German developer super-sizes SharePoint

German firm SharePartXXL International is making SharePoint experts' lives easier with its content management tools.

The Nuremberg-based company was formed last summer as a spin-off from .NET-based content management system heavyweight ContentXXL International which boasts e-commerce customers such as Adidas, Mercedes Benz and even Microsoft itself.

Having already built a connection tool between its CMS and SharePoint for customers who needed to suck content from outward-facing corporate websites to SharePoint intranet portals and vice versa, the company got a taste for Microsoft's collaboration platform.

Michael Nutz, SharePartXXL's sales and partner programme director, says: "We saw that our USPs were integrated content relationship management and knowledge management. What we had in our CMS wasn’t provided by Microsoft and SharePoint and we knew how important this was for most of the customers. So we developed a taxonomy extension."

The company calls its SharePoint extensions "web parts". "We started off developing a web part just for playing around, getting used to SharePoint development and after that we said: 'OK, what we’d like to develop next is the taxonomy web part'. That’s how the companies work together; we have developers from ContentXXL that are working for SharePartXXL and with the experience we gained over years in the area of knowledge management we developed the taxonomy extension and that’s behind the whole thing."

Taxonomy, of course, is a constant bugbear of SharePoint development. While it is relatively easy for teams to get up and running, sites can proliferate quickly which can make finding and using essential content within them more than tricky. Although SharePoint provides is own rigid site navigation structure, it doesn't necessarily work the way its users want it to. The SharePartXXL Taxonomy Extension enables documents and list items in a SharePoint-based portal to be organised cross-site as part of a connected content network and knowledge model. SharePoint items are associated by category using one or more custom taxonomies. This means users can organise documents and other portal content in the way they choose, regardless of storage location.

SharePartXXL has gone on to address two more SharePoint challenges, email newsletter management and image management. SharePartXXL Newsletter Web Part is an all-in-one tool that deals with email newsletter creation, subscriptions, mail outs and logging using SharePoint-based lists. Like the other SharePartXXL products, it works with both WSS 3.0 and MOSS 2007.

The SharePartXXL Linked Picture Column for Microsoft SharePoint tool adds a linked image field-type to SharePoint lists. This gets around the thorny problem that, by default, image-type columns in SharePoint don't link to other content. The tool provides a hyperlink , a picture link (usually a reference to an picture to an image library) a description (which appears as tooltip or ALT tag) or the option to open the URL in a new window.

All three products are available direct from SharePartXXL's website with free demos. The basic version of SharePartXXL Taxonomy Extension costs around €850 per server (an advanced version costs around €2,400), the SharePartXXL Newsletter Web Part costs €460 and the SharePartXXL Linked Picture Column for Microsoft SharePoint tool costs €180 (prices are subjects to currency fluctuation).

Nutz is cagey about which bits of SharePoint his firm aims to super-size next, but says: "We would like to develop further web parts or extensions that complete the seamless functionality in SharePoint that nearly all customers are missing at the moment because SharePoint isn’t a typical CMS solution compared to a lot of other professional CMS products in the market. Maybe this wasn’t Microsoft's intention and maybe it is Microsoft's goal to provide this but at the moment they don’t. I don’t know much they will have in 2010, but I think there’s always enough room for companies like us to fill the holes so we're going to keep on concentrating on CMS functionality."

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