients to site creation in SharePoint, but to ensure your creativity is effective, you need to understand the tools at hand.