Friday, 18 December 2009

New SharePoint Templates - For All Departments

This week England’s World Cup 2018 Bidding Committee selected the sixteen venues they would use if we were to host the World Cup. Now some of them have caused a few people to look surprised. The choices of Milton Keynes, Plymouth and Bristol are hardly hotbeds of football, in fact Milton Keynes had to buy a club just to get people interested. Obviously Villa Park, the home of the great Aston Villa, was chosen so my seat might have a cosmopolitan bottom sitting on it in the summer of 2018 (perhaps one of those nice Brazilian ladies). So why have so many different cities been selected? The idea is so all areas of England can enjoy the World Cup and feel involved. This I think is also important when planning SharePoint. I feel it is important to make it not just a Marketing Project or an IT System, but instead from as early as possible get all the departments fully involved. Spread SharePoint around the organisation.

SharePoint, be it the free Windows SharePoint Services or the more detailed MOSS, has features that can benefit all departments. Some features help with common challenges we all face like managing documents, storing useful contact information and sharing calendar items, but other parts of SharePoint can be customised uniquely to fit individual departments. In the same way each city in our World Cup Bid offers different selling points for the bid. For example Plymouth can have great Fans Festivals on the beach, Wembley brings the historic buildings of London like Buckingham Palace and Villa Park brings the ethnic diversity of Aston.

Now please allow me to promote my own specially designed SharePoint Department Templates which are available individually or as a set of nine from Office Talk or all good online stores. Ideal as stocking fillers for your IT Managers. They are far too cheap with the set of nine only costing about the same price as my Villa season ticket. So what are these Department Templates?

Well, I have tried to think about the type of Departments that all businesses, or organisations, tend to have. The type that if the question on Family Fortunes was, ‘Which Departments would you find in a company’ would be popular answers with the one hundred people surveyed. The nine I chose were in no particular order Safety, IT , Purchasing, Media Library (storage of digital media, ok not a good answer on Family Fortunes), Finance, Projects, Human Resources and Training. Sorry if I have missed your department out.

For each of these departments I canvassed a few people (sounds like Family Fortunes again, bring back Les Dennis) to see the kind of routine task I could include in their SharePoint Template. Did I say that these easy to install templates can be used on either WSS or MOSS? So I have included sections like a Visitor’s Book for Reception, an Incident Report system for Health & Safety, a Hardware Inventory for IT and lots more useful ones.

You can buy these department templates individually or get all nine templates by visiting

Hope you will check out these templates and also let me know if there is a department that should have been my number ten. I am going to now think of what might happen before 2018. With the rate the Villa are improving (have already won at Anfield and Old Trafford this season) perhaps we will be winning our third consecutive Champions League then and it will be arise Sir Martin.

Monday, 7 December 2009

SharePoint Alert - Hot in the Kitchen

Friday night for me was nearly very eventful. After a day spent working on a SharePoint Project Management system with a Fire Service in the Midlands I very nearly found myself dialling 999 when I had a smoke filled kitchen. So this week I am going to talk about the importance of making regular checks on your SharePoint system be it full MOSS or WSS.

Let me start with how I nearly set fire to the house and how I managed set off smoke alarms on all three floors. Just to save you worrying I will tell you now that the only harm done in the end was to a saucepan and nobody was injured. The incident started at 9pm when I decided for my pudding to have an individual chocolate sponge pudding with caramel sauce. These come in individual plastic bowls and have a white film lid on them. The instructions said boil in just enough water to float for twenty minutes DON’T LET BOIL DRY. Now that seemed quite simple even for someone who isn’t the most imaginative cook how could it go wrong? I then started work on a Health & Safety SharePoint Template designed for Safety Departments at small to medium sized companies with custom lists included for Incident Reports, First Aiders, Risk Assessments and First Aid Book (drop me an email if you want hear more about this). It was going well and after working solid for two hours I suddenly noticed it was 11pm. I then more worryingly suddenly thought about my chocolate pudding.

Opening the kitchen door I was met by a very big cloud of thick black smoke and within seconds all the smoke alarms in the house were going off. At least it was a good test. All that remained of the pudding and container was what looked like a lump of coal that had a worryingly orange glow and I think I just got there in the nick of time. Still now three days later the smell of smoke in the house is very evident. So you see this is why regular checks are important and it also very important to keep a regular check on your SharePoint.

Regular checks you can perform on SharePoint include weekly checks of the Event Logs to see if any SharePoint errors have appeared. If they have act on them immediately even if nothing appears to be wrong because eventually they could catch fire. The best advice is often to just copy the event into notepad remove all mentions of your individual URL’s, or server names, and then stick it into Google. You will normally find you are not the first person to have this problem and I am sure you won’t be the last. Also keep checking that your backup system is working and whenever possible do a test restore (you’ll be surprised how many people never do this). If you cannot restore Sites or Libraries quickly it might be worth having a look at a SharePoint third party backup tool like AvePoint.

Another product that we at Office Talk recommends for helping to keep track of what is happening in SharePoint is Control Point (a product offered by Axceler). This allows you to monitor what is really happening to your SharePoint without the need to keep going in and checking. It would be like me being able to know what was going on in the kitchen without having to go in and check. Maybe then I wouldn’t now be trying to still scrub the black soot off the base of the medium sized saucepan, part of a set of five we had as a wedding gift. Any advice on how to clean burnt sauce pans would be appreciated. Perhaps Kim Woodman might have some advice now she has left the jungle. If you have ControlPoint it lets you monitor, protect, analyse and even control your MOSS SharePoint system like having CCTV . With ControlPoint, you now have the facility to identify and manage the growth of sites like I should have monitored the depth of my boiling water or lack of it. The result is Control Point allows you to restore order before your environment gets out of control. It lets you quickly identify problems and, even better, act upon them before you have to call an emergency helpline.

Now I need to go and start working on a SharePoint World Cup 2010 template now the draw has been made and it looks quite good for England. Maybe we can finally go one stage further than we did in Italia 90. But I will cook my dinner first.

Friday, 27 November 2009

All you want for Christmas is SharePoint

Maybe I am getting old, as I approach my 43rd Christmas, but I have given up on my annual campaign to keep Christmas in December. So today I am offering a Free ‘Christmas Planner’ SharePoint Template to all of you.

Here in Bilston (in the heart of the Black Country) the first signs of festivity of the year started the day before Bonfire Night with the first sighting of Christmas lights in two of the houses. I am expecting this weekend to see a dramatic increase in the number of these (some might call tacky) outdoor Christmas decorations. How long before I spot the first inflatable Polar Bear or ‘Winnie the Pooh’ of the year flying above the streets of Bilston.

No, I have decided to join in and update (and hopefully improve) last year’s successful ‘Christmas Shopper Template’. Just send an email to me with the Subject saying ‘Happy Christmas Office Talk’ and I will send you back a SharePoint Template that works with both WSS 3.0 (free version of SharePoint that you can download if you have Server 2003 or higher) and MOSS. The ‘Christmas Planner for SharePoint 2009’ includes a ‘Present Buying Organiser’, lots of useful Christmas links including last posting days, a Christmas Planner, a ‘What I want for Christmas’ (that is you not me, as I just want the Villa to win the FA Cup), a list of useful Online Christmas Stores and much much more. Have a look it’s free so you have nothing to lose.

So what to me indicates that it is now Christmas time and that it is time to send out this Christmas Template. Well, I have seen the ‘Holidays are coming’ Coke advert, my wife has tasted her first Ginger Latte at Starbucks (I should get sponsorship for this) and the German Market with the famous singing reindeer head has arrived in Birmingham. So Christmas is really with us now and on Sunday at Church we will be lightening our first Advent Candle.

Next week I will be writing a 25 Advent SharePoint Tips, but I thought I would share one with you now that could add a touch of festive cheer to your SharePoint Home Site.

Many companies include on their Corporate Home page links to other systems their users use most days. These could be SAP, Citrix, Webmail, HR system etc. Well, try adding these using the ‘Content Editor webpart’ (my personal favourite)and putting a festive background on them.

1. Find some suitable logos for your applications and add these to a Picture Library in SharePoint. Also find a festive picture that you think might make a suitable background for these logos and also add this to the Picture Library.

2. After inserting the ‘Content Editor Webpart’ then click ‘Rich Text Editor’ and even though web designers think it is old fashioned insert a two row table with about four columns.

