Friday, November 21, 2008

Announcing Workflow Essentials for SharePoint

Nearly all organizations which implement SharePoint® seek to automate business processes by taking advantage of its workflow capabilities. Many of these same companies quickly discover that although the plumbing is there to create robust workflows in SharePoint Designer, more tools are needed to effectively automate their processes. At that point a few options come to mind: companies can either pay programmers to author custom workflow activities, or they can purchase an expensive third party add-on for workflow. As a welcomed alternative, SharePoint Solutions' Workflow Essentials now provides you with a proven reliable, less expensive way to augment SharePoint Designer's workflow capabilities.

Workflow Essentials is a suite of activities and conditions that will enable you to create effective, useful workflows in SharePoint Designer. SharePoint Solutions' experts have spent thousands of hours consulting for companies with workflow requirements similar to yours. Our instructors have taught hundreds of students how to better leverage SharePoint workflows for process automation. By working with our customers and students to understand their business needs, we have developed a SharePoint add-on product containing custom workflow activities and conditions that you will find indispensable.

Workflow Essentials installs to your SharePoint server and provides several new activities and conditions for you to use on the design surface of Workflow Designer in SharePoint Designer. There is no additional workflow design application for you to install or learn, you simply continue using the familiar SharePoint Designer interface for creating your workflows. With Workflow Essentials installed, you'll have more than two dozen additional activities and conditions from which to choose from. These activities will allow your workflows to create SharePoint sites; move and copy list items; query user properties from both SharePoint and Active Directory; send e-mail attachments; manipulate item permissions; and much more.

Learn more about Workflow Essentials and download the public Beta

Thursday, November 20, 2008

How to Use SharePoint Discussion Boards in Outlook 2007

As you can imagine, we are heavy SharePoint users here at SharePoint Solutions. Much of the work we all do every day is done with SharePoint. Unlike our instructors, consultants, and developers, everyone isn't a SharePoint expert. Just like in your own organization, we have many Information Workers. Recently, we've been utilizing SharePoint Discussion Boards more. So I sent an email to our internal staff letting them know they may find these discussion boards easier to use if they connect them to Outlook 2007. In that email, I also included brief directions on how to do the most common tasks. Someone suggested that our blog readers might also be interested in those instructions, so here they are. Enjoy!
How to Connect a SharePoint Discussion Board to Outlook 2007
  1. While viewing a particular discussion board, click on Actions, Connect to Outlook.

  2. Depending on your operating system and how it is configured, you may receive a dialog warning that, "A website wants to open web content using a program on your computer." If you receive this dialog box, click the Allow button.

  3. In Outlook 2007, you will receive a dialog box asking you if want to, "Connect this SharePoint Discussion Board to Outlook?" Click the Yes button.

  4. If you have other SharePoint Discussion Boards you want to connect to Outlook 2007, you will need to repeat steps 1 through 3 for each of them. Each of your users will need to manually connect their discussion boards in this manner—I'm not aware of any way to push this out automatically for them.
How to Read SharePoint Discussion Board Messages with Outlook 2007
  1. After you have connected your SharePoint Discussion Boards to Outlook, you will notice they are now listed in the Mail section of your Outlook Navigation Pane in a folder named SharePoint Lists. Discussion Boards that have messages you haven't yet read will appear in a Bold typeface. This allows you to quickly see where there are items you need to read without having to go to the SharePoint site in a browser. In the example below, you can see that there are no unread messages in Sales Leads Discussion, but there are 4 unread messages in the Sales Training Discussion.

  2. When you click on the name of a particular discussion board in the Outlook Navigation Pane, you will view the message headers in a threaded view in Outlook's List Pane. Individual posts that you haven't read will appear in a Bold typeface in this list. Each conversation will be grouped together and replies will appear indented beneath the item that was replied to. In the screenshot below, you'll notice that everything has been read except for the two items by Gail and Ryan in the conversation on "Great Book: Tribes by Seth Godin." Ryan posted a reply to Gail's initial comment; therefore his reply is indented below it.

