Monthly Archives: March 2011

SharePoint 2010 Top 10 Features

    • Access Services & Visio Services

Building on the successful Excel Services pattern, SPS 2010 allows users to publish Access and Visio applications to SharePoint which other users can access through their browsers. As can be expected, Access and Visio Services will be somewhat limited in functionality(when compared to their respective desktop versions), but on the flip side, the customers would benefit from the server-side capabilities such as scalability, one centralized version of the document (rendered in a browser friendly format), access to multiple users and security control.   

Access Services will allow customers to publish their Access 2010 applications to SharePoint. For example, consider a departmental application such as a travel planner built using Access. Using Access Services it will be possible to bring such an application to Sharepoint, thereby reducing the total cost of ownership through one common user experience, development and deployment strategy.

Similarly, Visio Services will allow customers to render Visio diagrams within the browser. An application of Visio Services would be a visualization of a SharePoint workflow that is rendered inside a browser as a Visio flowchart. Note that no client-side Visio software would be needed in this scenario.


    • Business Connectivity Services (BCS)

In MOSS 2007, Business Data Connector (BDC) was the tool of choice for integrating external data sources  into Sharepoint. BDC was available only to customers who purchased the enterprise version of MOSS 2007. Furthermore, BDC was limited to only reading data from the external data sources. Busincess Connectivity Services (BCS), which replaces the BDC functionality in SPS 2010, goes much further. Not only is BCS going to be available with the free, base version of SPS 2010 (renamed to Windows SharePoint Foundation from Windows SharePoint Services), it now supports updating, deletion and insertion of data into an external data source.  Another key advantage of BCS is that it will enable SharePoint Lists to be created directly based on a database table.


    • Developer Productivity Enhancements

First and foremost and unlike previous versions, it will now be possible to conduct SharePoint development on a client OS such as Windows 7. In earlier versions SharePoint development had to be undertaken on a server OS. This inevitably created overhead as the development had to be undertaken in a virtualized environment. Secondly, developer enhancements go beyond the support for client operating systems. Developers can now utilize familiar .NET patterns and practices such as LINQ (Language Integrated Query) to query data from a SharePoint List, XSLT for customizing a SharePoint list and Silverlight for creating richer visualizations. There are also a number of enhancements to the SharePoint programming model that offer greater flexibility in extending the out-of-the-box SharePoint behavior.  For example, SharePoint developers commonly extend the SharePoint behavior using small segments of code commonly referred to as event handlers. A common issue with event handlers in MOSS 2007 is that the event handler is not finished executing before the control is returned back to the user. This can lead to a confusing behavior for the users. SPS 2010 seeks to alleviate this by introducing “After-Synchronous” events which are guaranteed to complete execution before the control is returned to the user.

Finally, Visual Studio 2010 contains extended capabilities for developers to create rich applications on the SPS 2010 platform. Many improvements have also been made in Visual Studio 2010 to increase developer productivity as well as take advantage of SPS 2010 functionality. These improvements help make it easier for .NET developers to create and deploy SharePoint solutions.


    • SharePoint Designer Enhancements

SharePoint Designer is a tool targeted towards business users and designers who have used it to quickly and easily perform actions such as customizing lists, changing layouts and creating simple workflows. The one area of improvement often requested is the ability to package and reuse the changes made using SharePoint Designer.  Fortunately, SharePoint Designer 2010 not only addresses this request, it also comes with major improvements with regard to designing workflows, editing SharePoint pages and setting up BCS ( discussed above). SharePoint administrators also have greater control over how SharePoint Designer 2010 is used within their environment. For instance, administrators can block the ability to perform certain actions such as modifying certain SharePoint pages and restricting access to certain areas with the Sharepoint setup.

One other key feature provided by SharePoint Designer 2010 is the improved interaction between the business users and the IT department. Since SharePoint Designer 2010 uses the same packing and deployment format (commonly referred to as WSP solution package) as the rest of the SharePoint platform, it is now possible to take the work done by a business user within the SharePoint Designer 2010 and import it within Visual Studio 2010. This will allow the IT department to build upon and extend the work done by the business users. 


    • Business Intelligence Enhancements

Business Intelligence is another area with significant improvements. To begin, there are a number of scalability improvements to the desktop version of Excel 2010, including the support for the numbers of rows within a workbook that goes far beyond the 64K limit in the current version. The new version of Excel effectively utilizes enhancements in the OS such as the 64-bit support for access to large memory pools and enhancement in hardware such as the multi-core computers.

Microsoft has made a strategic decision to leverage Excel as the primary BI analyst tool. As part of the self-service BI initiative, Excel users can import large amounts of data from various data sources and quickly generate pivot tables. Once the data is imported into Excel 2010, using a feature called “Slicers”, users will be able to easily filter the data. In other words, Excel users can extract, transform and load (ETL) data from multiple sources directly into Excel without requiring IT to build a formal data import setup. The pivot table generated from imported data can later be shared with other users by publishing it to SharePoint 2010. Under the covers, the publishing process creates an SQL Server Analysis Services instance that can be monitored by IT, using tools such as usage dashboard and resource quota.

