Tuesday, September 23, 2008

SharePoint Best Practices Conference: Keynote Speech by Tom Rizzo

Tom Rizzo, Microsoft's Director of SharePoint, kicked off the SharePoint Best Practices conference with a funny and insightful keynote speech. He provided a view into SharePoint's current and future development, and reminded us of the various releases and support that are currently available for the platform.

Past, Present, and Future

Tom talked about SharePoint's humble origins in the Tahoe days, when it was teamed with Exchange. Now it's one of Microsoft's fastest growing server products ever. He joked that they are still trying to come up with a three-word description of it, given that as a platform and product it is  "floor wax and dessert topping at the same time".

He also touched on the future of SharePoint. Key directions for the next version will include investing in the "mobile experience", making the phone "a key client for SharePoint moving forward".

Another major investment is already occurring in the area of online hosting. Microsoft is trying to leverage its online SharePoint hosting experience, which I've blogged about before, and make it easier in the next version for clients to decide between on-premises and dedicated or multi-tenanted hosting in the cloud.

He described how SharePoint currently relates to the x2008 versions of Microsoft's products. SP1 with slipstream install allows SharePoint to work on Windows Server 2008. It provides security enhancements (like a reduced attack surface by switching off non-critical services), performance gains, and full support for virtualization.

I'll mention that last point again - starting with SharePoint 2007 SP1 Microsoft now provides full support to SharePoint servers using VMWare! This is very important - every solution definition doc I ever wrote had to explain to clients that if anything went wrong with their VMWare SharePoint instances, Microsoft would only provide "best effort" support. This is very good news. Here's the official announcement.

SQL Server 2008 adds transparent data encryption if you want to completely lock down your data - even if someone gains access to your SharePoint database server, they can't get at your data without the encryption key. It also provides performance benefits, including a nifty little feature called File Streams that allow SQL to manage and "serve' large files (BLOBs) from a file system - basically a nice compromise between the advantages of file system storage vs database BLOB storage.

Finally, Visual Studio 2008 makes it much easier to build (and debug) Workflow Foundation workflows for SharePoint.

Tom's Top 10 Best Practices

  1. Capacity Planning isn't a suggestion! (Also, move to 64 bit because SharePoint vNext will be all 64bit)
  2. Know Thy User
  3. Know Thy Data
  4. Know Thy Developer  - use asynchronous calls, watch out for web part connector blocking, inefficient code, do lots of stress testing
  5. To thine own self be true  [Unfortunately I don't remember what he meant by this]
  6. Scale up or out > actually do both! Plan your architecture to keep these options open
  7. SharePoint is an Enterprise app - don't let the WYSIWYG and wizards fool you - this takes investment of time, people, and money
  8. Support boundaries protect you and us [meaning Microsoft] - only use OOB or make customizations knowing they may not be supported going forward
  9. Weeding and pruning makes a beautiful deployment - constantly manage your farm and its content
  10. We all love code but.... Out of Box is good!

Questions and Answers

Q: What is Microsoft's commitment to cross-browser rendering?

A: Tom mentioned enhanced Firefox and Opera support in SharePoint 2007, as well as decreased use of ActiveX controls. This trend will continue . Mentioned browser on mobile phones is an increased priority. Partnership with Telerik makes Rich Text Editor more accessible / cross browser.

Q: What about Dynamics CR support with MOSS, without using the BDC?

A: Dynamics CRM was released after SharePoint so SharePoint couldn't integrate fully with it [Although the reverse must have been possible?]. Going forward better coupling between Dynamics CRM and SharePoint vNext will occur.

Q: What about Accessibility Standards?

A: Improvements will be made in the product going forward. Tom cited the work with HiSoft on the Accessibility Kit as an example. [Personal comment - I don't believe this is going to ever be fully resolved as long as maximum UI "functionality" is a priority- case in point the increased use of Silverlight and Ajax will likely make this a non-starter. I believe this can only be achieved with an MVC-style architecture that would service multiple clients, and this will likely represent a massive rearchitecture which I doubt will happen. For the current state of play see my previous post on accessibility in SharePoint.]

Q: What's going to happen with the Knowledge Network add-on? [Which automatically provided enhanced skill and people information in SharePoint based on email conversations]?

A: We liked the Knowledge Network so much we want to include it as a core feature in SharePoint vNext.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No More Metadata Migraines: Easily Manage Your Centralized Taxonomy

Well, I just finished my preso, which seemed to go very well (luckily!).

Basically my session covered best practices for taxonomy in SharePoint, including things you need to do (or not do) to make your lives easier when managing your portal's content.

It also covered ways you can leverage your metadata using Content Query Web Parts, property searches, and advanced searches.

Mindsharp will probably be making the presentation available on their SharePoint Best Practices website shortly. In the meantime I've uploaded the presentation in PDF format here: 


As always I'd love to hear back from you about what your best practices are. My email's in the PDF, you can contact me via LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/in/nicholaskellett) or you can comment on the blog.

The conference is over today, and we've really enjoyed it. We had lots of great conversations in seminar rooms, around the lunch table, and around the bar. It was neat to meet so many people who are enthusiastic about SharePoint, trying to do the right things with it, and willing to share their knowledge. I'll be blogging a bit more in the next few days, to try to transmit what I've learned.

Finally, congratulations to Mark Elgersma, Ben Curry, Bill English, and all the other Mindsharp folks who worked so hard to pull this off!

Friday, September 12, 2008

On The Road Again

I'm off to the SharePoint Best Practices Conference tomorrow, and can't wait. Specifically I am looking forward to:

  1. Speaking with a group of SharePoint adopters who I think will be very enthusiastic about the technology, and keen to share their knowledge and hard-won experiences
  2. Discussing best practices from lots of MVPs and presenters
  3. Visiting Washington (I've only been there once, about 16 years ago)
  4. Presenting on Wednesday - the topic is called "No More Metadata Migraines: Easily Manage Your Centralized Taxonomy" and I will discuss content migration, management, and metadata best practices, and then provide a short demonstration of echo for SharePoint

I don't know if other platforms have dedicated "Best Practices" conferences, but I'm sure glad there's one for SharePoint! I imagine the more open-ended a software platform is, the more important these kinds of freeform discussions become. Anybody know if Salesforce, IBM (for Websphere), Amazon, or Google do this kind of thing? Do they even need to?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Global Assembly Cache Trap Door

Sergio Otoya, the Technical Director of the Australian SharePoint consulting shop LivePoint, showed me a great little trick yesterday to open a "trap door" to explore the Global Assembly Cache (GAC). This is a special folder on the file system (at c:\windows\assembly)  where all the globally registered .NET DLLs reside.

Sergio pointed out that if you navigate to it using Windows File Explorer you can only see the registered DLL information.


However there is a little back door you can use to actually view the deployed DLLs. If you go to the Windows Start line and type c:\windows\assembly\gac  - it will open a new File Explorer window with the list of all the DLLs in a sort of folder view. So now copy and paste is enabled.

GAC - Behind The Scenes

Why is this useful? Well, in my particular case I was trying to copy a feature from one SharePoint portal server to another, and couldn't find the original WSP or Feature...So in order to manually recreate this I simply wanted to find the Feature (available from the SharePoint hive) and get my hands on the GAC-deployed DLL.

Not a very common use case, but a good trick to know.