Tuesday, 30 March 2010

SharePoint Designer - Seven Goals

Well, I have had three days of receiving texts from forgotten friends and acquaintances to gloat about the fact that the Villa let in SEVEN goals against Chelsea. Their worse defeat during my time supporting them.

Probably the funniest text was “Newsflash : Following Saturday’s events the Chelsea Villa Semi Final has been moved from Wembley Stadium to Lords Cricket Ground”. Now everywhere I go the number seven appears whether it is the highest scoring ball in snooker, the number of days in the week or just the picture here on my blog. So I have decided to go with the flow and use SEVEN as the theme for this week’s blog. I am going to talk about one of my favourite free applications ‘SharePoint Designer’and the SEVEN great uses of SharePoint Designer both the current version and the new SharePoint Designer 2010. The new SharePoint Designer 2010 will be available soon, but be warned it isn’t backward compatible and will not work on your current SharePoint sites.

1. Design Sites, Pages and Master Pages
Out of the box SharePoint is effective, but a lot of organisations want to really brand it and make it their own. With SharePoint Designer you can change columns, add text or pictures, add headers or footers and generally change the layout of the page. Each Site is linked to a Master Page and by changing the layout of the Master Page you can change the look of all sites that use that Master Page. Interestingly in the soon to be released SharePoint Foundation the Default.Master page is actually the Windows SharePoint Services ver 3 Master Page. So if you are an old fuddy-duddy like me you can make your SharePoint 2010 look like SharePoint 2007 and even lose the ribbon by just applying the Default.Master.

2. Develop Cascaded Style Sheets
All Graphic Designers these days think tables are old hat and that the world is a better place with CSS (Cascaded Style Sheets). They might just be a trend but SharePoint Designer lets you create and modify all these style sheets. Meaning that uneducated SharePoint Administrators will then not understand why when they try to change the font to that new trendy one it keeps changing back to the company standard font.

3. Data Views (Combine multiple SharePoint lists into one and link to external data sources).
With SharePoint Designer you can create so many more views of your data. You can link information from different lists even from different sites. You can take data straight from SQL and Oracle databases and display them in a snazzy SharePoint table. Then when you are confident you can add the power of ‘Conditional Formatting’. This means for example if your rating score in a SharePoint Survey goes below 6 out of 10 the entry could turn yellow, be a bigger font and even flicker.

4. Create Quite Advanced Workflows
Creating Workflow to automate those tedious jobs is one of my favourite features of SharePoint Designer. Straight away you can add over 50 Conditions and Actions to a SharePoint Library or List. For example,a new IT Helpdesk Form is submitter about a printer problem then use Workflow to set up an automatic Email to the person responsible for printers and move the form from the ‘Submitted’ to the ‘In Progress’ section. Send an email back to user saying call has been logged and who it has been assigned to. All with a simple SharePoint Designer workflow which works effortlessly in the background as the IT team debates whose turn it is to fetch the drinks from the vending machine.

5. Backup, Restore and move SharePoint Sites
Even Administration can be done in SharePoint Designer. The option to complete real-time backups of SharePoint sites simply by copying the URL (and having the appropriate permissions). Backup and Restore are simple procedures and it is also possible to transport sites across servers using SharePoint Designer.

6. Add big buttons
Nothing says press me more than a big button. So the easiest way of leading users is to put buttons on your SharePoint Site. The best way to do this is to insert them in SharePoint Designer. You have a choice of over 50 Interactive buttons in various styles and colours. All of these you can add hyperlinks to and appropriate text.

7. See how sites look in different browsers
I started up my Windows 7 PC the other day and was hit with a choice of all the different browsers I could install. As a Microsoft man I always have tended to use Internet Explorer but have now given myself a choice by also installing Google Chrome. I have to admit to been rather taken back by how fast the Google Chrome pages load. My Facebook now behaves three times better than it used to on Internet Explorer 8. So, more SharePoint users will start to vary browsers with more using Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome than before. When you create sites now in SharePoint Designer you have option to view them in any of the different browsers you have installed on your PC. You get to see the problems before the users start howling.

So as Chelsea stopped at 7 I will to but SharePoint Designer has many more hidden features. If you haven’t used it yet then I strongly recommend downloading it free now by Clicking Here.

