Thursday, 30 October 2008

SharePoint - Content Types 'Out of This World'

Officetalk have SharePoint customers all over the UK and as one of their consultants I am often visiting clients in some quite remote parts. This week I have been working in the Orkney Islands with one of the Councils we support. The Island of Kirkwell is a lovely area and in daylight has many spectacular views, but in October when it is dark by 6pm and usually raining it isn’t the most lively of places. So with five nights on my own to fill I decided to start watching my ‘Life on Mars’ Series One DVD box set. Now, for some reason I didn’t watch the ‘Life on Mars’ series when it was on TV, probably because I was too busy watching re-runs of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ on UK Gold, but everyone kept telling me how brilliant it was (abit like some companies and SharePoint). So I decided to buy the box-set as it was half price and I had been given an HMV token for my birthday. So in my hotel room in Orkney I started to watch the first episode and within minutes I was hooked. It had it all mystery, sci-fi, comedy, 70’s nostalgia and lots of hidden gems. It is the hidden gems that really make it and this is where I think SharePoint scores as well, so this week whilst I sit in the Departures Lounge at Edinburgh Airport waiting for my plane back home I am will look at one of SharePoint’s ‘hidden gems’. I am going to write about how Content Types can be used to force (sorry 'encourage') users to save documents directly into SharePoint Document Libraries. In ‘Life on Mars’ I really enjoyed the character of Nelson, the slightly ‘way out’ barman. Nelson adds to the humour, but also offers wisdom. In the full Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) Content Types play a very important role, but are often not really exploited to their full capabilities. They can be used to change the fields viewable to users when they are adding a new item in a SharePoint list. Yes, with Content Types enabled (under Advanced Settings in the Document Library settings) you can even hide the annoying ‘Title’ field. Content fields can also be used to filter searches and used with the impressive ‘Content Query’ webpart to select which items can automatically be displayed in other areas of the portal (they can even be made in to RSS feeds). These are all the fancy features of ‘Content Type’ but the easiest and most practical part is to allow users to create Excel spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, blogs and letters straight from inside the correct Document Library without the need to open up the appropriate Office application. Yes, you do need office installed on the client PC but the rest is very quick and fairly straightforward to do. Firstly, you need some company templates. You know, the ones with the logo on in that strange looking font that somebody decided would make a good 'corporate' standard. These templates might be designed for letter-headed paper, just a blank excel spreadsheet or a corporate Powerpoint presentation template. Don’t get too carried away though and try and not add more than ten templates to a Document Library because you want them to all fit on one page when scrolled. You might want to include versions for Office 2007 and Office 2003 if your organisation uses both or some of your users just can't cope with some of the strange features of 2007. Next job is to create some new Content types on your Top Level Site. To do this open ‘Site Actions – 'Modify all Site Settings’ and under ‘Galleries’ choose ‘Site Content Types’. You are now able to create different content types hopefully giving them names that help users know what they are (i.e. ‘Letterheaded Document ver 2003'). It is worth creating a new ‘Content Type Group’ when you do this the first time to help you find them later. Perhaps each department or location could have their own ‘Content Type Group’. As with all of SharePoint you can always customise these later. Customisation is another great part of SharePoint similar to the way the girl from the testcard keeps appearing in ‘Life On Mars’. When did television start being twenty-four hours a day? Once the ‘Content Types’ for each type of template have been created the actual templates can be added. To do this go to the ‘Content Type Gallery’ open the created template and select ‘Advanced Settings‘. You can now upload the appropriate template so that when a user starts that Content Type the correct office application will open (although you not just restricted to Office applications). PDFs and CAD drawings can also be included. Although, I should promote a special CAD application for SharePoint called CAD Connection here that Officetalk offer. Choose 'Upload a new document template' and you can browse your SharePoint or local network or just your very full desktop. When you have added a template for each 'Content Type' you have created in the 'Content Type Gallery' you are now ready to add them to your Document Libraries. To do this open 'Advanced Settings' in your Document Library. Then check the first box to allow 'Management of Content Types'. Click OK to save this change. Nearly there now, which is good because my plane boards in ten minutes. Now, in 'Settings' on your Document Library you will have a new section called 'Content Types'. Here you can add the Content Types you want be clicking 'Add from existing Site Content Types'. Add as many as you want and that is all there is to it. When this is done the next time a user goes into the Document Library if they click the down arrow to the right of 'New' they will get a list of the templates available to them. So Sally from Sales can perhaps create her new sales report using the correct 'Sales Report Template' in the correct SharePoint Document Library. Brilliant just like 'Life on Mars' which has proved so successful that there is soon to be an American version for American television. Well, I suppose they let us have SharePoint. I suppose the final question must be - if there life on Mars? One thing is if there is and they are advanced they will certainly be making the best of 'Content Types' in SharePoint. Let's finish this week with David Bowie's Life On Mars.

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