Wednesday, 25 February 2009

SharePoint Hazards

Monday mornings are not much fun at the best of times, but this week’s began expensively for me thanks to a Worcestershire pothole. There I was driving my normal journey to the Officetalk offices in Evesham when I had a very nasty jolt. Bang! I had hit an unexpected hole in the road. There were no warning signs and I had no idea how much damage had been done to my car. So this week I am going to write about SharePoint Potholes and how to stop them halting your SharePoint system. SharePoint is a very flexible product, but it can also be quite frustrating to administer especially without any kind of training. Like my journey to work SharePoint can remain smooth and straightforward for weeks then suddenly quite unexpectedly an error occurs. In an ideal world you would get some kind of warning first like “Please be careful a pothole has opened up ahead” then you could find a way of avoiding it. SharePoint isn’t that kind though and instead just stops you dead when an error does occur. Anybody who has been a SharePoint Administrator has almost certainly seen the dreaded SharePoint screen. But what does “An unexpected error has occurred” actually mean? It could be anything and we have no idea how major it is. It would be like a road sign saying ‘Problem Ahead’. It is very easy for somebody new to SharePoint to panic when they first hit this error, but the truth is that 90% of the time this error can be fixed quite quickly using SharePoint Designer as the problem is usually just a simple error on the page. This could be a webpart it doesn’t like, the wrong masterpage attached or even an image that can’t be displayed. All you have to do is copy the URL of the page where the error is then open it in your trusty SharePoint Designer. You will then quickly see which part of the page it doesn’t like and remove it (or maybe if you are lucky fix it). Save the page in SharePoint Designer and then reopen it in the browser. Most times your page will reappear and you can relax. So in the words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy ‘Don’t Panic’ SharePoint Designer has its critics, but it is a very powerful tool that is vital to any SharePoint Project. Any organisation who has SharePoint, either WSS or MOSS 2007, should have at least one copy of SharePoint Designer. It can be installed at either Server or Client level and is surprisingly affordable at around £200 (the same price as my wheel is going to cost to repair). Once purchased (or even with the 30 day free trial) you can then use your SharePoint Designer for designing pages, Custom Style Sheets (CSS), adding Workflow, changing MasterPages, adding HTML, combining lists into one Data View or just adding some nice buttons. You will wonder how you ever managed without it. To get the full use out of SharePoint Designer I would recommend a SharePoint Designer Training course. Combined Knowledge offer an excellent one week course using the Mind Sharp material which is bookable through us at Officetalk. If you want a less formal course Officetalk will happily run a two or three day course at your premises for up to twelve people. Just drop an email to if you need any SharePoint Designer training. So I now have to put together my letter to Worcestershire County Council to request compensation for my badly buckled wheel, damaged tyre and any other damage that I haven’t discovered yet. I wonder if Worcestershire Council uses SharePoint? They could use it to report and monitor repairs of Potholes. With SharePoint Designer they could even set up the workflow so it regularly updated the person who reported a pothole on the progress of any repair. If you are reading this blog from outside the UK please don’t think that all of the roads in England are full of potholes. The reason there are so many at the moment is that we have recently had a very cold spill with a lot of snow and ice. OK a lot for England! I am sure they have much more in Moscow where the Villa are playing tomorrow. So we don’t normally have so many potholes, but saying that I have just read that £53,000,000 was paid out to drivers by Councils in compensation during 2008. Hopefully I will get some of that.

Monday, 16 February 2009

SharePoint on the Web

January 2009 was an historic month. The US swore in their first ever Black President and the Villa completed a club record straight six away Premiership wins. It really is a time of great change around the globe. I was told last week by a lady who reads my blog that she always switches off whenever I mention football. So I am deliberately not going to mention that the Villa have gone 12 premiership games unbeaten and are currently third in the table. Instead, I will talk about a big change that is happening in the SharePoint world. SharePoint is finally starting to run company websites. Why are more companies finally taking the plunge and going to SharePoint for their website? I suppose it is similar to ‘Wash ‘n’ Go’ shampoo. You are probably thinking from the lack of hair in my photograph that I don’t have a great need for shampoo, but I am still a fan of the all-in-ones. Wash ‘n’ Go is both a shampoo and conditioner in one. Their advertising slogan goes something like ‘why take two bottles into the shower..” to show that with Wash ‘n’ Go you don’t need a separate shampoo and conditioner. Likewise SharePoint is now saying why do you need a separate Intranet and a Website. With SharePoint you can run both from one central point. One change, like the new company telephone number, can be made via SharePoint so it changes both the Intranet and the Website. There is no need to ring up your website designers and ask them to make the change and also have to contact your IT Department to ask them to change the Intranet. In the top ten websites of 2008 for the first time ever more than half of them were built on SharePoint although it is not always easy to spot them. Ok the ‘default.aspx’ at the end is often a give away, but this is easy to hide with masks or forwarders. Here are of my personal top ten SharePoint powered websites in no particular order; UK NHS Starlight Children’s Foundation Ministry of Sound Mahindra Home Stays Wise Women Corgi Consumers Cook’s Children’s Hospital Ascentium Conservation International And probably the best SharePoint site in the world Carlsberg I am sure you will agree some quite spectacular websites, but if you have SharePoint and some good glossy photographs it is reasonably straight-forward to make your exposed SharePoint sites quite web appealing. With packages like the slightly flaky SharePoint Designer or the more robust Visual Studio SharePoint pages can easily be configured to look as fancy as a slick website. HTML code can be stitched in, ASP.NET technology used, flash presentations incorporated with as many SharePoint sites as you want. Yes, there are draw backs there are many better packages out there managing websites than SharePoint, but I believe the benefits out way the negatives. The most important feature of any website is that the customer can easily find the latest up-to-date information about the company and their products. If a new product is released or the price changes the website needs to reflect it almost instantly. It doesn’t really matter if the image on the navigation bar is slightly the wrong shade of blue. As long as it is easy to navigate and the information is relevant the potential customer will read on. So if you already use SharePoint internally why not take the step of using it for your website. How can your basic SharePoint be used for your website? The first part needed is to expose your SharePoint to the outside world. This normally involves opening the port your SharePoint is using on your firewall. You then should be able to get to the SharePoint logon box by entering the full URL. You can assign an alternate URL from SharePoint Central Admin if this is needed or put a forwarder on your domain provider. Next you need to allow Anonymous Access on the sites that you want to have on the website. This means that the page is viewable as read-only without the need to enter a logon, but there still is a sign-in box at the top right of the screen (or wherever you want it) if an internal user needs to use more functionality. This means that an Administrator can logon to the website page from any location and make a change at any point. Officetalk have recently completed a number of projects for people wanting to use SharePoint for both their Intranet and their website so please contact Frank Faulds on if you are interested in learning more. It seems that 2009 will see more and more SharePoint websites and hopefully more and more Villa wins.