3. Using the picture icon on toolbar insert a picture of each of the application logos in each of the top boxes.

4. Use the hyperlink icon on toolbar to add the appropriate URL to each of the logos so they open the right application.

5. In the box below each one write a short label for the application.

6. Centre all the boxes.

7. Close Rich Text Editor and then open Source Editor

8. In the table section add a style entry for background-image and point this to the URL of your festive image. If you are not familiar with adding background images to tables using html this article will help

Hope you find that useful if you have any difficulties please contact one of the SharePoint Consultants at Office Talk on 0121 3680055.

So all that remains now before you begin your Christmas preparations be it buying presents from Argos or inflating large Polar Bears is for you to send an email to with the subject ‘Happy Christmas Office Talk’ and wait for your free ‘Christmas Planner’ Template to arrive.

I just have to prepare myself for four vital football days for the Villa. First they play nine goal Tottenham, then we have the draw for the 3rd Round of FA Cup and then on Tuesday we are up against the team that my Office Talk colleague Frank Faulds supports Portsmouth in the League Cup Quarter Final.

Up the Villa!!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

SharePoint - Knock Three Times

I used to look forward to Fridays, but that is different this week after my rear-end (well, my car's rear end) has been bumped three times in recent weeks. At least it isn't Friday 13th tomorrow (which is considered unlucky in the UK), it was last Friday though when I was banged from behind for the third Friday in four weeks. Ok the middle one was me reversing into my Office Talk colleague, Frank Fauld's car. But not all bad things come in threes and in this week's blog I am going to show you a classic SharePoint 1-2-3.

1. Windows SharePoint Services (WSS)
Why are people always wary of things that are free of charge? Like the fluffy rabbits advertised in the local shop window or the newspaper given away outside the tube station by the man in the raincoat. People almost seem to think that because they don't have to pay anything for it then it can't be any good. But the excellent Windows SharePoint Services is available completely 'free' as a download for anyone who has Windows Server 2003, or Server 2008. Yet I read last week a statistic that less than 30% of companies with Windows server have downloaded WSS 3. I wonder how many percent of drivers have had three bumps in four weeks after none in twenty years?

If you are one of the 70% who haven't downloaded WSS then don't be embarrassed just click the link below to get it downloaded now and it won't cost you a penny.

Free SharePoint

2. SharePoint Designer
Again it is a freebie that is well worth downloading. With SharePoint Designer you can create Master Pages, create Workflow, add CSS and link webparts together. It does a lot more than you expect and lets you really customise your SharePoint. If you want to download SharePoint Designer now is your chance.

Free SharePoint Designer

3. SharePoint Projectbreak (created by me)
There are many add-ons available for WSS (or MOSS) and these are often usually priced for the smaller budget. The Site Template 'Projectbreak', which enables Consultants, Designers, Developers and Architects to easily manage all of their Chargeable Customer Project work, costs under £80. Projectbreak can be used to record all Project work from the planning stage to the final chasing for payment.

Click here to find out about Projectbreak

So that is my SharePoint 1-2-3 and I hope you find them useful. For the football fans reading I would I also have a Youtube football 1-2-3. If you haven't seen the Dragan Stojkovic goal yet it is probably one of the best goals ever.

1. Manager Stojkovic scores

2. Thierry Henry's

3. Wayne Rooney Skip Shot

Perhaps I should keep the car in the garage tomorrow.

Friday, 30 October 2009

SharePoint Training Pays Off

Brad Guzan is probably not a name known to many of you, but on Tuesday night he incredibly saved FOUR penalties for Aston Villa to help them beat Sunderland and reach the last eight of the Carling Cup. Yes he is Villa’s brilliant American goalkeeper named ‘Brad’, the one who isn’t Brad Friedel. So how did Mr. Guzan, who only plays in cup games, manage to save four penalties from four different players? He puts it all down to training and practicing saving penalties every day. So when you are thinking of how to get the best out of your SharePoint project team make sure you train them well because it will help your SharePoint Project succeed.

Make sure that all SharePoint Project Team members and any Super Users (always helpful for promoting SharePoint) are aware of exactly what SharePoint can do and have a good basic understanding of all the features. They might not be able to save Sunderland penalties, but they should know about all of the following;

1. Layout of SharePoint
2. Changing SharePoint Navigation
3. Creating SharePoint Sites
4. Adding Announcements, Contacts, Calendar and Task items
5. Uploading Documents and Images
6. Defining version control and document approval
7. Use Metadata and Site Columns
8. Creating Custom Lists
9. Creating and Editing Views
10. How to add Document Templates using Content Types
11. Best way to Search
12. Designing Surveys
13. Creating Alerts
14. Managing SharePoint User Rights

Apologies if the list above looks familiar to anybody who has been on the Office Talk SharePoint Super User one day course, but I thought I would reuse the list I cover in that course. Of course, I am always happy to run on-site SharePoint Training courses just send an email to if you require any SharePoint training.

Whether the training is done by a SharePoint Consultancy, like Office Talk, or even just using some of the free on-line training from Microsoft it needs to be included in every SharePoint Project. SharePoint has many excellent features (like Content Types, recurring meetings, calculated fields), but if the main users don’t know about them the full return on investment of your SharePoint might never be reached. The extra training that Brad Guzan did on penalties might just mean that come next March the Villa are again parading around Wembley with a shining cup.

My SharePoint tip this week is to use the ‘Totals’ section on a View. If you create, or modify, an existing View then scroll down and you will have an option called ‘Totals’. Click on the ‘+’ to open the options. You can now on many of the columns add some basic calculations like ‘count’, ‘sum’ even ‘standard deviation’ (if I could only remember what that was about from my O’Level Maths). If you ‘group’ your columns first you can get some pretty impressive figures. Maybe not as impressive as saving four out of five penalties, but still very useful.

Now who is going to tell Brad Guzan that he is dropped for Saturday’s game at Everton?

Don’t forget for all your SharePoint Training needs visit Office Talk.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Please Backup SharePoint - A Bang From Behind

Last Friday, whilst I was parked admiring the pleasant views of Evesham and eating my slightly limp ham sandwich, I was startled by a sudden unexpected bang to my rear. A lady of 'advancing years' had unfortunately clipped the back of the car and within minutes we were exchanging insurance details and assessing the damage. As the lady was fully insured there was no need to panic as everything was covered, but I started thinking what if she had been one of those many UNINSURED drivers?

This was a reminder to me of how important it is to make sure you have your SharePoint fully (comprehensively) backed-up. So many companies fail to have a good 'quickly restorable' SharePoint backup. As I have stated in previous blogs I am a great fan of the DocAve SharePoint backup solution (not only because Office Talk are an Authorised Reseller . This is the kind of insurance policy that even gives you a courtesy car and then returns your car looking spanking new.

Disaster can strike in SharePoint, as well as at the rear of your car, at any time so it is so important to have a Backup solution in place. There are several ways of backing up MOSS or WSS and each of these protects a different part of your portal.

These backup types are as follows;

1. SQL Database Backup (Using an application like Symantec Backup Exec)
2. SharePoint Backup Agents (Using an application like SharePoint Agent for Backup Exec)
3. Basic SharePoint Backup (from SharePoint Central Administration)
4. SharePoint Designer Backup (from the Site – Administration menu)
5. Regularly Saving Sites as Site Templates (including content)
6. SharePoint Recycle Bins

For a real ‘belts and braces’ approach it is probably best to use all of the six above. Why all of the six? Because each of them allows you to restore different sections.

1. SQL Backup
A full SharePoint database backup is the approach that many take often using the popular Symantec Backup Exec and this is great for doing complete restores. So in a disaster when your server totally fails this is ideal, but for minor troubles it is a bit over the top. It would be similar to having to rebuild the whole car just because the bumper is dented.

2. SharePoint Agent
The SharePoint Agent allows the Backup Administrators to backup and restore at the Item level. So if Betty from Shipping manages to delete the all the UK Shipping addresses they can be restored fairly quickly by the Backup Administrator (usually the busy IT Department).

3. Central Administration
This backup is a feature in WSS 3.0. You can specify the items that you'd like to back up or restore. However, as part of a farm backup, this can back up the configuration database and the Central Administration content database, but will not be able to restore them. Yes, this is a serious limitation. Perhaps the most annoying part of this backup type is the fact that it can’t be scheduled. The main use of this backup is when you are about to perform a major task on SharePoint. It is similar to checking the state of your car before you make even the shortest journey.

4. SharePoint Designer
A very useful tool that has the added feature of being able to backup and restore sites. This is a must whenever you are using SharePoint Designer to make changes to sites. It is so easy to make a change that will prevent users accessing the site but a couple of minutes spent backing-up first means that you can restore it in minutes if things do go wrong. This tool has saved me and other Officetalk Consultants from angry End Users on more than one occasion. To receive an introduction course on the many features of SharePoint Designer you can email

5. Save As Site template
If you are a SharePoint Site Administrator and you don’t trust the backups that your IT Department say they are taking then you can perform your own backups. All you need is to go ‘Site Settings – Save Site As Template’ and tick ‘Include Content’. Very powerful and will keep most of the settings. Limitations here include a limit of 500MB (although there are work rounds for this from the command prompt) and that some webpart settings are not saved. It can still save a lot of heartache.

