Wednesday, September 24, 2008

10 things you should know of Microsoft's SharePoint Services

SharePoint Services is touted as a document management system, and there's a built-in problem with that concept, because we all have a pretty fixed and mundane idea of what a document management system is. SharePoint's Web-centric orientation, however, gives it some unexpected punch, and may change your thinking. Here are some points to consider.

1. SharePoint extends Exchange Server
If you're using Exchange Server to handle your email traffic, SharePoint can greatly simplify distribution.

2. SharePoint collaboration solutions are scalable
Creating sites for team interaction, sharing and management of project-specific documents and files, testing, and other collaborative functions are a natural application of SharePoint. A less hyped aspect of SharePoint is that this collaborative utility is highly scalable.

3. SharePoint sites are highly customizable
SharePoint Services comes fully integrated with FrontPage 2003, so all of FrontPage's WYSIWYG Web editing tools are available for use in crafting SharePoint sites.

4. SharePoint extends InfoPath
InfoPath 2003 is Microsoft's desktop application technology for integrated forms management and data transport. Specifically, you’ll find it useful to publish InfoPath forms directly to a SharePoint library.

5. Metadata can be used to create dynamically parsed storage systems

Metadata is critical to the SharePoint Server concept, and comes in several flavors. With metadata you can effectively create customized search arguments that permit you to organize information dynamically, and to use search criteria from one document library to retrieve information from another.

6. SharePoint can be a data transport mechanism
Depending on what your organization's sites contain, content-wise, and the role(s) the sites are playing in your system, you can actually distribute data from server to server by means of SharePoint's site-moving utilities (see #10).
For instance, if you have SharePoint sites deployed internally to represent data in different workflow stages, the SharePoint content databases of those sites can be rotated in a de facto batch process using these utilities (which are Command Line programs and therefore scriptable).

7. Use the Task Pane to turn Word libraries into collaborative systems with built-in administration
You have a Task Pane that ties documents to libraries, and within it lie a number of important features that take you from the simple management of documents to real collaboration and administration. Through the Task Pane, you can:
track status and versioning of documents
define and track who has site/document access
do task monitoring
create alerts
You can, of course, save from all Office applications—not just Word—to SharePoint.

8. SharePoint can pull data from external databases and other data sources
Data View Web Parts allow you to add views to your sites from a variety of data sources. You can create views specific to your SharePoint sites and link views together. Data sources can be databases, Web services, or any XML source (InfoPath documents, etc.).

9. Leverage Excel for data management
Exporting data to Excel is well-supported in SharePoint and makes graphing and printing convenient (via the Print with Excel and Chart with Excel options). But it's also possible (and may often be desirable) to export data to Excel just for the sake of manageability. The Excel Export function creates an Excel Web query linking to the original data. In this way, you can create spreadsheets that will accept data, and then push that data to SharePoint.

10. Sites and entire site collections can be backed up in a single operation
The ability to move a site, lock-stock-and-barrel (and even more so a site collection, which includes primary site, sub-sites and all their contents), should not be under-appreciated. Anyone who's migrated sites the hard way knows it can be maddeningly frustrating. SharePoint Services includes two utilities that will greatly reduce the frustration: STSADM and SMIGRATE.

SMIGRATE is for backup/restore and for moving sites wholesale. It's a command line utility, so it's tailor-made for scripting, and can simplify the process of moving a site and its contents to the point that it can conceivably be a content distribution tool in some scenarios.

This is a cut down version of the very good article by Scott Robinson and can be read here.

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