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A First Look at SharePoint 2010

I am very excited about the upcoming 2010 version of Office and SharePoint. Then again, I am a techie and love to play with new toys. So I have been looking through the SharePoint 2010 Sneak Peek videos recently posted by Microsoft, and thought I would post some first impressions regarding the upcoming release. Keep in mind that this is all very preliminary, and that I have not seen any of the software running, or seen anything beyond the videos. This is just the stuff I liked – I would strongly recommend looking at the videos yourself to see what strikes your fancy. Plus, I can’t show demos or screen shots, so the videos will let you actually see some of this stuff in action. 

Microsoft is changing the positioning around SharePoint a little bit, but it is still all about sharing and finding information, and improving the way people collaborate. There are hints of new features related to enterprise social networking as well.

User Interface Enhancements

Microsoft seems to have done a lot of work on the UI for SharePoint 2010. One of the major changes is the introduction of the ribbon UI (introduced in the MS Office 2007 desktop applications). When I first heard this, I wasn’t too sure I would like it. I am a big fan of the ribbon UI in the desktop applications, but I could not visualize how it would fit in with a portal UI. After watching the demos in the videos, however, I must say I like it. It seems to make the interactions with SharePoint much smoother and less “clunky” than before – for everything from editing a page, to uploading content, to working with document libraries and lists. As with the desktop applications, the ribbon is both customizable and contextual, adapting quite nicely to the tasks at hand. It is also removable – if you have a portal developed in MOSS 2007 with a significant investment in the look, you can upgrade to SharePoint 2010, and leave the UI unchanged. You can then toggle back and forth between the MOSS 2007 look, and the 2010 look. One big question I have about the ribbon, however, is how it will fit in with all those SharePoint implementations that have been so completely customized that they do not look at all like SharePoint (I know lots of people who believe that the only way to successfully implement SharePoint is to have it not look like SharePoint).

Another big improvement in the UI is the introduction of asynchronous updates. As much as I like SharePoint, the 2007 (and earlier) versions had a lot of postbacks and page refreshes. It seems like everything you do requires a page refresh (or more than one). I have always found that this disrupts the flow of work, and greatly reduces the usability of SharePoint. In SharePoint 2010, a lot of the refreshes happen asynchronously (I say “a lot” because I have not actually played with it yet, and do not know how deep this goes). For example, in a document library, you can select a document (or more than one since it now supports multiple selections), and the ribbon updates asynchronously with the actions you can perform. Click checkout, and the list updates to reflect the checkout status without a page refresh. Check something back in, and instead of being taken to a separate page to add checkin comments, etc., the UI is popped up within the context of the list page. Again, no page refreshes, no bouncing around from page to page. This change in how “dialogs” work within SharePoint 2010 seems to be fairly pervasive, and improves the user interaction. Big improvement!

SharePoint 2010 also introduces Web Edit functionality. Say you are on the home page of your newly created team site. Normally, the first thing you will do is change the titles, pictures, and other stock content. In SharePoint 2010, you can put the page in edit mode, click the appropriate content areas, and modify it in place – type directly on the page, change the formatting, add graphics from your local machine or other location, all directly on the page.

A few other interesting things from in the UI:

  • The UI for adding web parts to a page and modifying a web part’s properties has been cleaned up. Again, it appears to be doing a lot asynchronously, with fewer page refreshes than in previous versions;
  • There is now a built in web part for hosting Silverlight-based content. This is a good thing, if it has the features we need;
  • Visio Services. Visio diagrams can now be displayed within SharePoint 2010, with no need for visitors to the site to have the Visio application. Using features of Visio to surface information from backend systems (process/workflow information, for example) is reflected and updated in the SharePoint view (i.e. it is not just a static picture).

Business Connectivity Services

The next thing that caught my attention is the new Business Connectivity Services (BCS). This is essentially the next generation of the Business Data Catalog (BDC). BDC was a great idea in principle. The big issues with it from my perspective were the lack of good tools “out of the box” for implementing BDC applications (yes, there are some pretty good third-party tools), and the fact that the BDC data is read-only. There are also issues regarding performance, and authentication. Good applications can and have been written using BDC, but it can be challenging.

BCS attempts to address these issues. The tools issue is dealt with in SharePoint Designer 2010. SharePoint Designer has been significantly changed in many respects for this release, but the key point here is the introduction of tools for creating and configuring BCS entities. It also introduces full CRUD (create/read/update/delete) support to the definition of these entities. There are also tools for doing more sophisticated things with BCS in Visual Studio 2010.

Once defined on a site, the data from a backend source appears similarly to any other lists in SharePoint.  You can use it the same way, sort it, filter it, etc. If you have defined create, update and delete methods, you can also perform these actions from within the list. Once you have defined the BCS entities, it becomes relatively transparent to the user where the data comes from. They just work with it.

The data brought in to SharePoint 2010 can also be exposed to other Office 2010 applications for a more complete end-to-end user experience.

SharePoint WorkSpace

The last piece I would like to talk about is SharePoint Workspace. This is the evolution of the Groove application from Office 2007 and before. This functionality allows you to synchronize a SharePoint 2010 site to your computer, creating a local copy of the site content on your computer. This allows you to take all of this content, including data surfaced via BCS, offline and take it with you. There is a desktop client that allows you to navigate the content, view it, and work with it. You can see what documents you had checked out, you can view and update data in lists (including BCS-based lists). Then, when you are connected again, you can synchronize your changes with the SharePoint 2010 site. If it works well, including such things as resolving conflicting changes by different user, this should be very helpful in extending the reach of SharePoint applications.

Looking Forward

That is a brief rundown of what I have seen so far. What I have not gotten into here are the IT related improvements, such as streamlining the central administration tools, and better usage statistics. There are also significant improvements for developers; I will be posting on my blog regarding these features.
I am very much looking forward to seeing more, and seeing what is real and what is not quite there yet (hopefully I get into the technical preview/beta). Overall, it is looking like an exciting release is coming our way.

 

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