Wednesday, September 23, 2009

SharePoint Sprouting More Roots

Thursday this week, the attendees of the Project Conference in Phoenix, AZ, repeatedly broke out into applause at certain points through the Project 2010 demo. Announcing Project 2010, Chris Capossela pointed out that the upcoming release probably qualifies as the biggest one in a whole decade. By the looks of it, it might as well be plausible since certain parts of Projects have been reported to be craving for facelifts for years. A declaration of change by itself does not have to equate to dramatic improvement, and not all decisions are bulletproof, but their being taken means that we are going to have to adjust to an overhauled environment. Applause? Probably later.
Following the Microsoft tradition, the focus areas and key enhancements in Project have been visualized in a pie chart featuring four segments. The overall impression one gets following the apparent logic of the alterations is first of all a clearly traceable business orientation and, which is an equally important consideration, a marked emphasis on developing the SharePoint ecosystem. The above has so far resulted in a rethink in terms of UI and design, as well as a number of mergers with previously acquired wildcards (think Groove or FAST Search or PerformancePoint, and feel free to continue).
First off, the headlines for the look-and-feel part of the pre-announcement reveal nothing ground-breaking in the way that Microsoft is still sticking to the stated commitment of ensuring consistent user experience across devices and products. This certainly includes the Ribbon (which in Project is “more like Excel with scheduling”), new views (timeline view, long since overdue) and web-based project editing. Also, an interesting feature in this regard is user controlled scheduling.
The centripetal arrangement patterns are quite fascinating to observe, the center being enterprise users and enterprise content. Fundamentally important in the Project talk is the SharePoint reference. Project 2010 sits on top of SharePoint 2010, which by default implies SharePoint deployment in enterprise settings. Naturally, the 64-bit-only requirement holds as true as ever.
In understanding changes applicable to Project 2010 the key is deeper integration – remember the seamless user experience stipulation. This entails, on the one hand, integration with Office, Exchange and things like Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. On the other hand, there is the “strategic acquisitions coming into play” factor. This time it’s the emergence of unified Project and Portfolio unified management, which again aims at both simplicity and consistency.
Project 2010 will ship in three editions: Standard, Professional and Project Server.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Search in SharePoint

As hungry for any bit of additional info concerning the upcoming SharePoint 2010 as the community is, in a pre-SharePoint-conference world, we have to make do with the scarce bits and pieces we have been offered by Microsoft. The Sneak Peek is what it is – just a peek, but there are some things an informed visitor can project to form a rough silhouette of the future make of the leading ECM system. My guesstimation is that search is one of the more important parts of that silhouette.

It has been a while since Microsoft announced their intention to enhance search in SharePoint 2010 by leveraging FAST ESP (which is quite promising, if not surprising – the FAST Search & Transfer team went on to form a considerable part of Microsoft’s Enterprise Search Group right after the 2008 takeover). Hopefully, the improvements via the FAST technologies will run deep enough for the user to actually tell, in areas ranging from taxonomy management to consistent Boolean search.

In fact, early opportunities to get the feel of these search technologies have been around for quite a while already, namely the FAST ESP web parts for SharePoint 2007 at Codeplex. This does indicate that effort on making the two work together has been going on from the very outset, but apart from this, it is difficult to make assumptions of any kind at the moment – not before the community is handed the actual solution, with bells and whistles on it.

Speculations aside, there’s some more to efficient SharePoint search. The last day of summer saw Surfray announce Ontolica 4.0, a search solution which now includes a Search Intelligence module, thus making Ontolica a two-in-one search offering featuring both a different approach to search as such and what I would call search metadata, i.e. search effectiveness analytics and reporting. The module can track search patterns throughout a given SharePoint deployment and generate both out-of-the-box and customized reports. Additionally, there is Ontolica 4.0 Express available for Microsoft Search Server Express.

With all the search customization options, all this is a fairly satisfactory start. Even for now, while 2010 is not here yet, as well as all the goodies it may bring.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Welcome to the HTML 5 Bandwagon

Early in August, Microsoft officially set fire to the web by finally manifesting the company’s clear interest in developing the standard that would revamp the face of the web. The move is hardly surprising, though somewhat belated.