6. Recycle Bin
Simple yet one of the best improvements in WSS 3.0. The Site Recycle Bin allows users to recover their deleted files for up to 15 days. They can restore them themselves although most will still call the Helpdesk first. Administrators can change the number of days these are stored for or even turn the Recycle option off.

After reading all this you are probably even more confused about how to backup and restore SharePoint. The real answer is probably to invest in a third party solution that allows full backup and restore of every part of SharePoint from the full databases to the individual sites, lists and items. Office Talk recommend AvePoint's awarding winning DocAve software.

Click here to find out about AvePoint

DocAve offers continual real-time backup of all parts of SharePoint and because it runs on an internet browser any user with the right permissions can easily restore items or lists instantly or roll them back without the need to hassle the IT Department. This software is straight forward to install and a trial period of 14 days allows you to try before you buy. So it is worth trying out.

This weekend sees the mighty Villa travel to local rivals Wolves (who haven't beaten us since 1980). For reasons you might have read in previous blogs my family are mainly Wolves supporters so I will be sitting with them on Saturday trying not to look too delight when the Villa third goal goes in. Perhaps I need a backup plan in case we get beaten.

Friday, 9 October 2009

SharePoint Passes the Test

This week saw me having a fairly routine if slightly unpleasant hospital test and this got me thinking about two SharePoint topics. Firstly, the importance in any SharePoint Project of a ‘Test Environment’ where you can try new things out and learn how things work. The second SharePoint thought I had was how they stored all the x-rays (digital images) and sent them to the relevant GPs. Was this an opportunity for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in SharePoint like I discussed in last week’s blog.

To my surprise on my hospital visit as I entered the X-ray room, dressed in my fetching hospital gown (which lack instructions on how they should really be tied), I was somewhat surprised to be met by an extra three people in the room who were a mixture of trainee doctors and trainee radiographers. I got the feeling that for one of them it was their first day. Well, my appointment letter did warn me that this was a ‘Training Hospital’ and if I wasn’t happy for students to be in attendance I should indicate this prior to my appointment. I understand that everybody has to learn new skills in any job, but having three trainees was somewhat nerving. Hopefully they had been able to initially practice their techniques on dummies or plastic models before they were allowed on real patients. Yes, I hope they had access to a ‘Test Environment’, although I don’t suppose anybody is built quite like me.

With any SharePoint installation, even the smallest ones, it is important to create a ‘Test Environment’. This doesn’t have to be a full replication of your ‘Live Environment’ but needs to have the same version of SharePoint on with the same level of Service Packs and Hot Fixes. The reason for the ‘Test Environment’ is to be able to try new webparts, third party add-ons, master pages and other major changes before you add them to the ‘Live Environment’. This can also be where you have your training sites where your SharePoint Project Team can play and learn about SharePoint. Here they can create sites to their hearts content safe in the knowledge that they will not generally be seen. Without a ‘Test Environment’ the ‘Live Environment’ can quickly get filled with extra sites that somehow don’t get deleted and end up in the Search Scope.

In my experience for any reasonably sized SharePoint Project (i.e. 200 plus users) I would strongly recommend a three environment approach. This is, of course, dependent on available hardware, but is also now more achievable with the increased use of Virtual Machines (VM’s). Always check though that the version of VM you are using is supported by Microsoft for SharePoint (only the more recent ones are). My preferred setup of environments is as follows;

1. ‘Development Environment’ - A play area to try new webparts, add-ons, updates, etc.
2. ‘Test Environment’ – A regularly updated copy of the ‘Production Environment’ that allows for more detailed testing of workflow, logon permissions, system integration, searching, etc. This should also be used for User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
3. ‘Production Environment’ (sometimes called ‘Live’) – This is the business critical working environment that MUST be regularly backed-up and have very minimal downtime. Always consider your backup strategy (Office Talk will happily chat to you about the benefits of DocAve as your SharePoint backup solution).

So now I just wait for the hospital to process my test results, pass them to my GP and then perhaps in a week they might communicate them to me. It certainly makes me think how a bit of SharePoint workflow could speed up this process.

Friday, 2 October 2009

That DAM SharePoint

Last month I went to a wedding at Breadsall Priory in Derby (yes, for those who read this weekly SharePoint Blog the one where I had the unfortunate hole appeared in my trousers). Now thousands of photographs are starting to appear of the happy event – luckily none of the hole in my trousers yet. Everybody seems to have taken photographs and videos of the couple on their big day and now all of these are appearing in various forms on Facebook, as well as being emailed around the globe. These days companies/organisations seem to have ever-increasing mounds of digital photographs. Without being able to reply on Facebook they a way of making these digital images generally available to their employees and customers.

So how useful can SharePoint be at handling large amounts of pictures and video (commonly called Digital Asset Management, or unfortunately DAM for short, hence the term ‘Dam SharePoint’)?

For those who know SharePoint (either WSS ‘available free’ or MOSS) the SharePoint features allowing you to do the following with your photographs can be useful;
1. Add metadata (properties like a drop down for ‘Guest Type’ which could include Groom/Brides Mother/Page Boy/Hanger On)
2. Create workflow (maybe automatically email all pictures of Best Man to Best Man’s parents or remove all photographs that include that hideous looking guest in the green suit)
3. Add Approval. Let the happy couple themselves approve which pictures are fit for publication
4. Add permissions. Define exactly who can see which photograph. You don’t want Auntie Joan seeing what Uncle Bill was up to.

All of these basic SharePoint document features are useful, but if you really want to get the best out of your photographs there is a terrific product available called ‘MediaRich for SharePoint’. This product not only lets you store your photographs on SharePoint (even the ones of last year’s Christmas Office Party), but also gives you some powerful options to let you manipulate the photographs. You can use it to zoom in on an area in the photograph and then automatically refocus. So you can easily crop the cute picture of that four-year old bridesmaid trying to hide under the brides dress and send it on to her mum.

MediaRich for SharePoint lets you convert your photographs instantly to over 20 different formats including PDF and Photoshop. It can also let you stretch it, make it into trendy black and white, flip it over, produce a website size version, change resolution and most useful of all sharpen the image (so you can easily get a sharp close up poster sized picture of the gravy stain on the Bride’s Father’s suit).

The powerful nature of ‘MediaRich for SharePoint’ has to be seen to see the impressive range of easy to use features. It really can help you store, search and enhance all of your company’s valuable pictures and videos.

Office Talk as well as being SharePoint specialists are European Partners for MediaRich for SharePoint. If you want to see a demonstration please email Frank Faulds ( and tell him you read about it in Andy’s blog.

Now, on Monday night Gareth Barry is back at Villa Park with his new team so I must now go and crop him out of all the Villa photographs in my SharePoint MediaRich Library.

Monday, 28 September 2009

SharePoint - Fading Eyes

All good things come to an end and that is what happened to the Villa’s winning run on Saturday. Thanks to a referee who for once had good eye-sight. The ref noted that the ball ACCIDENTALLY hit a Villa defender’s arm and gave Blackburn a last minute penalty. So what about fading eye-sight and SharePoint? I have certainly notice in the last few years that I find it harder to read smaller text on the screen. When I am with customers whose screen resolution is set to 1280 by 1024 or greater I end up having to virtually sit on their lap before I can read the screen. Not all customers are happy with me doing this. So SharePoint needs to allow for individuals having different viewing requirements and one of the latest webpart offerings from SharePoint Boost goes a long way to doing just this. Like many of SharePoint Boosts products the ‘SharePoint Text Size Zoom’ (sorry SharePoint Boost but I am not too excited by the name) is very simple to install and use. All it does is makes available a webpart to any site that simply lets the user increase, or reduce (for those with bionic eyesight) any text on the site. So people like me instead of sitting on a customer’s lap can simply click on the big A on the page and make everything bigger. A really useful tool and a quick win for many SharePoint Administrators. If only I could have clicked a button on Saturday that made the Villa goalkeeper bigger, then he might have saved the penalty. Or a button that reduced the size of the goal would also be as good. Have a look at the Office Talk website to find out more about SharePoint Boost’s ‘SharePoint Text Size Zoom’. Accessibility in SharePoint is certainly a talking point and even with the latest SharePoint Accessibility Kit from HiSoftware it leads to many arguments. Even without installing the Accessibility Kit (which should always be tested in a Test Environment before installing on a Live system) you can make some basic Accessibility considerations when creating your SharePoint sites. These are three rules that I always try to follow and I always mention when I am running SharePoint Designer Workshops. 1. Don’t Forget Alternative Text. On all images fill out the ‘alternative text’ entry. This allows Screen Reader software to describe the picture 2. Use black text on a white background. If you must use colour, use two colours that have the most contrast. Think about people who are Colour Blind and try to avoid the use of blue, red and green. 3. Think About Hyperlink Text. A Screen Reader does not want to read “Click Here” several times on the same page. Instead but a quick indicator to what happens if you click this button. Accessibility in SharePoint’ is a big subject and needs to be part of any successful SharePoint project. A great blog on ‘Accessibility in SharePoint’ is written by Andrew Woodward and well worth a read. Hopefully Villa will bounce back next week when they play Manchester City. Now if they could just find a way of reducing the size of Man City’s purse strings.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

