Services leverages Microsoft’s Web-friendly product philosophy alongside
its affinity for desktop apps, and does so in a way (as so many Microsoft
products do) that just lulls you into going with the flow. Security is
piggybacked on infrastructure already in place; the product’s ancillary
features are simply more convenient and (despite shortcomings) in many cases
more economical to just use, since they’re there anyway, than more capable
inclined not to quibble. SharePoint Services gives you a lot of things you may have
found yourself wishing for, things you couldn’t have because you’d have to go
to the trouble of rolling your own or fiddling with your infrastructure in
order to achieve them. And some of them might not be immediately apparent:
SharePoint Services is touted as a document management system, and there’s a
built-in problem with that concept, because we all have a pretty fixed and
mundane idea of what a document management system is. SharePoint’s Web-centric
orientation, however, gives it some unexpected punch, and may change your thinking.
Here are some points to consider.
1. SharePoint extends Exchange Server
using Exchange Server to handle your email traffic, SharePoint
can greatly simplify distribution. You can create a SharePoint site as a
singular point for receiving Exchange traffic and, at a stroke, have de facto
distribution of that traffic to a particular group or groups, with all the
security and membership built-in. By setting up a public folder for SharePoint
in Exchange, Exchange’s work is done—SharePoint pulls from the folder and does
2. SharePoint collaboration solutions are scalable
well-publicized by Microsoft that SharePoint Services is essentially a
collaborative solution toolkit. Creating sites for team interaction, sharing
and management of project-specific documents and files, testing, and other
collaborative functions are a natural application of SharePoint.
hyped aspect of SharePoint is that this collaborative utility is highly
scalable. What begins as a resource library shared by a team can be readily
telescoped out to accommodate the entire organization or an even broader
customer community—SharePoint Services can be readily deployed across multiple servers
in a server farm, enabling the creation of massive data stores.
3. SharePoint sites are highly customizable
Services comes fully integrated with FrontPage
2003, so all of FrontPage’s WYSIWYG Web editing tools are available for use
in crafting SharePoint sites. (If your organization swims in the deep end,
development-wise, all of this comes with ASP.NET
FrontPage, you can leverage the utility of Web Parts, modular chunks of code
you can re-use in SharePoint sites, to grab live data from a broad range of
possible sources (Also see #8). You can allow users to control these modules of
code by inserting Web Part zones in your sites, enabling sophisticated
drag-and-drop controls. You have complete control over style through XSLT,
which you can manipulate either directly or through FrontPage—and you can
employ conditional formatting if it desired.
4. SharePoint extends InfoPath
2003 is Microsoft’s desktop application technology for integrated forms
management and data transport. InfoPath is a powerful and underrated technology
in itself, and both its XML backbone and forms-friendliness mesh well with
you’ll find it useful to publish InfoPath forms directly to a SharePoint
library. In such a library, forms can be stored and (more importantly) shared, and
accessible to working teams leveraging SharePoint as a collaborative tool. (The
base form is stored in the library header; populated XML result sets make up
the library itself.)
SharePoint Portal, you can leverage SharePoint Portal Web services to enhance
the utility of InfoPath forms for your desktop community, by accessing
information in other systems within your organization (or from outside, for
that matter) and populating forms with it as needed.
5. Metadata can be used to create dynamically parsed storage systems
critical to the SharePoint Server concept, and comes in several flavors. With
metadata you can effectively create customized search arguments that permit you
to organize information dynamically, and to use search criteria from one
document library to retrieve information from another.
way, you can forego the traditional hierarchical folders in organizing your
document libraries, if it’s appropriate. Instead, you can create metadata
lookups that can not only be used as organizational keys for documents in one
library, but can be used as search arguments to locate documents in other
libraries. In this way, you can create searchable document pools with
effectively dynamic organization, not only searchable but re-organizable
without any physical manipulation of the documents themselves.
6. SharePoint can be a data transport mechanism
primary features include the ability to set up shared distribution points for
data from a wide range of sources, moved by different modes of transport (see
#1, #4). But its data transport role doesn’t end there. Depending on what your
organization’s sites contain, content-wise, and the role(s) the sites are
playing in your system, you can actually distribute data from server to server
by means of SharePoint’s site-moving utilities (see #10).
instance, if you have SharePoint sites deployed internally to represent data in
different workflow stages, the SharePoint content databases of those sites can
be rotated in a de facto batch process using these utilities (which are Command
Line programs and therefore scriptable).
7. Use the Task Pane to turn Word libraries into collaborative systems with
Services is primarily about document management. Saving Word documents to
SharePoint, placing documents in libraries, and checking them in and out are
SharePoint’s most obvious functions.
extension of those functions into shared workspaces is where those features
become really empowering, rather than simply utilitarian. You have a Task Pane
that ties documents to libraries, and within it lie a
number of important features that take you from the simple management of
documents to real collaboration and administration. Through the Task Pane, you
- track status and versioning of
- define and track who has
- do task monitoring
- create alerts
You can, of
course, save from all Office applications—not just Word—to SharePoint.
8. SharePoint can pull data from external databases and other data sources
and Web Part architecture (available to your SharePoint development by way of
FrontPage 2003 or ASP.NET) can become a powerful component of your SharePoint
sites. In particular, Data View Web Parts allow you to add views to your sites
from a variety of data sources. You can create views specific to your
SharePoint sites and link views together. Data sources can be databases, Web
services, or any XML source (InfoPath documents, etc.).
9. Leverage Excel for data management
data to Excel is well-supported in SharePoint and makes graphing
and printing convenient (via the Print with Excel and Chart with Excel options).
But it’s also possible (and may often be desirable) to export data to Excel
just for the sake of manageability. The Excel Export function creates an Excel Web
query linking to the original data. In this way, you can create spreadsheets
that will accept data, and then push that data to SharePoint.
This can be
done by generating an Excel spreadsheet, then linking the spreadsheet to
SharePoint (by using Export and Link to Excel from a Datasheet Task Pane). Once
this is done, data can be entered into the spreadsheet and pushed from the
spreadsheet to Excel with the Synchronize List option.
10. Sites and entire site collections can be backed up in a single
to move a site, lock-stock-and-barrel (and even more so a site collection,
which includes primary site, sub-sites and all their contents), should not be
under-appreciated. Anyone who’s migrated sites the hard way knows it can be
maddeningly frustrating. SharePoint Services includes two utilities that will
greatly reduce the frustration: STSADM and SMIGRATE.
SMIGRATE began life as an upgrade utility,
shepherding data from old SharePoint to new. Now it’s for backup/restore and
for moving sites wholesale. It’s a command line utility, so it’s tailor-made
for scripting, and can simplify the process of moving a site and its contents
to the point that it can conceivably be a content distribution tool in some
weakness is that when a site is moved with the SMIGRATE utility, its security settings don’t all move with it.
Remember to check your settings after a move or restore.
And while SMIGRATE will not preserve your security
settings, STSADM will. This utility will move not
only a site but a site collection, and does far more: you can use it to create
sites, delete site collections, import templates, and move data (see #6).
Special thanks to my friend and
colleague, system administrator Andy Paul, for discussions of his own
innovative applications of SharePoint Services and suggestions for this