Monday, October 19, 2009

Central Administration in SharePoint 2010

Here’s a quick lap around the new Central Administration console in SharePoint 2010.

New Central Administration Layout

Central Administration

The navigation structure is broken down a little more than in 2007. There is no more “Operation” and “Application Management” divide; instead the new console is divided into the following sections:

  • Application Management: Manage site collections, web applications, content databases, and the new service applications
  • System Settings: Manage servers, features, solutions, and farm-wide settings
  • Monitoring: Track, view and report the health and status of your SharePoint farms
  • Backup and Restore: Performs backup or restores
  • Security: Manage settings for users, policy, and global security
  • Upgrade and Migration: Upgrade SharePoint, add licenses, enable Enterprise Features
  • General Application Settings: Anything that doesn’t fit into one of the other sections
  • Configuration Wizards: These are nice wizards to help setup or modify the farm

This is new layout is an advantage – the “Operations” and “Application Management” tabs in 2007 always felt a bit arbitrary and it wasn’t always clear which tasks went where.


This is quite useful – basically you can take the heartbeat of SharePoint and its services via reports, and view problems and solutions. Here’s a screenshot of the interface:

Central Administration - Monitoring

There are only a couple of reports right now, which tell you which pages loaded the slowest, and which users are the most active. I imagine for release there will be many more.

Central Administration - Monitoring - Health Reports

The problem and solution report is very helpful in identifying which services are failing on which servers, and why. Notice in in this report there is detailed information about one of the failing services, in this case Visio, and links to remedy it.

Central Administration - Monitoring - Problem Report

Surfacing common errors in this way will go a long way to reducing the IT administrative burden of SharePoint. I hope Microsoft is active in populating this report engine (or provides a way for the community to modify it).

Usage logging settings are in here as well.

Service Applications

Central Administration - Application ManagementThese new plug-and-play replacements for the Shared Service Provider are major wins for the new SharePoint version. They allow an organization to really customize its farm based on its needs and even usage patterns. Services that needs lots of performance and support can get it, while services that are less useful can have reduced resources or even be turned off altogether. Everybody’s SharePoint 2007 farm looked alike, but going forward it is likely that no two farms will be alike.

Of course to manage this Microsoft has to surface the available services and their settings in the Central Admin. This screenshot gives an indication of just how many services can be used.Central Administration - Manage Service Applications

Export Sites and Lists

Now you can export site and list data right from SharePoint! It’s straightforward with the new Backup and Restore section, which allows full Farm Backups and Restores along with far more granular backup. The backup can include full security including site users, as well as version history information for each item in the list.

I doubt this will replace the need for 3rd party backup software but it’s another tool for IT Admins.

Here I am backing up a Calendar from a site to file.

Central Administration - Site or List Export

The new service architecture of SharePoint is one of the most exciting things about it, and obviously required a bit of a Central Administration retooling. That provided an opportunity for some other quick wins, including a much more intuitive navigation structure and some neat monitoring tasks. More evidence that SharePoint 2010 is building on, but not replacing, the core strengths of 2007.

When SharePoint 2010 Met Web 2.0

One of the goals in SharePoint 2010 was to make it easier for users to update their information and pages without lots of postbacks, clicking, and delays. Accordingly, Microsoft has invested a lot in improving the web user interface.

One way they have done this is by adding the Office Ribbon concept to SharePoint. I think this has to be a first for a web application, and to be honest while I saw the value in Office 2007, I wasn’t sold on it for a web interface.

I think the major weakness of the Ribbon concept is that you can spend a fair amount of time trying to remember what command belongs to what tab. As well, it doesn’t always save clicks. More on that in a moment.

The other major investment Microsoft made is adding AJAX. This is  no-brainer and a hands-down winner for me. I’ve attached some screenshots to show how you would modify a page in the new UI.

Let’s imagine you want to modify a team site:

Step 1: You are in the Browse tab of the Ribbon (up top) – choose the Edit Tab.New Team Site - Browse RibbonNew Team Site - Edit Ribbon

To Edit, click “Edit” which is one of the buttons on the Edit tab. Then click on the area of the page you want, type some text in, and click Stop Editing. Are we saving clicks yet? :)

New Team Site - Edit Page

Well, not so far, but there weren’t any postbacks, so overall I think there’s some time saving here. An important benefit from a training perspective is the server and office products now have identical user experiences, which is a big win.

As well, there are some nice new options including an XHTML converter. And did I mention this all works flawlessly in FireFox? Web standards, hooray!

You can also insert new web parts via the Insert section of the Edit Ribbon:

New Team Site - Insert Web Part

Of course, the context-based Ribbon experience continues when managing lists and libraries. Here’s a screenshot of the out of the box Shared Documents library’s two important ribbons, Documents and Library:

New Team Site -Shared Documents Library - Documents RibbonNew Team Site -Shared Documents Library - Library Ribbon

Finally, tagging and sharing is a major concept in Web 2.0 and SharePoint 2010 addresses this by surfacing sharing activities through the Ribbon. Content can be easily tagged - Tags can be private or public and are automatically added to a suggested set so that users can share tags. New Team Site - Share and Track Ribbon

New Team Site - My Tags

Tagging is also part of a user’s Activity Stream (not sure what the official term is). You can see on my profile that I tagged an element.