SharePoint – Be Prepared (SharePoint Emergency Repair Kit)

This week I am going to talk about running repairs to SharePoint and what to put in your SharePoint Emergency Repair Kit. Last week I attended a wedding at a posh hotel in Derbyshire (Breadsall Priory for any old monks reading) with my wife and daughter. The morning before the wedding (which didn’t start until 1:30pm – meaning dinner would be well after 3pm) we sat down in the hotel for a coffee (well, I had a hot chocolate because I am not a coffee drinker) and a Danish pastry. Everything seemed to be going well until my observant wife noticed that a hole was appearing on the seam of my trousers that might well get larger as the day progressed. My wife is always prepared (even though she was never in the Boy Scouts) and within seconds was taking out a miniature sewing kit from her handbag and sewing up the offending hole. I was slightly taken back as I was wearing the trousers and it was in full view of the waitress, but a very quick and effective job was achieved. The rest of the day went well and I even managed to catch a few glimpses of England’s emphatic World Cup victory over Croatia. So how can you be prepared for little SharePoint emergencies? The option of restoring from a full backup is always there but often a less painful solution is necessary. Here is what I call my SharePoint First Aid Kit; 1. Recycle Bin – SharePoint 2007 and WSS 3.0 both come with a Recycle Bin for Users which is great for restoring documents, list items or whole libraries. You can set how long users can keep items in the Recycle Bin for. Oh, there is also a second recycle bin for Site collection administrators. 2. SharePoint Designer – When you get errors on the browser and you think all is lost opening the site in SharePoint Designer can often spot the problem. By simply then removing an unhappy webpart can fix the issue and get you running again. 3. MS Office Diagnostics – If the problem is only with an individual user and there is a problem with Document Libraries or opening Word or Excel files then run MS Office Diagnostics from their local machine. a) Open an Office 2007 b) Click the Office button (that big one at the top that wasn’t in older versions) c) Click the Word Options (or Excel Options) button. d) Select the Resources tab on the left. e) Click the Diagnose button. f) Start the diagnostic tests and follow the prompts. 4. Event Viewer – First port of call for any SharePoint server problems should be the Event Viewer (both Application and System) this will quickly show any problems and give you something to search Google (or TechNet) with. 5. IIS – Check that the website and corresponding Application Pool have not stopped. An IISRESET from Run command on the Server is always worth trying. 6. Check SharePoint Services – The Event Viewer should alert you to any services that have stopped, but it is still worth checking the services on all the SharePoint servers to see that all the services that mention ‘SharePoint’ and are set to ‘Automatic’ are running. So be prepared and have these six items available to you at all times. Did I say that the Villa motto is ‘Be Prepared’? They certainly seem to be doing that of late with five straight wins. Maybe it is too early to be preparing for the Villa in the ‘Champions League’ next season. Mind you with England now qualified for the 2010 World Cup I will have to soon start creating a World Cup 2010 SharePoint Template so I can follow their progress to World Cup Glory.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Feeding SharePoint (Document Uploads)

Unlike the good old days when teams could buy and sell players whenever they want we now have the UEFA imposed transfer windows. I don’t know why they are called ‘transfer windows’ maybe it would be better to call them ‘transfer doors’ because only when the door is open can you do business. As Monday was a Bank Holiday the Premier League decided to make Tuesday 1st September 5pm the deadline for this summer’s transfers. Yet for some reason the final Villa transfer of Richard Dune (Manchester City’s player of the year last season) did not get cleared until around 10am Wednesday 2nd September. The reason why seem to be because all the required paperwork had not reached the big-wigs at the Premier League. What isn’t clear is how this information should be received. Is it via an old fax machine (that was probably used back in the days of Jimmy Greaves), via a PDF file in an email or does the Club Secretary have to charge around to FA Headquarters waving pieces of paper? If they were using SharePoint to record all the transfers and necessary paperwork what options would they have for entering the documents? So what I am going to talk about this week in my 50th SharePoint blog is the different ways of getting documents into SharePoint. Option 1 – Uploading For many the preferred option as all you do is click ‘Upload’, then decide if you are uploading multiple documents or just the one and then browse to the document. It works, it’s easy and can be used with all kinds of files including videos of each of Emily Heskey’s seven England goals. Option 2 – Open with Windows Explorer This is pretty neat. Just make the SharePoint document library into a Windows Explorer window (seem to be using the word ‘window’ a lot today). This is done by clicking ‘Actions’ – ‘Open with Windows Explorer’. Now you can open another Windows Explorer window and navigate to where your documents and files are kept. You should now have two windows open and you can copy and paste documents between the two using the right-click. You can even copy whole folders from the Documents window into the SharePoint Document Library Window. Very useful, but be warned that all the properties will be reset. You will become the author of the document and it will have a created date of today. Well, you can’t have everything. Option 3 – Email to Document Library All Document Libraries and most other lists can be set to receive emails. When you create a new list or library the option to receive emails is available. You just say ‘yes’ and then enter a new unique email address for the folder. You must have your SharePoint server configured for incoming emails in the Central Admin, but other than that it is straightforward. The emails arrive in the document library with fields including ‘To’, ‘Sent’, ‘From’ and ‘Body’ all available. You may want to add a rule to your email to forward certain messages straight to the Document Library. Office Talk has developed several Email Listener solutions for to help with this process and will be happy to discuss them with you. Option 4 – Scan to Document Library A number of Office Talk customers have documents in paper form and have asked for ways to get these into their SharePoint. The scanning solution Office Talk recommends is the one with the funny name – Dark Blue Duck. Perhaps they should have called in ‘Green Duck’ and based it on Orville. This simple to install product adds an extra item on the Action tab dropdown called ‘Scan Document’. It then allows you to use your local scanner to add it to SharePoint. It is brilliantly simple and effective. So in the next transfer window perhaps the FA could use SharePoint, although this won’t be relevant to Chelsea. If you have any other suggestions for how to get documents in SharePoint please feel free to comment on this blog.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

SharePoint and the Access Database

So the England (and Wales with a hint of South African) cricket team have regained the Ashes from Australia and all is right again in the world. Well, it will be if the Villa can finally score their first goal of the season. Although, hopefully by the time you are reading this we will have found the net a few times hopefully against Liverpool. With my lack of Sky Sports I spent much of yesterday following the final day of the Test Match watching the cricket on the ‘Text’ page off BBC One. Just waiting for the number of wickets to change and fearing the worse that Australia could score a world-record final innings score. I was impressed at how quickly all the many details on the page were updated and even started to think about if they could be using SharePoint to display these results ( I know I ought to get out more). But they could have been using SharePoint and perhaps even Excel Services to produce the nice graphics. With Office 2007 it is very easy to publish live data to SharePoint both from Excel and also from the under used Access databases. So why go to the effort of linking your Access database to your SharePoint? There are a number of advantages of publishing to SharePoint and I have listed these below; 1. Users can work with the data either in a SharePoint List or their own Access application. 2. They can use the features of a SharePoint site to manage the data and stay updated with changes. 3. The Administrator can use SharePoint to manage permissions and versions so that you can see who changed it or restored previous data. 4. If you are collaborating with others, you can store a copy of a database in a library on a SharePoint server and still continue to work in the database by using the forms and reports in Access. 5. If you want to view or print an Access issues report for a monthly meeting, you can do it directly from the SharePoint list. 6. You can open a SharePoint list in Access. If a database doesn't exist, you can create it in Access and then create a set of forms and reports based on your list. 7. Take SharePoint lists offline with Access. If you need to take some work home with you (especially now the cricket has finished), you can take your SharePoint lists offline with just one click by using Access. You can then work on your data at home in Access and then synchronise your changes or reconnect with the SharePoint site when you are back in the office. So how do you publish an Access Database to SharePoint? When you publish a database, you can start with an existing database or build a database by using the lists on the SharePoint site. 1. Click the Microsoft Office Button, point to Publish , and then click Document Management Server. 2. Type the URL of the SharePoint site where you want to publish the database. If you used the same location the last time you opened Access, the database appears in the Publish to Web Server dialog box. NOTE - This option is available only if your database is saved in Office Access 2007 format. 3. Select the library, such as a document library, where you want to publish the database, and then click Open. 4. In the Name box, type a file name for your database. 5. Click Publish. NOTE - When you open the database from the SharePoint site, you are prompted to save a local copy. It’s all very easy to do, now if only it was that easy to score a Premier League goal. Up the Villa. With the 2009/10 Premier League season up and running I have started filling in my ‘Villa Performance Season 2009/10’ SharePoint site (unfortunately with no goal scorers) . Don’t forget that the free template I have developed for any supporter of an English Premier League team to record all their teams games, players and goals next season is still available (extended due to popular demand to August 31st 2009). So if you want it drop an email to me at with the subject being the team you support. It is free unless you support Man City then it will cost £1000.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