SharePoint Designer Training courses are all available from all good leading SharePoint Trainers. I would recommend taking a look at Office Talk but then you might end up with me.

So a week on Sunday sees the Villa yet again face Chelsea. This time for a place in FA Cup Final and strangely I feel quite confident. Maybe I need a new pair of lucky pants though.

Don’t forget if you haven’t already voted in the Andy Dale SharePoint Awards 2010 that the closing date is 7th April. So vote now.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Why Do I Support SharePoint?

If you are visiting this site to vote in the Andy Dale SharePoint Awards 2010 please Click Here to view last week’s SharePoint blog, but before you do unless you are in a real hurry why not take a few minutes out to read this week’s SharePoint Blog. You can always vote later. I will put the link again at the end.

Office Talk were invited to do a short presentation about the use of SharePoint as a Document Management Tool to a group of College IT Managers last week. This gave me the chance to show my real passion for SharePoint and especially the ease and simplicity of Windows SharePoint Services, but to my surprise we weren’t the only Document Management Tool demonstrating (that will teach me not to read the itinerary before hand). Also demonstrating was a product called Alfresco which is an open source product and looked to do a lot of the functions of the Document Management side of SharePoint. It was interesting then that at a Q&A session after the presentations I had to defend my SharePoint corner and say why it was the best product available. This made me evaluate why I actually am a SharePoint supporter and why I was so passionate about the product. I will go into this in detail later on, but first I think I should say why I am an Aston Villa supporter. For none football fans, or people that don’t want to know a little about what makes Andy Dale tick, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.

I don’t know if I have mentioned it before to regular readers, but I am a follower of one of the greatest teams in England Aston Villa. One of only four English teams to be crowned champions of Europe, but that isn’t why I support them. Now my dad, brother and my Granddad supported Wolverhampton Wanderers probably the nearest main football team to us. At the age of five I wanted a tracksuit and my Granddad obliged, but instead of it being gold and back (the colours of the Wolves) it was a claret colour. At the time I was disappointed, but always listened to my knowledgeable Granddad who said they were the colours of one of the finest teams in the land, Aston Villa, who had won the FA Cup a record seven times, which was more than any other team (the fact that now 37 years later they have still only won 7 is a major frustration, but hopefully that will change in May). So from that day on I was a Villa fan and have now had a season ticket for twenty eight seasons.

On Saturday the Villa were at home to the Wolves in a really entertaining game that ended as a draw (which would have pleased my mum). Yet I spent the whole day answering texts from my brother and other Wolves supporting friends claiming moral victories. I had to defend refereeing decisions, defend the singing of the famous Holte End, the tackling of Petrov and most of all defend my beloved Aston Villa. In the same way as at the Document Management Event last week I had to defend my beliefs.

So why am I a SharePoint Supporter? I think you have to start with the fact I am a Microsoft man and use Microsoft products. Yes, I know they all have their faults and don’t get me started on the Vista fiasco, but the truth is 80% plus of all companies use Microsoft products. They are well supported, well designed and there is loads of useful information out about them. I have been using SharePoint since early 2003 and have seen it develop. I like the fact it is so simple and easy to use. The way I can very quickly show people who have never seen it how they can easily gain benefits from it. Probably most of all I like the many many different things it does. Maybe the Open Source guys with their ‘Alfreco’ had a point in that their product was better if you purely wanted a Document Management system, but the SharePoint product opens so many more possibilities. It isn’t the filling of the pie that is important but the whole pie. The SharePoint Workflow capabilities lets you simplify almost any of your systems (i.e. Purchase Orders, Holiday Requests, Visitor logging, sickness absence and many more). Office Talk recently helped a company quickly be able to evaluate why people were leaving their company by simply using the SharePoint system they already had installed.

SharePoint might not be the master of any one task, but it is pretty good at many. If you were to choose the best solution each time you would have to employ so many different experts and offer such a wide variety of training. Yet with SharePoint if you know how one area works you know it all.

I do preach maybe a little too much to the unconverted on SharePoint, but struggle to understand why a company who uses Microsoft Server 2003 (or 2008) haven’t downloaded the free version of Windows SharePoint Services. It is so easy to install and start playing with. Unlike the Open Source which I struggle to follow when I first install I believe SharePoint is relatively straight forward. Please feel free to comment if you disagree. It has a Site Actions menu which includes either ‘Create’ to create new sites, libraries or lists. Then it has ‘Edit Page’ to let you edit the page you are currently viewing. Here you can simply move sections around and add new sections. Or last of all ‘Site Settings’ where you can get to all the other functions and features. In fact it is very tempting for IT Administrators to be ‘self taught’ and whilst this works Office Talk would very much recommend a one day training course so that you can see all the extra clever little tricks that are available and how to get the most business benefits from it.