  3. Just like reading email, when you click on a particular item in the List Pane, you can read it in the Outlook Preview Pane. You can also double-click on the item in the List Pane to open it in its own window.

How to Reply to a SharePoint Discussion Board Message with Outlook 2007
  1. To reply to a post you are viewing in the Preview Pane, click on the Post Reply button in the Toolbar.

  2. If you have opened a post in its own window, you can reply clicking on the Post Reply button in the Ribbon.

  3. When you click on either of the Post Reply buttons in steps 1 or 2, a new window will open for you to type your message. When you are ready to post your reply to the server, click on the Post button. You will see your post in Outlook, and it will also be posted to the discussion boards in SharePoint as well. Note: To keep things clean and easier to read, I usually delete my signature and the copy of the text to which I am replying. I see no reason to clutter the space with this information. It's a personal choice though, and certainly up for debate, but let's not debate it here. :-)

How to Post a New Message to a SharePoint Discussion Board with Outlook 2007
  1. To create a new post (i.e. start a new conversation that is not a response to a previous discussion), in the Outlook Navigation Pane carefully select the discussion board to which you want to post. It is important that you select the correct discussion board first!
    Then click the New (New Post in this Folder) button in the toolbar.

  2. A new window will open where you can enter the subject for your new post and type the message body. When you are done, click the Post button.

The Next Level with SharePoint Discussion Board Messages in Outlook 2007
As with regular messages in Outlook you can do things like mark posts as read or unread. For the real power users, you can do much more such as create custom views that only show you posts you haven't read yet. Outlook 2007 puts you in full control of your SharePoint discussion board experience. Make it work the way the way that is most efficient and productive for you!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Understanding Calendar Columns in a SharePoint List Calendar View

Last week, one of my students asked me about the Calendar Columns when creating a Calendar View on a SharePoint list. In the particular exercise we were doing, all the columns were set exactly the same. Although this was a good choice for the task at hand, it didn't demonstrate how the different options show up differently in the monthly, weekly, and daily views. To understand this, you really need to see it with screenshots, so here is an example.

On my SharePoint site, I've created a custom list named Vehicle Reservations. This list has columns named Purpose, Vehicle, Reservation Date, Driver, and Vehicle and Driver.
  • The Title column was renamed to Purpose.
  • The Vehicle column is of type Choice with options of: Car 1, Car 2, Car3, and Car 4.
  • The Reservation Date column is of type Date and Time and uses the Date Only format.
  • The Driver column is of type Text. I was going to make it of type Person or Group, but that type isn't available for calculations.
  • The Vehicle and Driver column is of type Calculated. I use the formula =CONCATENATE([Vehicle]," - ",[Driver]) to create a single string with the vehicle name and the driver name with a hyphen and spaces between them.
I created a new view using the Calendar View format.

In my new view, I set the following parameters:
  • In this scenario, vehicles are reserved on a daily basis. So I selected the Reservaton Date column for both the Begin and End dates.
  • In the Month view, I only want users to see which cars are reserved on particular days. So for the Month View Title, I selected the Vehicle column.
  • In the Week view, I want users to be able to easily see who will be driving each vehicle. So for the Week View Title, I selected the Vehicle column, and for the Week View Sub Heading, I selected the Driver column.
  • In the Day View, I want users to easily see who is driving which vehicle and also the purpose of the trip. So for the Day View Title, I selected the Vehicle and Driver calculated column, and for the Day View Sub Heading, I selected the Purpose column.

In my list, I have one row of information as shown here. Note: Although my last name is Spears, I'm not related to Britney. I just thought that Britney Spears probably doesn't get mentioned in SharePoint blog posts very much so I thought I'd mention her in this one. :-)

Now, let's see how those this information shows up in the Month, Week, and Day views:
In the Month view, you only see the name of the car.

In the Week view, you see the car and the driver's name.

In the Day view, you see the car, the driver, and purpose.

I hope this clears up a few things for some of you who have wondered about how the calendar view options and settings work.