To use InfoPath on SharePoint or not that is the question

We all make mistakes and sometimes we have to change our first impressions. This happened to me twice last week. Firstly, after all my moans about the Villa manager’s lack of transfer activity over his summer holidays I discovered how good the crop of youngsters from the title winning reserve team last season really were. As they sensationally won the global tournament ‘The Peace Cup’, which included teams like Real Madrid, Juventus and Porto. Then on the SharePoint front I had to change my mind about using InfoPath in SharePoint. Although, I could happily spend the next ten minutes describing the achievements of the talented Villa youngsters I think most of you are probably more interested in the Forms in SharePoint argument. I have always tried to stay away from InfoPath Forms with SharePoint because most companies do not have InfoPath as a client application. It comes as part of Microsoft Office Enterprise Edition but is not included in the more common ‘Standard’ or ‘Professional’ versions. Instead I have tended to use the basic Custom Lists inside SharePoint to very quickly design online forms. So what are the advantages of using InfoPath in SharePoint instead of just SharePoint Forms? I will list a few that I have found; 1. Copy layouts/text straight in from Word or Excel 2. Produce a nice looking printable form (that you can sign) 3. Take fields from multiple data sources (including SharePoint lists from different SharePoint sites). 4. Fields integrate perfectly with your metadata in SharePoint 5. You can easily add validation and logic to fields. 6. Can easily add increased formatting of how data is displayed (more date options and does better number format options). 7. Some powerful wizards and for once actually useful templates (the expenses one is nearly useable). 8. The InfoPath forms are very portable and can be easily added to Content Types. 9. Forms can be published so it can be viewed in the browser for people without InfoPath. So why was I so anti InfoPath in the past and an ‘infopathist’ (thought I would invent a new word)? Well, I can still think of a few reasons to use SharePoint Forms instead; 1. They are easier to create as they have less fiddly options. 2. Nobody needs to have InfoPath installed (if you view InfoPath through the Browser somebody stills needs InfoPath to create and manage the forms). 3. Every individual change involves re-Publishing the form. 4. The inbuilt design error checking can drive you mad. 5. Forms are slower to load. So suddenly I have decided that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. In much the same way that the Villa new signing combined with the terrific youngsters (I realised that a lot of the team are now half my age which is scary) more than compensate for the loss of Gareth Barry and Martin Laursen. So if you do use SharePoint (either MOSS or WSS) then I recommend you purchase one copy of InfoPath and start creating forms to publish to your SharePoint. The available free Microsoft templates include Expenses, Travel Request, Purchase Orders and Absence Reports. But Office Talk have already created for their customers Exit Interview Questionnaires, Job Appraisals, Claims Forms and IT Helpdesk Requests. If you ask us for a quote we will happily create one tailored to your needs for you. Now, the new Premier season is just three days away and with the rumour that Villa are about to sign the Turkey captain Tuncay from Boro I have my ‘Villa Performance Season 2009/10’ SharePoint site ready to fill in. Don’t forget that the free template I have produced for any supporter of an English Premier League team to record all their teams’ games, players and goals next season is only available until August 21st 2009. So if you want it drop an email to me at with the subject being the team you support.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

SharePoint Site Permissions

This week I am going to try and simplify how the Site Security works in SharePoint as it can be as confusing as the Villa manager’s transfer strategy. Who will he sign next? As a SharePoint Consultant for Office Talk I spend quite a few nights in hotels and last week I stayed in an old hotel in Fleetwood just a tram ride from Blackpool. Apart from the fact that everybody else in the hotel appeared to be a lady in her late 70’s, who were all there for a bowls tournament, the hotel stay was very pleasant. It was the kind of hotel that had carpet on the restaurant ceiling and bedrooms that had not yet discovered the modern duvet. The best old fashioned part of all, though, was that my room actually had a ‘real’ key that I could turn and not one of those annoying plastic keys that don’t even remind you of your room number. The kind of plastic cards that never seem to work for me with them refusing to go green even though I have stuck it in three times and said the magic word. Failing to gain access to a SharePoint Site or list can be equally annoying, although I suppose this depends on what you are wearing when you became locked out of your hotel room and discovered your plastic card no longer worked. So what makes SharePoint Site Security so difficult to work out? The blame is often that we create new Sites too quickly and are too keen to accept the defaults. We are all guilty sometimes of pressing the mouse too fast or clicking ‘OK’ too early. When creating a new site from Site Actions – Create – Sites and Workspaces there is a section called ‘Permissions’. Now, by default this is set to ‘Use Same Permissions As Parent Site’ and it is very tempting to keep it this way, but always think about what you really want. If it is off a corporate Home Site do you really want the same permissions? The alternative to ‘Use Same Permissions As Parent Site’ is ‘Use Unique Permissions’ and this allows you to create your own groups and add your own permissions to this site without having to have the same ones as the site above. One reason people take the default is because they can easily change it later. To do this all you do is under ‘Site Permissions’ select the ‘Actions’ tab click ‘Edit Permissions’ this then warns you ‘..Changes made to the parent site will no longer affect this site’. So this stops the inheriting, but doesn’t break all connections because the groups you have listed on this site now are actually still the groups from the parent site. Let’s give an example. When you create a site called ‘Site 1’ (easiest name I could think of) it automatically creates the flowing groups ‘Site 1 Visitors’, ‘Site 1 Members’, ‘Site 1 Administrators’. If you then create a second site below it called ‘Site 2’ and keep the default to inherit then ‘Site 2’ will also use the original ‘Site 1 Visitors’, ‘Site 1 Members’, ‘Site 1 Administrators’ groups. However, if you then choose the option to ‘Edit Permissions’ on ‘Site 2’ the groups listed on ‘Site 2’ will still be ‘Site 1 Visitors’, ‘Site 1 Members’, ‘Site 1 Administrators’. This means that if you add a user to one of these groups you are actually changing the permissions of the parent site ‘Site 1’ not to ‘Site 2’. Hope you are following this. So how do we get around this problem after we have stopped inheriting? The answer is to delete the groups ‘Site 1 Visitors’, ‘Site 1 Members’, ‘Site 1 Administrators’ from ‘Site 2’ and then create new groups on ‘Site 2’ called ‘Site 2 Visitors’, ‘Site 2 Members’, ‘Site 2 Administrators’. I suppose the moral of this is to think very careful when you are creating a new site if you want to have the same permissions as the parent. If in doubt or you think your needs will change in the future then always select ‘Use Unique Permissions’. Now, if I can just work out what Martin O’Neill is planning for Villa next season. Don’t forget to claim your FREE ‘My Team’s Performance 2009/10 Season’ Template by emailing me at Please tell me which team you support in the Subject title.

