Monday, October 19, 2009

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.

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