Friday, September 29, 2006

Groove really is pretty groovy

Tony Bierman turned me on to Groove. We've all known about Microsoft's acquisition of Groove, but I had never installed the software and taken a closer look until Tony got me to install it.

Since then, I really haven't had a chance to use it extensively, but I have poked around some, done some reading about it and watched some webcasts on it. The main thing I have been trying to figure out is "how does it fit into the SharePoint story, if at all"?

What I have found so far is that A) some features of it overlap considerably with SharePoint and will probably once again add confusion in the marketplace about which product to use in common business situations, B) it has some features that SharePoint simply doesn't have (or doesn't do as well), and C) takes a different approach to enabling team collaboration than SharePoint does and that approach can be viewed in some ways as complimentary and in other ways in competition with SharePoint.

Let's start with A) overlapping features:

With one client-side installation package you get all of the following tools:

  • Shared workspace creation
  • File sharing
  • Instant messaging
  • Alerts
  • Discussion boards
  • Form design and completion

Now onto B) features it has that SharePoint doesn't have (or that are substantially better in Groove):

  • Project scheduling and management (Groove has something that appears to be a simpler-to-use and more scaled down Microsoft Project)
  • Workspace creators can add users to the workspace regardless of who that user is (Groove is peer-to-peer software and does not require any network directory. So, you can add users that work for another company in Russia on Unix networks if you want. All that is necessary is that everyone periodically connects to the Internet or a common private IP network.)
  • It includes automatic, real-time synchronization of the workspace on each user's client machine whenever that user is connected to the Internet and other users are connected as well
  • Because of the automatic synchronization, when you disconnect from the Internet to travel, you have the full workspace available offline while you are disconnected.
  • When you consider that you get all of the tools listed above with a single client-side install, that makes it much simpler and faster to setup than the current Office/SharePoint story. To get the same functionality with Office/SharePoint you must install SharePoint on the server and on the client you would have to install 1) Office Professional, 2) MS Project, 3) some version of Microsoft's IM client, and 4) InfoPath (assuming it is not included always in Office).

Finally, C) it takes a different approach to team collaboration than SharePoint:

  • SharePoint is a server-based and browser-based product; Goove is a peer-to-peer, fat-client product. These are fundamental differences. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages over each other. In general, I think companies like browser-based solutions more than fat-client solutions because fat-client solutions are more difficult to deploy in mass. I think USERS may prefer peer-to-peer applications over server-based applications because they don't have to go through an IT network admin to give their external business partners access to the company resources. Security may be somewhat compromised, but the way most users look at is that they need to get their business conducted and many times IT security policies simply get in the way. Goove allows them to bypass IT altogether.

From this analysis, my current conclusion is that you get the best of both worlds by using BOTH Groove and SharePoint. I think together they make almost the ultimate team collaboration environment. This is especially true because Groove has a feature that allows you to publish (or synchronize) Groove document stores with SharePoint document libraries. So, a team can easily use both products in tandem and generally, SharePoint becomes the place where the "final and official" versions of a project's documentation is stored. Goove serves as the work-in-process location that only team members can access.

There is a flash movie on Microsoft's site that gives a demo of Groove. It is definitely worth taking 10 minutes to watch:

Near-continous SharePoint backup solution

This article on CMS Wire talks about Version 2 Beta 1 of Microsoft's System Center Data Protection Manager product. Data Protection Manager is Microsoft's disk-based backup solution that has been aimed so far at providing near-continous backups of file shares.

According to the article, Beta 2 expands the products usefulness by adding the capability to backup Exchange, SQL Server and SharePoint databases.

With regard to SharePoint restores, the article states the product supports "integrated Farm, DB, and site-level restores for SharePoint".

Having worked with SharePoint's out-of-the-box backup and restore tools for a long time, this new functionality in Data Protection Manager sounds very attractive to me.