My Profile - Tags and NotesI’m not showing it here but there is also an Enterprise Metadata service that allows an organization to centrally control its taxonomy. So, now you can make peace between the “folksonomy” and “centralized taxonomy” gangs in your office!

All in all these UI improvements are icing on the SharePoint 2007 cake. I’m not sure they are enough by themselves to encourage SharePoint 2007 customers to upgrade (I think there are better reasons to upgrade), but somebody with 2003 or without SharePoint at all might now make the plunge. However, these are welcome additions to an already great product.

Although I’m not convinced the ribbon will save clicks, and will certainly take some retraining and familiarization time, it at least is consistent with the Office clients, making for tighter integration. The AJAX-style UI is a big win, and the inclusion of some interesting tagging and sharing features brings SharePoint up-to-date with the Web 2.0 world.

Things To Get Excited About In SharePoint 2010

Now that Microsoft’s lifted the TAP NDA and is presenting SharePoint 2010 publicly at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, there will be a spurt of queued up blog posts on the net :)

Here are some things I’ve been very excited about, in no particular order. They are fairly developer-centric.

  • Ability to develop against the SharePoint dlls on a developer desktop! ‘Nuff said.
  • Developer Dashboard – makes it easy to see tracing information and web server details when you are working on a SharePoint site.
  • LINQ to SharePoint – this is some nice syntactic sugar that helps replace CAML a little bit. You can created strongly typed SharePoint entities using a utility called SPMetal and then query and manipulate the data in them using standard LINQ syntax. I was hopefully predicting this in another post.
  • Visual Studio 2010 integration – VS2010 will have a lot more tools to make SP2010 development a snap. SharePoint Project and Item Templates, Feature Designer, and Project Packaging, will hide most of the messy details of creating, packaging, and deploying a SharePoint solution from the developers.
  • Business Connectivity Services – the next level of the Business Data Catalogue. BCS uses External Content Types which look a bit like Content Types, and are defined in the new SharePoint Designer or in Visual Studio and then added to SharePoint using a definition file (a bit like the BDC currently works). Users can then create External Lists in their sites, which pull in the data from these external sources.
  • Client Object Model – an abstraction layer that allows developers to write code that will work in client .NET applications, Javascript (for AJAX type operations), and Silverlight. Basically this is a disconnected, batch-style API that will operate on the existing SharePoint web services and handle requests and responses using XML and JSON.
  • SharePoint 2010 Designer – Whereas SPD 2007 was a warmed-over FrontPage, the new version has been rebuilt with a focus purely on SharePoint. The new navigation panel is great because it shows you a list of SharePoint objects, such as Entities, Lists, Master Pages, and Workflows. What’s great about this is it keeps you thinking about what you are trying to do in SharePoint, rather than where that command used hidden in SPD. Another big win is you can export your SPD changes as a .WSP file straight into Visual Studio for further customization.
  • The Office Ribbon makes it into SharePoint. The Ribbon kind of grew on me in Office 2007. I think it was a clever paradigm to surface many commands that used to be buried. Now the many SharePoint menus and Site Action dropdowns will coalesce into the Ribbon. I think this will make training and support a little easier. The big weakness of the Ribbon is that you often have to remember which tab the commands belong in. I found that was the case with the new SharePoint Ribbon but after a little while you get used to it, and it becomes faster to modify SharePoint pages.
  • STSADM is dead, long live PowerShell! Leveraging the great new scripting environment is a huge win for SharePoint. The ability to write .NET code to manipulate the command pipeline means we will start to see some very powerful “no-touch” deployment and management options for SharePoint
  • More events – now you can find out when your web or list was created or deleted. This may sound like a small feature but this enables some provisioning and discovery scenarios that in SP2007 were not even possible!
  • Enterprise Metadata Manager. I’ve blogged a lot about the important of governance and centralizing metadata. The new Enterprise Metadata Manager makes it easy to import and manage term sets, keyword and tags.
  • Service Application Architecture – the Shared Service Provider was a good idea but it was a bit hard to use in practice. Under the new architecture, you can create Service Applications for things like Excel Services, Forms Services, Business Connectivity Services, and other services that you build or buy, and you can mix and match these in your farms as you like. The services get consumed by web front ends via a standard interface. This should allow a lot of plug-and-play customization of farms. I’m even wondering if there is an opportunity for vendors here…create some services and expose them to clients from the cloud.

There are some other big changes like Claims Based Authentication and Solution sandboxing which are intriguing to me. The Solution sandboxing feature gives me this sneaking suspicion we will one day soon see a Microsoft SharePoint App Store where we can buy, download and run SharePoint solutions in our farms.

Anyway, there’s a lot of exciting new stuff in SharePoint and I think SharePoint development is about to become really fun!

Monday, October 12, 2009

SharePoint: A Product and a Platform

SetFocus just published another of my articles for their Technical Articles section. This one is called “SharePoint: A Product and a Platform”, and discusses the implications of SharePoint as a software platform.

My conclusions are that the platform provides significant capabilities including a unified development environment, reduced maintenance, development, support, and training costs, and may increase the risk of vendor lock-in.

I’ve written for SetFocus before because I have a long association with them, dating back a decade. I had my Java certification training and first job placement through them. For the past year I’ve been developing and teaching parts of their SharePoint programming classes for the SharePoint Master’s Program (I’m instructing evening classes again starting this Saturday).

You can read more at I hope you enjoy it and welcome your feedback!

P.S. The article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License which means you can modify it and share it around!