You can probably see that I am passionate about both the Villa and SharePoint (especially WSS), but to show you why I think both are the best below is two lists of ten. You can decide for yourselves which list is which.

First Ten Reasons for being the best in no particular order

1. Has full version control.
2. With the free SharePoint Designer you can quickly add very effective Workflow.
3. Can stream videos direct from websites like YouTube.
4. Can easily create electronic forms to replace those paper ones.
5. Can create satisfaction surveys in no time.
6. Can easily create template from sites you create.
7. Can add the Office Document Templates you already have to any SharePoint. Document Library.
8. Can search any word in any document.
9. The way you can customise and filter views of data.
10. The way you easily update dropdown lists.

Second Ten Reasons for being the best in no particular order

1. Have won the top European trophy.
2. First ever winners of League Cup.
3. Where a founder member of the football league.
4. Made the Andy Gray, voice of Sky, famous.
5. Have played in every Premier League Season.
6. Director William McGregor founded the Football League.
7. Have won the double.
8. Hosted more FA Cup Semi Finals than any other ground.
9. Provided more England players (69 to date) than any other club.
10. The future King of England (Prince William), future Prime Minister (David Cameron) and Pike from Dad’s Army are all supporters.

Don’t forget to vote in the Andy Dale SharePoint Awards 2010 only two weeks left. Click Here

Sunday, 14 March 2010

SharePoint Awards Time

New SharePoint 2012

As the FA Cup approaches its final, hopefully with the Villa involved, it is time for me to announce all the finalists in my Andy Dale SharePoint Awards 2010.

Thank you for all the suggestions for whom to include this year in each category. I have spent considerable time checking out all of the suggestions and come up with five finalists in each of the ten categories. Thank you also to the Office Talk consultants for your input.

So far this year it has been a good year for both Microsoft Office SharePoint Server and Windows SharePoint Services with no major cock-ups. So I have replaced the ‘Biggest SharePoint Mess-up’ Award although if Microsoft release another Service Pack or put the launch date of SharePoint 2010 back I might bring it back.

Here are lists of all the chosen finalists in each category and you can start voting for the ones that you think should win at the end of this blog. As with programmes like ‘Dancing on Ice’ the scoring system will be in two halves. First half will be a rating between 1 and 5 based on how many online votes each finalist gets. The second half will be a score between 1 and 5 from our panel, of 12 SharePoint Experts, for each of the finalist. This will give each one a score out of 10. In the event of a tie as they are my Awards then I will have the final say on the winner. Hope that all made sense.

a) EndUserSharePoint.com
b) SharePoint Magazine
c) SharePoint Reviews
d) SharePoint Information
e) Bamboo Nation


a) Bamboo Solutions
b) Quest Software
c) Amrein Engineering
d) Kwizcom
e) SharePoint Boost


a) DocAve Administrator
b) StoragePoint
c) Ideara SharePoint Management
d) ControlPoint


a) Swatch
b) Carbon Trust
c) Chilis
d) Hamilton Island
e) Chinook Centre


a) CBT Clips
b) Combined Knowledge CBT
c) Microsoft Standalone Trainer


a) Digi Link
b) Colligo Contributor
c) Infonic
d) Epona Outlook Integration
e) MyDocs


a) SharePoint Text Size Zoom
b) Column\View Permissions
c) Bamboo sharePoint video Library
d) Lightning Conductor Web Part
e) Notification WebPart


a) Free Lightbox Web Part
b) Google Charts
c) Search & Replace
d) Bamboo World Clock
e) Visualizer (Digital Assets)


a) Daily Dilbert
b) Sudoku
c) Count Down
d) Currency Converter
e) Hello User

a) MediaRich Digital Asset Management
b) ShareKnowledge – E-Learning Solution
c) Accounts Payable System
d) CRM Solution
e) Room Manager for SharePoint


Good luck to all Finalists. Please encourage every SharePoint person you know to vote below for each category.