Monday, 20 July 2009

SharePoint Wow Factor

SharePoint might be a sound business solution with great Document Management skills, impressive Search capabilities and features easy to configure Workflow, but does it really have the ‘wow factor’? These days a lot of End Users have the internet at home and are experts in the use of social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. So can you really excite them with this business looking SharePoint? The answer is very much ‘yes, yes, yes’, SharePoint can have the ‘Wow Factor’. This week Martin O’Neill finally spent some of the Villa's money on England international Stewart Downing. A signing that pleased Martin but it didn’t really have the ‘wow factor’, probably because Downing arrived for his medical on crutches with a broken foot (which he injured in a game against the Villa last May). Downing will not play until October which really won’t excite the Villa crowd. So again lack of ‘wow’ in the same way that a SharePoint Project Team try and sell SharePoint to End Users and then announce it doesn’t Go Live for another three months. So how can we give SharePoint this extra ‘Wow Factor’? I have put together my Top Ten ways to achieve the ‘Wow’ with very little cost; 1. Add video. We live in a video age so make sure some of your sites contain embedded video. Short clips are great and you can even copy code straight for YouTube using the Content Editor Webpart. Why not add a bit of humour, as somebody said about my blogs the other week. 2. Add Audio and sound clips Users now expect to hear their PC as well as see it (many teenagers like to hear it very LOUD). So if you have audio clips add them to a Document Library and they can be run straight away using Windows Media Player. 3. Add Flash Users seems to like animation and you can easily add flash (swf) files to SharePoint. Click here to find a very useful article on how to get a flash movie into SharePoint. 4. More Exciting Themes The out of the box SharePoint themes are quite bland and in March of this year Microsoft released an additional ten themes that are slightly more exciting. You can download these by clicking here. 5. Live Chat Many users chat away at night with instant messaging packages like MSN Messenger. Some of them are chatting with more than one person at a time and occasionally sending the wrong message to the wrong person (yes, we have all done that!) A webpart called Chatterbox helps you to put a chat box onto your SharePoint Site. If you have a Communication SIP Server, online chat is also available. With a SIP server you can keep the chat inside your network. 6. Mobile Devices SharePoint can be accessed from PDAs and mobile phones. It is worth showing End Uses how superb SharePoint is when accessed from iPhones. 7. Link to other systems Demonstrate SharePoint very much as a front end to other systems. Let users access your ERP (Finance etc) systems from a SharePoint site. Use snazzy looking dashboards to present data from other SQL Systems onto the SharePoint site. Many managers can be easily impressed by a colourful dynamic pie chart. 8. Clever Workflow All of us like things that make our lives easier whether it is self-defrosting freezers or Hot Dog Toasters. So use the Workflow in SharePoint to automate any routine tasks that a number of users have to do. This could be submitting expenses or booking a training room. 9. Live Feeds RSS feeds for latest news can be fed straight into SharePoint using the XML webpart. Just as I am hearing that England have won the second test you could add a feed to your website to keep the End Users up-to-date with the latest cricket score. Click to find out how to link the cricket scores to SharePoint. 10. High Quality Photographs Nothing makes SharePoint look more appealing than glossy pictures of people the End Users actually know. So why not include pictures of members of staff maybe at social events. I mean after all embarrassing photographs is what Facebook is built on. Hopefully now you can get the Wow Factor in your SharePoint, but if your End Users are still not showing their excitement then I think you need to add my popular ‘My Team’s Performance Season 2009/10’ football Site Template. With this they can enter their team’s football performances over the next eight months. Just click below to send me an email but please let me know the team you support. Send Me 'My Team’s Performance Template Season 2009/10'

Monday, 13 July 2009

Impressive SharePoint Column

SharePoint lists may not be favoured by many developers but can be a great tool for all sized companies, especially as Windows SharePoint Services is a free download. In my blog this week I am going to show the different columns available in a SharePoint list and especially how powerful the ‘Lookup’ and ‘Calculated’ fields can be. Then for all the football fans out there (and Man United followers) you will be able to download free of charge the ‘My Team’s Performance 2009/10 Season’ site template. I say it is free of charge but if you would like to send a donation to the ‘Help Aston Villa Buy a Gareth Barry Replacement Fund’ this would be gratefully received by Martin O’Neill. So what fields (SharePoint calls them columns) are available in a SharePoint list? I always suggest that unless you need a Document Library that you start by creating a ‘Custom List’. This means you don’t have to mess around with that silly ‘Title’ column that forces you to have a text entry. With a custom list you can define exactly what fields you have. You can then create as many columns as you need and for each of them can select any of the following; Single Line of Text Allows you up to 255 characters of text. Try and avoid these if you can use dropdown lists instead. Multiple Lines of Text You can have as many lines of text as you want. This can be useful for adding information later. For example if your list is for Customer Records you can add a line every time the customer contacts you. Choice (Menu to Choose from) A personal favourite because it is so easy to create a dropdown list or a set of radio buttons. My rule is if less than 4 options to use radio buttons. Great thing with this type of column is you can copy and paste from Excel or any other list you already have. You can also keep customising entries in the Choice menu so that you keep up with latest options. Number (1, 1.0, 100) This is where the entry will definitely be a number. You can define the number of decimal places and even lower and upper limits. However, if you ever want a entry in this field that contains any none numeric entries use ‘Single Line of Text’ instead. Be warned by default you will get the comma delimiter for thousands and this can only be changed using a Data View option in SharePoint Designer. Currency ($, £) It does what it says and you can select the currency. Date and Time The option to add the date with or without the time. Make sure if you are in the UK the regional settings in SharePoint for the site are set to English (United Kingdom) as we like the month second. The first Ashes Test was on 8/7/09 which is 8th July not 7th August although perhaps if we could put it back to August our bowlers might be able to learn how to bowl straight. Although perhaps England fielders could start having bigger trouser pockets – Strangest Ever Dismissal Lookup (information already on this site) The much under used column that I tend to use more than most and the ‘My Team’s Performance 2009/10 Season’ is riddled with them. The idea is why enter the same information twice on a site when you can use the ‘Lookup’ column to give us a dropdown list for data in another field elsewhere on the site. Certainly worth trying this one but a word of warning – it doesn’t work if you choose a ‘Check Box’ Choice column because it only works off single value fields. Yes/No (Check box) Not a favourite of mine because it has to have a default value. It is really just a tick box. I prefer to use the Choice instead and include the entries for Yes and No. Also sometimes you need a ‘Maybe’ for people feeling indecisive. For example the question “will the Villa win the league next season?” would probably need a ‘Yes’, ‘Maybe’ and ‘No’. Person or Group Very useful as you can add users from your Active Directory. You can then use these to filter by and even use that useful filter [Me] that shows items only where the person logged on is listed in the column. Hyperlink or Picture Make the entry dynamic with the ability to add live links to web addresses, SharePoint addresses or pictures on SharePoint. You can also add email addresses using mailto: before the address. Calculated (Calculation based on other columns) Allows you to add an Excel based calculation to SharePoint. You can use the ‘=’ formula or add fields already on the list. One I use a great deal is a ‘Review Document’ field. To set a review date as one year from the date the entry was created. To do this use Calculated field and enter =[Date Created]+365 So those are the different basic columns available in SharePoint (WSS 3.0) now you are ready to see how all these columns can be used to create a complete solution. With the Premier League Football season now just over a month away you can receive a download of my new ‘My Team’s Performance 2009/10 Season’ Site Template and follow your Premier League Team’s Performance during the coming season. You can record all their transfers (in and out), league results, cup results, goal scorers and even choose your goal of the season. Best of all it is free and all you have to do is drop me an email to Please just put in the subject the team you support so I can make sure they are going to good homes. The Site Template can be adapted for teams from other countries or divisions by simply editing the ‘Teams’ Tab. So what are you waiting for post an email to and start adding your squad players. If the Villa manager, Martin O’Neill, is reading this please just start adding to your squad before Man City buy all the best players.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Mind Your SharePoint Language