This product is not intended to be the sole backup strategy for enterprise data. Because the backups can't easily be taken off-site, tape backups are still recommended as well. Nevertheless, for everyday backup and restores, this looks to be a very exciting solution.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Upgrading to SharePoint 2007 class is a big hit!

We finished up our first class of our new course: Upgrading SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007. For Shane Young, Kevin Pine and myself, this has been a "labor of love" for the past six weeks or so and it feels good to have the first class behind us. All together, I would say we have at least 300 man hours invested in developing the course.

The course is designed for students to learn about the intricacies of upgrading a highly customized SharePoint 2003 environment (both SPS and WSS) to SharePoint 2007 (WSS v3 and MOSS). In developing the course, we spent many hours customizing a 2003 portal and sites with things like custom branding, custom site definitions, third-party web parts, search customizations and much more. Our goal was to come up with a starting point for the class that serves as a good, robust test of the MOSS/WSS v3 upgrade process.

We did all of this in a Virtual PC image that each student gets as their starting point. On it the student installs MOSS 2007/WSS v3 and works through an automated upgrade using the gradual upgrade option provided with the new software.

Shane spent many, many hours writing hands-on labs that the students use to work through the upgrade. Kevin spent many more hours writing hands-on labs that help the students work through the post-upgrade issues - of which there are many.

The course was very well received by the 14 students that attended. We always use SharePoint Surveys to collect feedback from each class. Here is the feedback Shane and Kevin received from the students that completed it:

I think this is pretty good feedback for a first-run course on a software product that is not even close to shipping yet! (Note: the lowest marks we received were related to the course materials and were due to the inevitable fact of having some typos in this first run of the course. The students were gracious enough to help us find and fix them, for which we are very grateful).

Way to go Shane and Kevin on these outstanding results!

We will be running the course every month from here on out. Next month it runs in Chicago and is already sold out at 20 students. In November we are running it in Denver and then it comes back to Nashville in December.

If you are an early adopter of SharePoint 2007 (or thinking about being an early adopter) and want to learn the ins and outs of the upgrade process and options, this is a great way to get started. Go here to register.

Monday, September 04, 2006 SharePoint Instructional Videos

Fellow instructor and SharePoint Solutions colleague Asif Rehmani has published a series of instructional videos covering various administrator and end-user topics in WSS v3/MOSS 2007. Topics available in .wmv formatted streaming video include:
  • Adding Columns and Data to a Custom List
  • Adding Users to a Site
  • Adding Web Parts to a Site
  • Creating a SharePoint Site
  • Creating Lists in Sites
  • Exploring WSS Site Navigation Settings and Options
  • Importing Profiles from Active Directory into SharePoint
  • Subscribing to Library or List RSS Feeds
  • Understanding and Using Site Columns
  • Understanding and using the new Features concept
  • Using a Picture Library and Image Web Part together
  • Using the Recycle Bin
Asif's site also includes FAQs, How Tos, and instructional streaming videos for WSS v2/SharePoint Portal Server 2003.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Code Examples: Implementing Solutions, Features and Web Parts in Windows SharePoint Services v3