Excel Services, the server-side Excel functionality provided by SharePoint Server, has seen a number of improvements as well. First off, it directly benefits from the scalability improvements to the underlying calculation engine mentioned earlier. Secondly, it enables additional programmability enhancements. For example it, using a JavScript based program, it will be possible


    • In-Place Records Management

Records management relates to the process of marking a document as a record or “laminating” them for legal and compliance reasons. A records repository is a library of such records. SPS 2010 dramatically improves upon the capabilities for managing records by extending where and how the records are managed. Unlike MOSS 2007, SPS 2010 will support multiple records repositories within a single SharePoint installation.. This means that users can route records to multiple record repositories. Records managers can also define routing rules to aid in the classification of records. Records repositories now also support the use of hierarchical structures (commonly referred to as File Plan) for storing records in a manner that matches the customer’s organizational hierarchy.

SharePoint 2010 also provides the flexibility for defining and applying retention rules. For instance, it is now possible to apply a recurring retention rule that specifies several stages of  record retention. This will be very helpful when a records manager wants to specify a retention rule such as “Maintain this document for three years after project completion then transfer it to the archive for the next five years”.

In addition to using a records repository, SPS 2010 has the ability to declare records in-place, i.e., allow any document inside a document library to be marked as a record without the need to explicitly move it to a records repository. The new in-place record management capability exemplifies Microsoft’s mantra of “compliance everywhere”


    • Enhancements related to Large List Handling

Microsoft has placed a lot of emphasis on performance of lists with large numbers of items in them. This has resulted in the addition of the new SPS 2010 features known as : Query Throttling, Batch Query Support, Remote Blob Storage, and External Lists.

Query Throttling allows IT administrators to limit -or “throttle” – queries that are executed against large lists from consuming too many resources. For example, SharePoint will now block queries that will return more than 5000 rows by default – and this is of course, a configurable setting.  Rather than iterating over each item, SharePoint also includes the capability to process multiple items in a list simultaneously, as a single batch operation.  If there is content that is more suitable for storage outside SharePoint (for instance large media files), the Remote Blob Storage feature will provide a mechanism to store it on file shares (SANS, NAS, RAID arrays, File Servers).

Finally, External Lists is another mechanism by which large lists can be incorporated in SharePoint. As stated earlier, database-backed lists that are a part of BCS allow content to be stored in separate data stores – such as SQL Server – outside of the Content Database. The benefit of course is that this feature allows for providing supporting large lists without burdening the SharePoint 2010 content database.


    • Workflow Improvements

Workflow is a very useful feature of SharePoint 2007. In addition to the out-of-the box workflows that were included with SharePoint 2007, it is possible to use the SharePoint designer to build declarative (no-code) workflows. For more advanced scenarios, developers created custom workflows in Visual Studio. Two of the main challenges in building workflows with SharePoint 2007 relate to the limitations in SharePoint Designer 2007 and the workflow host that is part of SharePoint 2007. While SharePoint Designer allows business users to develop simple workflows, it requires a direct connection to the site for which the workflow is being developed, thus limiting the ability to reuse the workflow in different locations. Furthermore, there is no easy way to leverage code components developed by IT. The workflow host within SharePoint 2007 comes pre-configured with a set of services such as persistence, eventing and tracing. There is no way to add custom services to the runtime host. For instance, there is no direct way to allow SharePoint-based workflows to interact with events other than the list item events.

SharePoint 2010 alleviates these challenges by allowing the workflows created using SharePoint Designer to be saved as templates for reuse. SharePoint Designer 2010 has also been enhanced significantly to allow business users to leverage tools such as Visio for workflow modeling and visualization. Another major improvement is the ability to modify out-of-the-box SharePoint workflows (e.g. approval workflow, three-state workflow).

The workflow host within SharePoint 2010 now provides the extensibility option to inject custom services. It is also now possible to kickoff workflows without explicitly associating it to a list item.

Finally, and from an overall scalability perspective, it is also going to be possible to designate application server nodes as workflow participants. In other words, unlike SharePoint 2007 where each application server node participated in executing the workflows, there will be a way to throttle the workflow execution to a limited set of machines. This allows isolation of services within the farm so system administrators can better manage resources and troubleshoot issues.


    • Social Networking Capabilities

One can debate the impact and applicability of social networking tools such as Facebook in the workplace, but there is no doubt that information workers today are demanding similar capabilities from the tools they use inside the workplace. This is why the SPS 2010 enhancements in this arena are so noteworthy. In SPS 2010, just about every element such as sites, documents, videos, blog posts are taggable. There is out-of-the-box support for navigating the tag clouds and lists. Users will be able to rate artifacts and recommend it to others. Co-workers can keep up with the latest by tracking the activity data available as a new feed. Individual users will be able to setup profiles, write to a common or personal board, indicate their presence/location and be able to take advantage of micro-blogging capabilities.


    • Deployment Advancements

Unlike the previous versions, SPS 2010 uses a solution package-based single, consistent scheme for packaging and deploying any customizations. The solution package is a compressed file containing all of the necessary components such as features, web parts, list definitions, assemblies, customized ASPX pages and workflows. Additionally, the previous versions required an extensive amount of manual modification of XML files. In SharePoint 2010, these modifications can be done through point and click configuration with SharePoint Designer 2010.

SharePoint 2010 also introduces a notion of sandbox solution packages that are designed to improve security and manageability. Sandbox solution packages restrict the scope to which a customization can be applied (For example, restricting the scope for a list customization to site collection). Sandbox solutions are also restricted to a subset of SharePoint programmability options. Finally, administrators can enforce quote limits on resources consumed by sandbox solutions to prevent abuse.