Thursday, March 20, 2008

Colligo: SharePoint Unplugged

One of the bigger issues with SharePoint is how to make it available to offline or remote users, such as frequent business travellers. There are many vendors working in this space including iOra (now Infonic) and Syntergy, and tools such as Groove are also very useful for this kind of requirement.

One vendor I've heard good things about is Colligo. Colligo has a product that presents SharePoint sites in a seamless online/offline manner so users don't need retraining.

This morning I decided to download the Colligo Reader. It provides a one-way sync from a SharePoint site to a computer or laptop, and is free for non-commercial use. It works for Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 and 3.0 sites, for SharePoint Portal Server 2003, and for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

Colligo requires a .NET framework client install on the destination computer, and uses the SharePoint web services so it will be fully supportive of any upgrades and does not require any additional components or installs on servers or any other kind of tinkering.

Downloading it required a quick and painless sign-up at Colligo's website, and then a small install process taking only 30 seconds. Following that I had to quickly activate the program over the internet and I was off and running.

The user interface is spartan and SharePoint-like: this is a good thing as such a tool should be simple and effective at displaying and managing the site content rather than tossing up lots of bells and whistles. The SharePoint look-and-feel is also a must as it makes the whole experience seamless to end users. Here's a screenshot of the basic interface.

 Basic View

To create a sync to a SharePoint site, I used a personal WSS 2.0 site I've had for a few years. In the top left-hand side of the screen I selected the "Site" dropdown and clicked "Download Site". This popped up a very simple box that asked for the URL and the security credentials.

In only a few seconds I was connected and presented with the names of all the SharePoint lists in the site. Next to each was a checkbox so I could choose to synchronize with them. Having selected them all, it began to download the contents:


Sync options include sync'ing a particular site, sync'ing multiple sites, and sync'ing everything. At the bottom of the screen is a "Sync Issues" panel that helps manage any items that failed.

Following the successful download, I was able to read all the content on my WSS 2 website. Each list showed the appropriate views and metadata columns. Filter and sorting were enabled to help manage the content display. On the left hand side the Quicklaunch menu items were all present and there was breadcrumb navigation at the top of each list.

One thing I didn't see (at least in the Reader version) was a search functionality. This would have been very useful. One of my main criticisms of Groove is that its lack of search makes it virtually impossible to find offline content once you have a lot of content and folders. Although Colligo Reader does a much better job at presenting and organizing content (due to its SharePoint nature) search is a must-have in any offline synchronization tool.

Security is applied to the site and list content according to the credentials used to access the site. At least in the Reader version this means no switching between various user accounts for different permissions. Frankly I doubt anyone using the Reader would want to do that - that tends to be an administrator / developer activity. For the purposes of such a tool it only makes sense to manage the content using one set of credentials so I don't regard this as a drawback.

You can download Colligo Reader at their website. In addition to the Reader, there is a two-way Contributor version that allows offline modification of SharePoint lists. This is obviously the real value-add for Colligo. According to their website, pricing for this varies depending on the flavour of Contributor you buy - there are versions that integrate with Outlook and others that work on  PocketPCs.

All in all I was favourably impressed with the Colligo Reader - it is simple and intuitive and functioned exactly as I expected, and I plan to use it in the future.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Silverlight Blueprint for SharePoint

The Silverlight blueprint for SharePoint is being released by Microsoft to make it easy for SharePoint developers to figure out how to embed Silverlight in their portals. The link to the blueprint site is here: It contains a variety of examples of how Silverlight code might be used with SharePoint.

Although it's still embryonic, there's definitely a lot of potential here. Of the examples, the ones that jumped out at me were the Content Types (you can have dynamic sliders for example) and the video How To, which would be useful for user self-training. The examples that made the most sense were video- or picture-related since this obviously plays to Silverlight's strengths.

Some of the examples seem like a fair amount of effort to duplicate functionality that works perfectly fine out of the box. What may be a more compelling use for this kind of graphical technology (Silverlight or, say, WPF) is building a completely immersive interface and only using SharePoint behind the scenes as a (hidden) repository and framework.