The JW Mariott Desert Ridge Resort and Spa which served as the venue for this year's Advisor Summit in Phoenix was amazing. I was invited to present on two sessions - the first on WSS v3 Features (SMS305), and the second on advanced ASP.NET 2.0 web part development in WSS v3 (SMS401).
The Visual Studio 2005 solution accompanying my presentations contains a lot of examples for authoring Features and web parts in WSS v3, and may serve as a reference until more documentation is available from Microsoft. Specifically, the solution illustrates:
  • Creating and deploying a WSS Solution
  • Using makecab.exe and directive files (DDF) to create WSS Solutions distributable
  • Using MSBuild scripts to iteratively develop and deploy WSS Solutions from Visual Studio
  • Declaring WSS Features including:
    • ContentType
    • ContentTypeBinding
    • Control
    • Field
    • CustomAction
    • CustomActionGroup
    • Module
    • ListTemplate
    • ListInstance
    • Receivers
    • Workflow
  • Programattically associating a workflow with a WSS v3 List
  • Controlling ASP.NET 2.0 web part serialization through the use of type converters
  • Creating and associating custom EditorParts with ASP.NET 2.0 web parts
  • Dynamically loading user controls into a web part from the WSS v3 Control Templates (_controltemplates) path at runtime
  • Associating the SPDataSource object with a WSS v3 List
  • Binding a WSS v3 List to the SPGridView
  • Binding the SPTreeView to a hierarchical data source
  • Using the SPSiteDataQuery object for cross-site queries of WSS v3 Lists
  • Implementing Web Part connections in ASP.NET 2.0
As Patrick has already mentioned in his blog, several of the SharePoint presenters had an opportunity to get together on our last night in Phoenix for an enjoyable dinner and evening out. It was great to finally meet Dustin Miller, Todd Bleeker, Patrick Tisseghem, Todd Baginski, and Darrin Bishop. All of these gentlemen in some capacity or another have contributed to my ongoing education on the intricacies of SharePoint. Thanks!
On a final note, Nicola and I bet $10 on the upcoming Iowa vs. Ohio State game. It is going to be shame to take money from such a nice person - it is just too bad she's a Buckeyes fan. I guess it'll be kind of like taking money from Shane too, which makes it a bit more enjoyable. Don't you guys know? Nobody beats the Hawks at Kinnick Stadium!
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Friday, September 01, 2006

Beyond Bullet Points really works

I just returned from the Advisor Magazine Summit on SharePoint in Phoenix. It was a good conference all in all. Lots of sessions on both SharePoint 2003 and SharePoint 2007. The usual cast of SharePoint experts were on hand to make presentations.

One of the sessions that I was responsible for presenting was "Building Workflows with SharePoint 2007". It was all about the new workflow features in WSS v3 and MOSS 2007. (Sorry, I can't post the slides as they are now the property of Advisor Media).

As I began to prepare the presentation, I decided to try something different and followed the approach advocated by Cliff Atkinson in his book "Beyond Bullet Points" (MS Press). Atkinson offers a technique for designing a killer presentation with Powerpoint, totally void of bullet points. He points to some solid research that indicates that most presentations that rely heavily on bullet points are pretty ineffective. This also lines up with one of the leading voices of visual design and presentation theory, the famous Edward Tufte of Yale University.

In a nutshell, Atkinson's technique involves developing a classic three-act story. You develop the story line first using a Word template he gives you. Then, you transfer the story line into Powerpoint and review it in slide sorter view. This is very similar to the process used by Hollywood in creating movies using storyboards.

Since you can't use bullet points, you must follow a couple of unique design rules. First, the title of each slide must be a complete sentence and can be no longer than two lines. Second, you must write complete narrative that explains the title in the Notes section of the slide (this is the detail that the presenter will present orally). By following these rules, you end up with a series of slides that present a story. The gist of the story can be understood by quickly reading through the title on each slide. The details of the story can be understood by reading the narrative in the Notes section.

The final step is to select graphics for the slide itself. The idea is to select simple graphics that convey the message of each slide.

The research behind using this approach is very interesting and is presented in detail in the appendix of the book. If you boil it down, I think the basic reasons this approach works so well are:

  1. People can pretty easily read a complete sentence that is the title of a slide and can look at a picture that conveys the message. They can do this pretty quickly and then they can LISTEN to the presenter explain the message in more detail.
  2. People cannot easily read and digest a slide that has multiple bullet points with sentence fragments on it AND LISTEN to the presenter explain the message in more detail.
  3. People are used to hearing stories and can understand and relate to them well. By using the classic three-act story structure, you are automatically using a structure that for ages human beings have become used to and are comfortable with.

I do a lot of presentations every year. Some of them are at conferences, some in the training classes we conduct and some are for consulting clients. I plan to continue to follow this new approach and see if I continue to get the outstanding results I had at the Advisor conference.