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Microsoft SharePoint & Developers Conferences Wrap-Up - Part 1

Well, it has been an extremely busy autumn, between attending a couple of major Microsoft conferences, an adventure in "out of country health care", and trying to actually do some billable work along the way, there has not been much time to think.

What I would like to do in this column is summarize the highlights of the Microsoft SharePoint 2009 conference in Las Vegas in October, and the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in November.  Because there was a lot of content at these two conferences, this column is split in three parts. You are now reading part one, part two will be published on Wednesday and the last part will follow on Friday. There is also some techie stuff in here – more than usual. I encourage you to read on and skim over what is too detailed for you, there is a lot of interesting stuff coming.
 
I plan to follow this up in January with some thoughts on "what does all this mean for a law firm?"

SHAREPOINT CONFERENCE 2009

The Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2009 (SPC09) was by far the largest SharePoint/Office event I have ever attended. The first Office Developer Conference (which at that time included SharePoint development) was a relatively small (800 people), invitation-only event held on the Microsoft Campus in Redmond. Only a few years later SPC09 was the main event, with Office development included as a subset, and with around 7500 attendees. Quite a testament to the growth of SharePoint.

General Observations

Obviously, SPC09 was all about SharePoint 2010 (with a bit of Office 2010). The beta was announced as coming in November (which it did – it is publicly available now).

There has been another round of renaming in SharePoint. The “free” piece of SharePoint, currently known as Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) will be known as Microsoft SharePoint Foundation in 2010. I guess this is to be consistent with other technologies like Workflow Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation, and Window Presentation Foundation. There are some other changes – for example some functionality (such as Business Connectivity Services) which previously required a MOSS 2007  Enterprise license, are now part of Microsoft SharePoint Foundation. MOSS 2007 now becomes Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 – they have removed “Office” from the name. There are still Standard and Enterprise CALS. 

It is also important to note that SharePoint is now a 64-bit only server. There is no 32-bit version.

User Interface

There are some great improvements in SharePoint’s user interface. SharePoint’s UI now incorporates a context-aware ribbon similar to that seen in Office desktop applications. This really makes work with lists, document libraries, workflows, etc. much more intuitive, and is very responsive. Like the Office Ribbon, there is a learning curve to get used to it, however.

The UI is now much more AJAX-like. Many things which previously caused post-backs and with corresponding page refreshes now happen client-side with no page refresh. This makes many tasks feel much smoother, and quicker.

Editing of pages, wikis, etc. is also more fluid. Rather than content web parts where you had to open the web part pain and then launch an editor from there, now content regions are “in-place” editable, with an editing experience much more similar to editing a document in Word.

There is also now a built in Silverlight web part, enabling simple integration of Silverlight UI into your SharePoint site. It should be noted, however, that it is not necessarily that easy. There complexities around what happens to your Silverlight content when the page refreshes, and what happens when you want to use multiple Silverlight web parts and have connections between them.

Finally, Microsoft has added web-based versions of its main Office applications (Word, Excel, etc.), allowing documents to opened, viewed and edited in the browser. While the functionality of the Office Web Apps does not include all features of the desktop applications, the document rendering fidelity appears to be extremely high. The “best practice” described by MS is to have the Office Web Apps for viewing or quick edits of documents, while still having the desktop Office clients deploy for full document creation and editing. Of course, MS may not be completely unbiased in this opinion :-).

Another major enhancement on the user interface side is the ability to customize the edit and display forms for a list directly in InfoPath. This allows a significant improvement look and feel of the forms uses use to interact with the list.

Finally, there is a dialog framework defined within SharePoint 2010, allowing customization of many of the dialogs used throughout the SharePoint UI.

ECM and RM

Microsoft has added some key ECM and Records Management functionality to SharePoint 2010.

One key feature is the introduction of a persistent, unique document identifier to all documents. This document ID format is customizable, and stays with a document if it is moved around. This also creates a permanent URL for the document based on this ID, thus avoiding broken links when a document is moved.

Another interesting feature is Document Sets. You can now link a set of documents as a document set, and perform actions (check out, check in, run workflows, etc.) on the document set as a unit.

There have been even greater changes on the Records Management side.
 
Microsoft has added functionality to SharePoint 2010 to meet eDiscovery guidelines. For example, you can perform a search which returns all discovery hits for a set of terms. From this result set, you can then add holds to the corresponding content. There is also built in reporting to allow you to see what holds are currently in place. This functionality looks interesting, but I will have to play with it some more to see how it handles holds, policies, etc.

The “mechanics” of working with RM has been improved somewhat. The Ribbon UI includes the capability to declare an item as a record “in place”, so there is no longer a need to use a record centre. There is also a great deal of flexibility around the definition of management and retention policies. These policies can be based around document libraries and content location, as well as based upon metadata and content types. 

Continued  – Business Intelligence, Business Data Connectivity, Workflow, and more.

 

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