SolutionBase: Customize a default SharePoint Web site

Learn how to customize the default Windows SharePoint Services Web sites.

When you install Windows SharePoint Services onto a Windows server 2003, the SharePoint Services creates a default Web site for you to use. During the site creation process, the Setup Wizard asks you to select a template for your default Web site. The individual elements that appear on the site vary depending on the template you select. For example, some templates include a document library, while others do not. Other templates include a discussion board or a to-do list.

The problem is that Microsoft included only about half a dozen templates, so there's a good chance that none of the built-in templates will fit your company’s needs. Furthermore, even if one of the existing templates is perfect for your company, the resulting Web site will still have that generic look and feel. Here's how you can customize a default SharePoint Web site.

Before you begin
This article assumes that you've already created a default Web site. If you haven’t, check out my TechRepublic article "Implementing Windows SharePoint Services on Windows Server 2003." This article also assumes that you have administrative permission for both the server and the Web site you're creating. Setting appropriate permissions is a big part of the customization process. Don’t worry about the permissions for now, though. Just focus on building a site that really fits your company’s needs. I’ll show you how to secure the site in a separate article.

Customizing the default site
After the initial SharePoint installation and configuration is complete, SharePoint will create a default Web site at http://<servername>. When you attempt to access this Web site for the first time, SharePoint will prompt you to enter your logon credentials. Enter the appropriate credentials, and SharePoint will ask you to select the template you want to use for your Web site.

As you can see in Figure A, there really aren’t many templates to choose from, so you probably won’t find one that exactly fits your needs. Just pick one that comes closest and click OK. For the purpose of this article, I'll choose the Blank Site template because it gives you the most flexibility in creating a custom site.

Figure A
The blank template will give you the most flexibility.

After you select the template, SharePoint will build the site. As you can see in Figure B, the blank site isn’t really completely blank. There are elements on the site you can customize, and you're free to add more elements.

Figure B
A blank SharePoint site isn’t really blank.

I’m sure you'll agree that the default site is a little boring, to say the least. It also looks like something directly from the Microsoft corporate Web site. Therefore, let’s begin by changing the overall look and feel of the site. You'll notice in Figure B that the name of the Web site is simply Team Web Site. The first step in making the site your own is to get rid of the generic name and replace it with something more fitting.

To do so, click the Site Settings link to open the Site Settings page. On this page, click the Change Site Title and Description link. You'll see a page that allows you to enter a new title and description for the Web site. Enter the new text and click OK.

Now get rid of the default color scheme. You can modify the color scheme with an HTML editor, such as Microsoft's FrontPage. However, it's a lot quicker to apply a theme to the site. If you aren’t already there, go back to the Site Settings page and click the Apply Theme To Site link.

You'll now see a screen that gives you a choice of about 20 themes that you can use. Make your selection, click Apply, and your theme will be applied to the site, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C
You can apply a theme to the site to give it that custom look.

Now that we've changed the name and the color scheme, let’s begin designing the home page. Click the Customize Home Page link on the Site Settings page to open the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D
This screen allows you to modify the home page.

On this screen, you'll probably first notice the big Windows SharePoint Services logo. Since the logo doesn’t do anything except take up space, I'll begin by replacing it with my corporate logo. To delete the Windows SharePoint Services logo, click the X (Close) button.

After removing the image, take a look at the options in the column to the right. There are several Web part galleries. Web parts are the building blocks of SharePoint Web sites. You'll create your custom site by adding, removing, and customizing Web parts. By default, the only Web part galleries that contain any Web parts are your personal gallery and an online gallery.

To place your corporate logo on the site, select your personal gallery (in this case, it’s the gallery named Intranet in Figure D). Now take a look at the main portion of the screen. You'll notice that there are two zones; Left and Right. You can place Web parts into these two zones only. All other areas of the page are protected. Therefore, you can forget about being able to place your corporate logo in the page header unless you do some HTML editing.

To add an image to the home page, select the Image Web Part and drag it to the Left zone. Click the Open The Tool Pane link. You'll now be able to enter the URL for the image, along with information regarding the image size and placement.

Now that we’ve taken care of the cosmetic portion of the site, it’s time to make the site functional. The actual Web parts that you place within your site depend greatly on the site’s purpose. In a normal corporation, you might have a document library, a calendar of events, and a list of announcements. My personal needs are a bit different, though. My site will contain a calendar, a list of contacts, a task list, a document library, and a graphics library.

The first Web part that I want to add is the calendar of events. You've probably noticed that there is no calendar listed in the available Web parts. The truth is that there are many more elements available to you than just what appears in the Web Part List. To build a calendar, click the Create link at the top of the page to open the Create page, shown in Figure E.

Figure E
The Create page allows you to create many types of objects on your Web page.