Another busy SharePoint week, that has seen me and the other Office Talk consultants travelling the UK. Today I have been in the capital and I am now waiting for my train at Euston station comparing the merits of Harry Ramsden’s and Burger King. Don’t worry I am not going to start comparing one of them with SharePoint. On the table to my left are two women who I think are Spanish and because I think they are Spanish I am assuming they are speaking in Spanish. This could be completely wrong and they could actually be from another country and speaking a totally different language. You will understand from this that I am not exactly multi-lingual. In fact the only non-English based language I can vaguely understand is French. I did French at school, but I certainly didn’t shine and it was probably my worse subject (although my Woodwork teacher might disagree). In fact everything we seemed cover in French appeared to involve Jean Pierre going to Dieppe on his bicycle. I did start to dislike Jean Pierre and hoped one day he would fall off his bicycle on the way to blooming Dieppe. So what has this all got to do with SharePoint? The answer is multi-languages. The women next-door are happily chatting away in what I think is their native tongue, but it might just be a code so SharePoint Bloggers can’t write about what they are saying and then link a funny video to it. Of course, it’s always possible that the translation of what they are saying is in fact “what do you think that baldy man is typing over there and do you think he is going to buy any Harry Ramsden’s chips?” The cosmopolitan side of London is one of its charms and you can hear so many different languages as well as regional dialects. So why shouldn’t SharePoint reflect these different languages as well? The answer is it can and many companies use it this way. All you need is the free SharePoint language packs and you can give site administrators the option to create sites in any language they want (as long as a language pack is available for it – Klingon is not currently available). The advantage of the language pack is that for a global company that has offices at countries speaking different languages the offices can all have SharePoint on the same Web Application yet still use their own native languages. You can even allow users to configure their search requirements so only items in their own language are returned. Although, I do understand that many people are better at languages than myself and can happily converse in more than one. I am sure that blinking Jean Pierre could speak English probably better than I can as well as French even when he was riding his bike. SharePoint Language packs have been around since SharePoint 2003. You can download the latest Language Pack for SharePoint 2007 at the following link; The following table lists the language packs that are available: Arabic Bulgarian Catalan Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Traditional) Croatian Czech Danish Dutch English Estonian Finnish French German Greek Hebrew Hindi Hungarian Italian Japanese Kazakh Korean Latvian Lithuanian Malay (Malaysia) – Only available for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Norwegian Polish Portuguese (Brazil) Portuguese (Portugal) Romanian Russian Serbian (Latin) Slovak Slovenian Spanish Swedish Thai Turkish Ukrainian If Martin O’Neill finally does start signing some of the players he is being linked to then perhaps he will need to have some language packs inserted in him. Don’t forget in next week’s blog I will be giving away the ‘My Team’s Performance’ Site Template for the new 2009/2010 season.

Friday, 26 June 2009

SharePoint Security - Wimbledon, Strawberries and a Scotsman

This week I am going to talk about the tricky topic of Managing SharePoint Security. Three words that can bring many an IT Manager out in a sweat. Similar to when the Air-Con stops working in the Server Room. With still 52 days until the start of the new football season and Martin O’Neill still not thinking of spending any money I am forced to start thinking about the goings on at SW19. Yes, it is time to talk Wimbledon (no I am not going to mention the Wombles again this is about tennis!) and that time of year when all us English folk start eating strawberries and shouting that familiar shout of ‘Come on Tim’. Sorry, this year we have to shout ‘Come on the moody Scotsman’ and we become ‘British’ instead of ‘English’. Maybe this could be the year when we have a BRITISH winner and a new Virginia Wade. Can Andy Murray win Wimbledon or by the time you are reading this is he already saying ‘next year will be my year’? Wimbledon is a fabulous event and always seems superbly organised. Security, like in SharePoint, must be a nightmare with so many courts and so many people going between them. How do security keep track of everyone and insure everyone’s safety. I expect most areas are covered by surveliance cameras but still it can’t be easy to pick out if anyone is grabbing an extra strawberry and would they be able to spot a Paraguay shirt (that’s a reference to Andy Murray’s anti English behaviour in the 2006 World Cup). So what are the similarities between being Head of Security at Wimbledon (probably wearing a nice blazer) and being responsible for managing the SharePoint Security? I think that both jobs involve you keeping an eye on everything that is happening over quite a large area. Company SharePoint structures can grow very quickly and in no time companies can reach 100 plus sites. This is testamony to the success and ease of use of SharePoint but can quickly turn into a security nightmare. Don’t get me wrong in the right hands SharePoint is very secure with an extra level of security added to the normal network Shares. You can set exactly who can access a site, list or individual item and then decide the type of access that person has. The problem comes when you try to work out who has been given access to what. If you document all permission changes that is one way of doing this (it is Best Practice), but who really does this? When the IT Department is busy and loud Susan from Sales insists she urgently needs access to the latest Sales figures many IT personnel just make the change. Alternativiely when the MD requests access to all the Finance data on the Finance site the change is usually instantly made. So how can we keep track of all these changes? Similar to the Security at Wimbledon in their Control Centre we need a central place to manage all the SharePoint permissions. To manage SharePoint Permissions affectively we need to look at some third party solutions available because MOSS or WSS out of the box doesn’t give the option to audit all of a User’s current permissions or when somebody is unexpectedly sacked retract all of their permissions imediately. At Wimbledon when a rowdy spectator is ejected they don’t usually leave a trail behind them but in the SharePoint world there could be dozens of entries for that user spread around all the sites. So which third party Permission Management Tools for SharePoint are availble. My personal favourite is Control Point which was recently a winer at Microsoft Tech Ed 2009. I also awarded this software from Axceler my ‘Top SharePoint Application’ in my SharePoint 2009 awards but to be fair I want to talk about two other Permission Management Tools first, that do a similar job. Firstly, we have Deliver Point which is a great package for viewing permissions from a central control point. It is certainly a step forward and would be welcome by many IT Managers. You can now identify that the Cleaner has access to your company’s secret two hundred year old recipe. One problem people have found with Deliver Point is it can take over 20 hours to synchronise with the Active Directory which means it isn’t run very often and can get out of date. It is certainly worth a trial though. Second entry is Rohati’s Transaction Networking System (TNS) which I found quite enjoyable to use and was impressed with the graphical interfaces. It did exactly what it said it could do and was great for enforcing policies. Again this is worth a trial. So now to Control Point 3 which really can achieve all that it promises and goes further than the other two with the addition of the ability to easily move whole sites and web Application across different servers. Ok this is going further than fixing the security issue but for the same cost as Deliver Point the extra features put it ahead. Imagine if at Wimbledon the Centre Court could just be picked up and placed next to Court 18 who would need a retractable roof then. Control Point can do this with your SharePoint sites. I am a fan of Control Point and you can request a trial by clicking on the link below but don’t take my word for it why not try the others as well. Try Control Point So after buying Control Point the IT staff will have more time for a sneaky listen to the tennis on the radio while they are supposedly working in the Server Room. One warning though – Control Point does need some effort in configuring it when you first install it, but perhaps those nice men at Office Talk can help you with that. My SharePoint Tip this week is to always use Active Directory (AD) Groups when possible and add these to SharePoint. By using groups it will be much easier to make changes in the future. Even if you only have one or two people the best practice is to create an AD group instead of adding individual users. This also has the benefit of you not having to remember individual names when you add permissions. So even if you are only adding British players left in Wimbledon create a AD group called ‘British players Left’ and hopefully add Andy Murray to it. Good luck Mr. Murray the English are right behind you if you win. Now come on Mr. Villa manager start buying some players. Looking at this clip this Scottish player named Murray might be good.

Friday, 19 June 2009

BPOS – SharePoint Online For Everyone

At last I can see daylight after spending most of the week in an IT Basement working at one of Office Talk’s Public Sector Customer Sites. It was just like the Channel Four sitcom ‘The IT Crowd’ with us hidden away from the real world with no mobile phone signal, no windows and unfortunately no air-con (at least the rightguard seemed to do its stuff). When Office Talk are out assisting with SharePoint Projects it is still quite common to find the IT Department living like Wombles underground, but what about companies/organisations who haven’t really got IT Departments (or even IS, ICT or whatever the latest trendy name for the Computer Department is)? Well, there is now a way that they can still enjoy the benefits of SharePoint without the hassles of an IT infrastructure. Microsoft now offers SharePoint Online as part of their BPOS package. Why did they call it BPOS? It could stand for’ Buy Post Office Stamps’, ‘Best Personal Officetalk Service’ (sounds saucy!) or ‘Blackpool Pier Of Shame’ (for all the Hen and Stag weekends), but it actually stands for ‘Business Productivity Online Suite’. Hardly the most appealing of names but for many companies this could be a package that will let them join the SharePoint Bandwagon. If you sign-up to BPOS you can experience all the joys of Windows SharePoint Services (Calendars, Contacts, Document Libraries, an Intranet, Picture/Video Libraries, Surveys, Alerts, Workflow and much more). This is an online system that you pay for with a low monthly fee and requires no server or IT Crowd in the basement. It is ideal for companies with maybe under 50 employees and with the help of a Microsoft Gold Partner like Office Talk you can be fully up and running in just a few days. Best of all you don’t have to even meet anyone from Office Talk (although we are reasonably clean and quite well presented) because we can do all of the work remotely. You can also sign up for online Exchange as well, but as Office Talk are purely SharePoint Specialists we will stick to the SharePoint side. So where do you find out more about this strangely named product? The best way is to have a 30 day free trial. Just click the link below and you can start the trial immediately and then if you like it you can then sign-up and continue to use and obviously develop your demonstration sites. You can become SharePointers and see what the hype really is about. Trial of SharePoint Online If however, you are not really sure what SharePoint is and have reached this blog purely because you typed in ‘Blackpool Stag Weekend’ into Google (or more worryingly ‘Womble Stag Weekends’) then try the link below to see a demonstration of what Windows SharePoint Services does. Windows SharePoint Services Demonstration If this still isn’t for you then click the following link to learn more about Stag weekends in Blackpool For blog readers that already have the joy of SharePoint my SharePoint tip this week is - If you still have documents on shared drives outside of SharePoint then why not add a link to your Quick Launch bar so they open straight up by just entering the full UNC (\\server\sharename). So that’s the end for this week and I didn’t even mention the Villa’s lack of transfer activity. Hopefully Martin will get busy next week. Don’t forget coming soon the Premiership My Team Performance SharePoint Template for 2009/2010.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