Voting closes midnight 7th April 2010

Monday, 8 March 2010

Premiership SharePoint - MOSS v WSS ?

Even after nearly ten years of Microsoft’s SharePoint the main question SharePoint Consultants are still asked is; “what is the difference between SharePoint Server (currently MOSS 2007) and Windows SharePoint Services (currently WSS 3)?”

There is a document on the Office Talk website that lists which features are available in each version. At first glance you will probably notice that WSS does an awful lot of what MOSS does, so maybe the fact the WSS is FREE (providing you have Windows Server 2003 or 2008 and the Windows Server CAL licences) will tempt you. So why do people pay for the full SharePoint version?

Perhaps a good comparison was yesterday in the FA Cup when my beloved Aston Villa very nearly missed out on their second trip to Wembley in two months. At half time the mighty Villa were trailing 2-0 to Championship side Reading and heading, embarrassingly, out of the cup. Stick with it I will explain the SharePoint relevance and am not just gloating about a Villa victory. Now, the whole Reading team probably cost only a few million pounds and very few of the names were known to many of us. Yet the Villa team had internationals like Downing, Milner, Young, Dunn, Friedel (for our American readers) and big John Carew. Last time I calculated this Villa team had cost well over £70m to put together - thanks to the generosity of our American owner Randy Learner. So comparing Reading with Aston Villa would be like comparing WSS with MOSS.

Yet for much of the game Reading showed they were easily a match for the claret and blue stars. In the same way that WSS does, probably, at least 70% of what MOSS can do. It has the same Intranet style presentation, has the same document versioning controls, can create the same surveys, can apply the same permissions, can create the same reporting views and uses many of the same webparts. Just as Reading’s eleven men could do very much the same as Aston Villa’s men. Then in the space ten minutes after half time everything changed. Villa hit top gear and Reading were left chasing shadows. The Premiership class could be seen in movement, finishing and sheer belief. The reason that the Villa players cost more was there to be seen by everyone tuned into ITV. It was like suddenly seeing the extra benefits of full SharePoint Server. The added value of being able to search across multiple sites, the full two-way integration with Active Directory, the personal MySites (that allows each user their own automatically created site), the ability to target certain audiences, the addition of Form Services, the creation of Business Intelligence dashboards and the colourful graphs of Excel Services. Suddenly the extra investment was shining through and the differences were clear to anyone who wasn’t watching the EastEnders omnibus.

So this season’s FA Cup has just five premiership teams in. No team from outside the top flight is still dreaming of lifting the famous trophy this year. In the same way it is true that if you really want to maximise your returns on SharePoint, providing you can afford the initial investment, then you should go with the full Microsoft Office SharePoint Server version. But if this is not something you can afford to do now it is still worth installing the free Windows SharePoint Services. This will let you start to develop a system and a platform and then maybe next financial year you can make the step-up to the ‘Premiership’ of SharePoint. All the sites you create in WSS will work in MOSS. You don’t need to invest in a completely new team just make a few tweaks. Am going too far with this football analogy?

Maybe it makes financial sense though to look at one of those FA Cup Semi Finalists, Portsmouth (our Marketing manager Frank Faulds’ team). Portsmouth won the cup in 2008, but since then they have been hit by financial ruin and even now their future is in doubt. So they are like a company that have invested all their money in a MOSS project using the most expensive consultants (should have gone to Office Talk) and adding all the top SharePoint third party add-ons (Control Point, MediaRich, DocAve, etc). Maybe they should have cut their cloth accordingly and stuck with Windows SharePoint Services. What’s more important having a team to support for years to come or a few visits to Wembley? If you want free advice on the cost of implementing any form of SharePoint drop Frank an email on frank.faulds@office-talk.com

Any Liverpool supporter reading this might be left thinking that Reading over two games knocked them out of the FA Cup. This goes to show that any project needs good leadership to succeed. In the way that all SharePoint projects, be them WSS or MOSS, will be helped by the involvement of a SharePoint Consultant. Well done Martin O’Neill for whatever you said to those Villa players at half time. Perhaps there is a training course that Rafael Benitez could go on. Now is there a training course on how to beat Chelsea at Wembley.