The web is no longer the way it used to be back in late nineties – that is, it is no longer static. The term “RIA” seems to have already lost its novelty glitter. The majority of users know better than to be satisfied with the more ascetic, video-less offerings and increasingly turn towards web apps. Naturally, that requires a new web, standardized from a different standpoint.

The effort on HTML 5 has been vigorously implemented in all the major browsers, but the notable (someone would even say expected) thing was that IE by and large remained out of the business for a while. HTML 5 heavily depends on its consistent feedback from throughout the software world, so support from the Microsoft camp is critical to whether we are seeing offline web experience, client-side storage and a host of other features that would upgrade the flavor of the web. On the flip side, Microsoft is a real-world company that cannot afford falling behind. Gradually, yet evenly, the software giant delivers its response to change, be it offering a free lightweight version of Office, giving more weight to social media aspects and introducing cross-browser support in the upcoming SharePoint or, just as importantly, turning to tackle HTML 5.

At last, the next-generation web standard and the maker of one of the leading browsers, which by the way has started to lose ground, have arrived at a negotiation spot. In the now ubiquitously known HTML 5 mailing list posting, Adrian Bateman of the IE team said the team are in the middle of gathering their thoughts. A number of concerns have been voiced, including labeling the partially adopted

It seems, however, that the real big yes/no question that will define pretty much of both the standard itself and its backing is audio and video playback out of the browser, which could potentially phase out respective plug-ins and is bound to trigger further debate.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CMIS Support in SharePoint 2010

A certain share of the additional attention that CMIS has recently managed to pull probably originates out of the issue of the future standard’s support in SharePoint 2010. At the moment, I am not sure I know the definitive answer – accounts of the pre-announced features in SharePoint 2010 do in fact include CMIS support, but in a pretty educational post on, to my surprise, I read the following: “There is currently no news of support of CMIS in next version of SharePoint.” Interesting, but a little confusing. With the tiny and rather generic bits of information on what will form the face of the upcoming version of SharePoint, some of which are spun around to the point of blurring factual with anecdotal, it is really difficult to tell.

CMIS (the four letters stand for “Content Management Interoperability Services”, although the S is alternatively deciphered as “Specification” or “Standards”, all of which makes sense, so let there be some room for variation, although the correct one is still “Services”) is an Enterprise Content Management standard currently being developed (the latest version is 0.6-something, if memory serves me) by an OASIS technical committee with representatives from Microsoft, IBM, and EMC. The aim of the project is standardizing the existing ECM systems and thus allowing seamless data exchange within or across different content management systems, making use of SOAP REST and AtomPub.

CMIS was announced in September 2008, and although those developing the specification seem to be doing some advances towards the holy grail of 1.0, with examples of integrating the current working version of the specification emerging here and there, it is not widely covered on the web. For instance, a clipped idea of how CMIS could work with SharePoint was made available by a sample featuring the inclusion of an external repository into MOSS 2007.

Whether CMIS will be leveraged in SharePoint 2010 still remains an open issue since the standard’s 1.0 release time is still obscure – it is expected late this year. What the interested ones can do is try to grasp how CMIS works (this would probably help and wait until Microsoft finally unveils SharePoint 2010, i.e. up to the SharePoint conference in late October. It is neatly possible that the big announcements will arrive hand in hand.

SharePoint Wiki and Blogs Web Parts

Say “collaboration” and people will hear “wiki”. Similarly, in the minds of web 2.0 users, “information sharing” in many cases merges with “blogs”. Creating blogs and wikis is a useful practice for sharing facts and data and discussing the current project activities. Both the options allow accumulating information in an accessible and manageable way, either systematized (blogs) or unstructured (wikis). Both lie at the heart of the SharePoint platform and are available out of the box as site templates.

However, having to handle multiple sites in the framework of a pressed workflow pattern can face SharePoint users with additional challenges. This is where web parts come into play: by easily setting the look and feel of SharePoint pages, an average user can thus leverage powerful combinations aimed at getting the scheduled tasks done. If this is part of your approach as well, have a look at SharePoint Wiki and Blogs Web Parts.