SharePoint Awards 2009 (Andy Dale’s)

New SharePoint Awards 2012

This week I am going to announce the first ever Andy Dale SharePoint Awards and also offer some similar Premiership football ones. June is here and as it isn’t a World Cup of European Championship summer it will seem a long time until the Premiership returns on August 15th (even longer for Setana subscribers). At least, we have the Ashes to hopefully enjoy. For any American readers ‘The Ashes’ is a tiny urn that England and Australia play cricket for every two years. So with the end of the 2008/09 football season it is very much a time for looking back and for topless big bellied Geordies to stop crying into their Brown Ale. So it seems a good time to make my awards for both SharePoint and the Premiership ones. Sorry there are no prizes, but the winners can happily mention their award on their websites, although not all of them might want to. Let’s start with the SharePoint Awards then I think it is best as this is primarily a SharePoint Blog; 1 Best SharePoint Information Site 2009 WinnerSharePoint Reviews The newcomer on the block which contains reviews of 100’s of SharePoint Products 2 Best SharePoint Webpart Provider 2009 WinnerSharePoint Boost Creating easy to install and use webparts as if they are going out of fashion 3 Best SharePoint Administration Tool 2009 WinnerControlPoint from Axceler Finally a way of really managing all those user permissions across all of your servers and sites. Oh, and very useful for moving complete sites. 4 Best Website built on SharePoint 2009 WinnerCadbury Chocolate and SharePoint have never tasted so good. 5 Best SharePoint Training Package 2009 WinnerCBT Clips Still the best solution to show End Users how to use SharePoint. 6 Best SharePoint Offline Solution 2009 WinnerColligo Contributor from Colligo Allows SharePoint to be with you even when the network isn’t. Don’t forget to download the free reader on the right. 7 Most Useful SharePoint Webpart 2009 WinnerBatch Check-in from SharePoint Boost Lets us finally get rid of the ‘Checked Out’ annoyance after we have move lots of documents. 8 Favourite Free SharePoint Webpart 2009 WinnerGoogle Search Webparts Keep your users in SharePoint as they Google away. 9 Most Fun Free Webpart 2009 WinnerPicture Puzzle Widget from Spring Widgets Spring Widget have lots of snazzy free webparts including cat clocks with moving tails 10 Biggest SharePoint Mess-up 2009 WinnerMicrosoft for 180 day expire error on SP 2. So those are my awards please feel free to add comments either agreeing with my list or ripping them to pieces. Now, onto my Premiership Awards. If you aren’t a football fan, or support Manchester United, please feel free to stop reading now. 1 Best Player Stephen Ireland (Man City) 2 Best Manager Tony Pullis (Stoke City) 3 Best Goal David Bentley (Spurs v Arsenal) 4 Best Signing James Beattie (Stoke City) 5 Most Improved Team Fulham 6 Worst Half Time Talk Phil Brown (Hull) on pitch against Man City 7 Best Game Liverpool 4 Arsenal 4 8 Biggest False Dawn Newcastle beating Boro 9 Biggest Mistake Making Tony Adams a manager 10 Most Annoying Git Christiano Ronaldo Now, to start designing a SharePoint Template for ‘My Team’s Premiership 2009/2010 Season Performance’. It will be available as a FREE download from the Office Talk website by 1st August 2009. Might have to work on the name for it!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Bigger SharePoint Templates

Everyone these days wants more from their SharePoint. In fact it seems everyone wants more full stop. This week was sad for me not just because I suffered the effects of flu (hopefully not Swine Flu), but also after twelve great years Gareth Barry left Aston Villa. I first started watching him when he marked Ian Wright out of the game in his first full Villa match when he was just 17. But Gareth now, like our SharePoint users and a certain Oliver Twist, wants MORE. He wants more money and so has followed the money trail to the mega-rich of Manchester City. Where money does seem to be no object. Perhaps we shouldn't begrudge him an extra £30,000 a week at least all the tax he is paying will help replace the money the MPs have claimed in expenses. So why are SharePoint users asking for more? The one limit that seems to frustrate them the most is the limit on the size that Site Templates can be. Many of us use Site Templates to move individual sites between servers or duplicate sites. When it works it is great. All you have to do is go in Site Settings on the site you want to make a template and click the option 'Save Site As Template'. Checking the box 'Include Content' means you can include all the documents as well. Unfortunately, sometimes the depressing message 'The site is too large to save as a template. The size of a template cannot exceed 10485760 bytes' appears and you are left to shake your head. So how do Officetalk advise getting around this size limitation? The answer this time isn't to just move to Manchester City where there are no limits, but to use the most powerful tool in SharePoint the STSADM command. If you have never used the STSADM command before you will be surprised at what an immense tool it is. It is a command line application that can perform all of the SharePoint commands that the Central Admin can perform (without many of the limitations) and lots more. I will try not to put my Techie hat on, but it can backup, restore, move databases, add webparts, change the password of the System account, change Site owners and probably solve the problem to Life, the Universe and Everything. Ok maybe it isn't quite that clever but it certainly has got me out of a number of SharePoint problems. Click here to download a poster of the functions of the STSADM Command Before I get too distracted with the joys of STSADM let me remember the reason for this posting and that is how to increase the size allowed Site Templates. In MOSS 2007 and WSS 3.0 the almighty STSADM command can take this limit from 10MB to an impressive 500MB plus. So how do you do this? First, I always recommend on your SharePoint server copying the STSADM.EXE file to a place where you can find it because by default it is really hidden away in the real cellar of the Programme Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\.... Just search for 'stsadm' on the Server then copy it to the root of your C drive if you can. Then all you have to do is open the Command Prompt on the SharePoint Server (just type in CMD at the Run command). Now on the Command Prompt go to C:\ and then type the following (or copy and paste it from here I don't mind); stsadm.exe -o setproperty -pn max-template-document-size -pv 520000000 Press return and hopefully after about ten seconds (but be patient)it will come back and say successful. So now I think I had better make some suggestions to Martin O'Neill about who he can buy to replace Gareth Barry. I wonder if Victoria Beckham fancies shopping in the Bull Ring next season !!

Friday, 29 May 2009

Get Your FREE SharePoint Here !!

OfficeTalk clients are always surprised when we tell them that they can have SharePoint free of charge. OK it is Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) and not the posh Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) version, but for many medium sized companies and organisations it will do everything they need. On my way home from work the car radio is always tuned to TalkSport. I seem to have reached that age where I no longer seem to follow modern music. Although I do currently like Lady Ga Ga’s ‘Poker Face’, but maybe that is just because it reminds me of the Saturday night quiz show of the same name that ‘Ant and Dec’ used to host. As Newcastle fans I wonder if they have recovered from the Villa relegating them on Sunday. Anyway, back to the reason for mentioning TalkSport in my SharePoint blog. It is just that every Thursday they release the TalkSport Magazine and make a big thing in the fact it is FREE. Ian Wright often says on Thursday evening ‘well, the best things in life are free’. If that’s true why am I currently trying to raise the funds for my Villa season ticket for next season? I suppose my cats Harry and Sally were free when I had them although I have spent a fortune in vets fees since. Especially for Harry, but I suppose me reversing the car over his tail didn’t really help. Like the Talk Sport magazine SharePoint is available as a free download and Office Talk have decided to add to the freebie by offering free email support as well to anyone who downloads Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (including Service Pack 2) from our site. Whose idea was that? Click here to download WSS 3.0 with SP 2 In fact, SharePoint is now full of freebies (providing you have got Windows Server 2003 or 2008 and the necessary Windows Server CALS). Listed below are my top 5 SharePoint Freebies. OK they’re not quite as appealing as some of the articles in the Talk Sport Magazine (you won’t find the popular Sports IQ test) but many of the things needed to get your organisation started in SharePoint are here; SharePoint Freebies 1. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 2. Office SharePoint Designer 3. SharePoint Learning Kit 4. SQL Server 2005 Express 5. Enterprise Search Server Express 2008 So SharePoint,like Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served, can happily say ‘I’m free’. If I could just get my Villa season ticket to say the same. Good luck to Newcastle next year in the Championship.