Anyone who wants to play around with Silverlight can get free hosting at Microsoft's site, Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live (

Monday, March 10, 2008

MOSS: Microsoft Online SharePoint Server

Awhile ago I blogged about the experiment Microsoft was making providing SharePoint managed services to some of its biggest clients, what I called "SharePoint + Services". I guess the verdict was favourable - Bill Gates recently announced SharePoint Online.

The announcement took place on March 3 at the SharePoint Conference in Seattle.

Some key features include a guaranteed uptime of 99.9%, the regular out of the box SharePoint functionality, Microsoft Forefront AV scanning, SSL access, and (in the case of the dedicated environment) a data trust to the clients' Active Directory to allow AD integration. Templates will likely include the Fantastic 40 and each user gets 100MB of storage standard.

From an auditing perspective Microsoft offers the following:

  • Sarbanes-Oxley self assessment and external audit support
  • SAS 70 Type II self assessment and external audit support
  • Security assessments
  • Intrusion monitoring and detection

The auditing is a good way of reassuring nervous customers that hosting in the clouds won't present any legal threats.

I rushed to sign up for the beta but this is currently only available to some US-based customers. After a few months of beta testing hopefully they will release to the global market.

It remains to be seen what the pricing structure will be (Microsoft suggests they will follow the regular Software-as a Service model of "pay per user per month").

For small and medium organizations online SharePoint hosting may be very tempting as they will forego the complexity of planning, configuring and managing SharePoint in their environment and concentrate on using it. Larger organizations may be better placed / more interested in managing their own systems, or (depending on the price) may find it too expensive when scaled to thousands of users.

Current MOSS managed service providers include WebCentral in Australia, eMantra, and Altus in Canada and the United States.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Data In, Data Out

An important emerging web development initiative concerns "data portability", or how openly and transparently a website or application consumes and provides data. In a world of mashups, web services, and walled gardens like Facebook or MySpace, it is becoming an increasing concern for a variety of reasons.

To begin with, users want to know that the information they enter into a website is theirs to manage, share, and remove over time.  This matters for convenience (so they don't have to reenter it all the time) but also from a privacy perspective.

A famous recent example saw Robert Scoble temporarily banned from Facebook for breaking its terms of use by running a script to access his social graph (contacts). This focused a great deal of attention and debate on who "owns" this sort of information - the person entering the data, the website that hosts it, or the individuals whose information is being stored.

Developers also care about this as we are all tired of reinventing the  wheel every time we want to share data with another application. A major consequence of the recent wave of web development trends is the increasing importance of application integration and data integration standards. These days, "No Web App Is An Island".

To help address these needs, a community is coalescing under the banner of the DataPortability Group. Their website is located at and discusses the issues in detail. They define portability as

both physically moving data or simply porting the context in which the data is used

Their effort involves identifying and evangelizing existing data portability standards, rather than creating new ones. They also hope to encourage a trust framework that will benefit vendors and consumers.

The rapid adoption of this initiative shows how quickly things move in the IT world, if proof were needed. The project was first founded on October 11, 2007, and is already gaining a great deal of steam. The website has an interesting timeline showing how quickly support is building:

Some recent events of note included Google, Plaxo, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, Six Apart and Facebook joining the workgroup; Google, Yahoo, IBM, Microsoft, and VeriSign joining the OpenID Foundation board; and MySpace launching its Open Developer Platform.

Obviously most of the activity is driven by the Social websites as they have the most to win / lose. Issues of personal privacy and trust are crucial to their continued popularity (the Facebook Beacon PR disaster is a prime example of this). 

Nonetheless, I imagine within a few years every major Software vendor will have the DataPortability-compliant tickbox in their sales material, or their shareholders will demand to know why not. Case in point: Blogger, owned by Google, now supports OpenIDs on its blogs (such as this one), and Yahoo users can use their Yahoo! accounts as OpenIDs.

Interestingly enough, some of the standards the DataPortability group advocates are the ones that might lead to the long-envisioned semantic web - namely microformats, which can potentially add machine-readable "context" to data.

It's an interesting space to explore, and I plan to blog about it as I learn more.