Comparison Document MOSS v WSS

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Get Going With SharePoint

For those who have read my posts before you will be aware of two things. Firstly, I am passionate about SharePoint and how it can benefit all organisations and secondly, I am a fanatical Aston Villa supporter. So let me start by saying well done to Manchester United (although most of their supporters seemed to be wearing Norwich scarves) for winning the 50th Carling Cup on Sunday. Ok it might have all been different if the referee hadn’t forgotten his red card, but hopefully I will be back at Wembley to see Villa win the FA Cup in May. So to SharePoint and the best way to get a SharePoint Project started.

It has been a few weeks since my last blog and one of the reasons for this has been a trip to Egypt. An interesting trip to swap the snow of England for temperatures of 30 degrees and of course like all English tourists I brought back a souvenir stomach bug. One of the highlights of my trip was a camel ride in the desert under the stars. It was certainly worth the money, and the pain, to experience some amazing views. It made me think it was a bit like SharePoint because it took some investment and some effort to get going, but once I was riding through the desert on top of that large animal the benefits were so clear. Now, I had not really understood the effort that would be required when I initially paid my money for this excursion. It had said wear long trousers on the information provided so I decided it was best to wear my jeans. The camel knelt down ready for me to get on its back, but with the saddle on, which had two wooden holding bars sticking up at either end, I realised that this was not going to be easy. It seemed that to be able to get on I would have to lift my right leg about four foot in the air and my legs would have to end up at about one hundred and fifty degrees apart, an angle that my jeans were not happy to go at. I tried seven times to mount the camel without success. At least the small boy holding the camel looked to be seeing the funny side it even if he spoke no English. Then a kind older Egyptian gentleman appeared and without saying a word got hold of my leg and lifted it on to the camel. The help of an expert was all that it took and for the next hour I watched in wonder at the amazing views as I majestically rode the camel that I had named Humphrey. As I rode I thought about how similar the experience was to a SharePoint Project. Is it similar or was it just the effect of too much sun on my baldy head?

SharePoint, in either the full SharePoint Server (MOSS) form or the free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS 3.0), is fairly easy to install as my trip was fairly easy to book. The difficult part then is really getting started and setting your foundations. Maybe the issue is that there is just so much SharePoint can do ranging from Document Management to updating websites with options like creating surveys along the way. It really can impact (and enhance) all areas of your business, or organisation. But as with my large frame trying to get on to a camel it really needs to be thought out first. A SharePoint Project Team is ideal and it is well worth downloading the free SharePoint Project checklist from Office Talk to plan what you are trying to do. Once on my camel I was led by the small boy, but I think left to my own devices I would have had a very frustrated camel and could have ended up anywhere in the desert. So a plan is needed when starting out with SharePoint. The problem companies often have is knowing what to include in their plans. Really a starting point needs to be to understand what the version of SharePoint you have can actually do, before deciding how you are going to use it. Which departments will be included, what types of electronic forms will be customised, what kind of reports will be produced, how will contacts be stored, what kind of workflows will be created, will versioning be used and many, many more questions. This is why like when getting on a camel for the first time it helps to have an expert at hand. Obviously as an Office Talk Consultant I hope that you would use Office Talk for all your SharePoint needs, but there are a number of other Microsoft Partners who offer SharePoint services so shop around.

In my experience the best way to start a SharePoint Project is for the key users to receive a day or ½ days training session on the basic of what SharePoint can do. Office Talk offer these training courses onsite in the UK for up to 12 people and give the key users an overview of the many things that they could do with SharePoint including incorporating Video and automating so many internal processes. Again look around for Microsoft Partners in your country who offer similar SharePoint services. I think I might have benefited even more from my camel experience if I had had an English speaking person to lead. Maybe then I wouldn’t have fallen off the camel when I came to dismount.

Another way of making a fast start on SharePoint is to purchase one of SharePoint Department Templates already available. Why re-invent the wheel when a lot of your needs are shared by other people and templates already exist. If you haven’t already seen them take a look at the Action SharePoint Department Template Bundle. This means you can start your journey already on the camel and heading in the right direction. Perhaps I am overdoing this metaphor now.

So back to the Villa and good luck to them on Sunday when they play Reading and are just ninety minutes from going back to Wembley. Who knows we might end up seeing an all Birmingham game at Wembley. That would certainly be a challenge for Chiltern Railways and the Birmingham to Wembley Stadium route. I wonder if they use SharePoint.