Locate the Events link within the Create Page and click it. You'll see a screen that asks for a name and description for the calendar. There's also a link at the bottom of the screen that asks if you’d like to place a link to the events in the Quick Launch bar. This bar is the blank area to the far left of the screen. When you've determined what options you want to use, click the Create button.

When you click Create, you're not actually adding the calendar to the home page. Instead, you're creating a Web part. You're then free to add the new Web part to the home page. Go back to the Site Settings page, click the Customize Home Page link, and drag the calendar Web part that you've created to the appropriate zone. The home page now looks something like the one in Figure F. If you click the Calendar Of Events header, you'll be taken to a new page that offers a fully interactive calendar.

Figure F
The calendar of events has been added to the home page.

The next element we'll add to the home page is the list of contacts. Again, there's no preexisting contacts Web part, so we'll have to create one. Click the Create link followed by the Contacts link. Again, you'll be asked to enter a name and description for the new Web part; you'll also be asked whether you want the Web part to be able to use the Quick Launch bar. Enter this information and click Create. You'll then see the Contacts page, shown in Figure G.

Figure G
Contacts page

Now go back through the Site Settings link to the Customize Home Page link, and drag the newly created Contacts Web part to the appropriate zone. After creating the Contacts Web part, I created the task list using the same procedure I used when creating the calendar and the contacts list.

After the task list was in place, I wanted to create a document library. Creating a document library Web part is just like creating any of the other Web parts that I've already discussed, with one big exception. If you look at Figure H, you’ll see that the New Document Library page asks if a new version should be created whenever a file in the document library is edited.

Figure H
The New Document Library page asks if you’d like to create new versions of modified documents.

A SharePoint Document library is more than just a repository of documents. If users want to read or modify a document, they must check the document out of the library. While the document is checked out, it's unavailable to other users. When the user checks the document back in, it becomes available again. If you choose to create new versions of the document each time it's edited, then whenever a user checks in a document after making modifications, SharePoint will place that version, along with all previous versions, in the library. This feature is great if you need to be able to track changes to documents or want to be able to backtrack after an undesired modification. However, versioning eats up hard disk space fast.

Earlier, I mentioned that I was going to add a graphics library to my site. The graphics library also offers the versioning feature. Again, enabling versioning offers a way of backtracking through unwanted changes, but it consumes a lot of disk space.

Sprucing things up
So far, I've created Web parts for my company logo, a calendar of events, a contacts list, a task list, a document library, and a graphics library, and I've added all of these Web parts to my home page. I deleted the corporate logo because it seemed out of place, and I moved a few other Web parts around. You can see the results in Figure I.

Figure I
This is the home page containing all of my Web parts.

This home page contains a variety of custom Web parts that would help to facilitate the smooth running of my business. However, I’m not quite done. Earlier, when I first discussed the Web parts, I mentioned that the only galleries containing Web parts were your personal gallery and the online Web parts gallery. I want to take a moment and demonstrate the online gallery.

If you go back to the Customize Home Page screen and click the Online Gallery link, you'll see several additional Web parts appear in the Web Part List. As you can see in Figure J, these Web parts allow you to include things such as news, stocks, entertainment, sports, and weather in your Web site.

Figure J
There are a variety of online Web parts that you can add to the home page.

If you're creating a corporate intranet, you probably don’t want to include news, entertainment, or sports. However, you could include a ticker that shows your company’s current stock price. Likewise, many businesses are weather-dependent, so it might be appropriate to include a weather forecast.

To add an online Web part, simply drag it to a zone, just as you would any other Web part. You'll probably experience a delay of a couple of minutes. Eventually, though, you should see a message asking you to accept Microsoft’s end-user license agreement. After you accept the license agreement, there will be a long delay as the new Web part is installed. Then, it's only a matter of clicking a link to select a location.

One final Web part that I want to mention is Page Viewer. Although I'm not using this particular Web part on my site, it's very handy to have. You can use this Web part to display a file, folder, or Web page within the page you're creating.

Originally, I thought I'd be able to use Page Viewer on the site I was creating. I own an online store that sells software and has a back-end interface that displays sales figures. I wanted to set up the Page Viewer Web part to display these sales figures. The idea was that, in the morning when I turn on my computer and open Internet Explorer, I would see my calendar, tasks, contacts, the weather, and some figures on how much software I had sold overnight. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use this Web part to display my sales reports because those reports are protected by a login prompt. Every time I entered the login credentials, the window just returned to the login screen.

Although this Web part didn’t work for me, there are still lots of uses for it, including displaying Web content, Excel spreadsheets, or just about anything else you can imagine.

Customized and ready to go
If you look at Figures B and I, you’d never know that they were taken from the same Web site. As you can see, Windows SharePoint Services can offer a high degree of flexibility in creating a site that fits your needs. Best of all, you can create something within a matter of minutes.