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SharePoint Wish List: Does SharePoint 2010 Deliver? - 26 Oct 2009

Last week, at the SharePoint Conference, 7000-plus SharePoint professionals descended on Las Vegas and enjoyed one of the most exciting IT events I’ve ever experienced. The energy and excitement around SharePoint 2010 was palpable.

Microsoft has done a truly stupendous job of enhancing SharePoint in the short 3 years since v3/2007 was released. There will be a lot to share with you between now and “the first half of 2010” when the product is released. Today, I’d like to share with you what you contributed to this newsletter over five months ago!

On May 4, 2009, I published my “SharePoint Wish List.” It was a list of the top requests I receive as a consultant and trainer—a list of common requirements I was hoping would be met by SharePoint 2010. Many of you added your own items to the “wish list.” My expectation, at the time, was that I’d be able to follow up within a few weeks with the results, but the SharePoint non-disclosure agreement wasn’t lifted until October 19th.

Now, I’m pleased to share with you some of the results. While many of the items in the wish list are not “headline” features of SharePoint, they are what you, and other customers asked for! So, without further ado… the SharePoint Wish List…

Below is my original “SharePoint Wish List” items and the results:

•  Creating a development environment. The development environment is a pretty pathetic story right now. Disparate toolsets and the fact that you have to develop on a SharePoint server prevents would-be developers from even getting going.
Bamboo Solutions proposed a method to run Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) on a Windows Vista client, but Microsoft needs to come out with a better (and supported) solution.

o Delivered! You can run SharePoint 2010 for development on a Vista or Windows 7 client. This still doesn’t address the trainer/demonstrator (ISV at expo hall) issue I ranted about a few weeks ago in my Virtualization article, but it addresses the needs of many developers, and Microsoft is to be applauded for this not insignificant improvement!

The integration between SharePoint 2010 and Visual Studio 2010 made even some of the most vocal critics smile in Vegas at Microsoft's SharePoint Conference 2009. The bad news: Few if any of the improvements will help you develop any better in a mixed or 2007-only environment. There’s a very direct “tie-in” between the new versions of VS, SharePoint Designer, and SharePoint 2010.

• Replication (or duplication). Anyone who is not a developer (or who is, but has not yet learned how to create SharePoint solutions) knows how tough it is to get stuff from staging to production, let alone to duplicate stuff between sites, site collections, web apps, and farms. Trying to get your small business's intranet to reflect consistent branding (i.e., a consistent look and feel) isn't easy without cracking open Visual Studio.

The same problem exists with custom content types, custom form pages, yada yada. Fortunately, several third-party vendors (such as those listed below) currently provide solutions for SharePoint replication.

o Improved, but with lots of room to grow. The managed metadata service, other service applications, and content deployment features make it easier to address the challenges exposed by multiple farms; and sandbox solutions address yet other challenges. However, I think that vendors providing content replication will still find plenty of customers for whom SharePoint’s out-of-box capabilities lacking.

• Granular restore. SharePoint doesn't let you recover deleted items, lists, libraries, or sites on an individual basis. Significantly greater rollback occurs when you restore an entire site collection. Several vendors currently provide products with granular-restore functionality, which is an investment worth making.

o Improved. (Many of you also called out SharePoint v3/2007’s backup and restore capabilities.) The features in 2010 are much improved. You can now restore a site, list, or library.

But when you look at the most granular restore task (restoring an individual item or document) and the most significant restore tasks (server or farm restore), there are still gaps in the story, so third party solutions will still be needed in many organizations. Greatly improved, but with room to grow.

• Better cross-browser capability. Only Microsoft can deliver better cross-browser capability and is beginning to do so in SP2 for Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007). Microsoft also announced its intentions to provide broader browser support in future products such as Exchange 2010, so there's good reason for hope here.

o Delivered! SharePoint 2010 supports all popular browsers and provides XHTML, WCAG 2.0 AA compliance. Level 1 browsers, which support 100 percent functionality, include 32- bit versions of IE7, IE8, and Firefox on Windows. Level 2 browsers are IE7 and IE8 x64, Safari, Firefox on other platforms. Level 2 browsers will have some limitations in rendering and behavior.

• Better scalability in lists, libraries, content databases, unique ACLs, and document size. Only Microsoft can architect SharePoint for greater scalability. Given Microsoft's push to provide "software plus services" and to satisfy enterprise customers, there's again good reason for hope here.

o Delivered! We’re talking millions of items in lists, thanks to improvements on the back end and in the management of performance with throttling.

Many of your requests, and the results of those requests, are below:

Office Client Integration

• Use of color in SharePoint calendars, similar to Outlook.
o Not out of the box, not in the Web UI. However, definitely something that can be built. Not yet.

• Connections with OneNote lists.
o Not yet.

• Ability to put external email addresses into a workflow and build this into the templates.
o Doable now with SharePoint Designer. Same in 2010. Delivered.

• Reduce the cost of SharePoint for internet sites.
o I agree completely with this. I know I would move my own company’s web site to SharePoint in a heartbeat if it were affordable.
Microsoft could get a sizeable market share for internet sites, particularly in the small and medium sized business space, by creating a SharePoint-based option that is affordable. Steve Ballmer discussed in his keynote a service called SharePoint Online for Internet Sites. I couldn’t get any details about this service, particularly not its pricing, and was told it is at least a year away. We’ll have to see what happens! To be determined.

• Support for indexing PDFs.
o This still requires an iFilter. There are several out there, including one from Adobe that is free. No change.

Lists and Libraries
• A built-in (simple) database, like the one built into eRoom.
o Welcome, Access Web Services. You will never look back! Incredible! Delivered and how!

• An easy way to copy an existing contact list (in a Word document or Excel spreadsheet or Outlook contact list) into a new SharePoint contact list.
o There are easy ways to move lists from these applications into SharePoint as long as your lists are set up correctly. Outlook, particularly, is a no-brainer: drag-and-drop.
The real problem for organizations is that the data sources—the original lists—are not rationalized in a way that make them a good candidate for any “automatic” or “easy” transfer. In other words, the data itself is usually a bigger problem than the data store. Already possible.

• A Web Part for video streaming (uploading a video clip).
o SharePoint 2010 offers great support for video streaming, even directly from the SharePoint data store (SQL). Delivered.

• A Web Part with a rotating set of photos (we found a way to do this using JavaScript, but that’s too complicated for end users). Not in SharePoint 2010 but there are third party web parts and solutions. Check Codeplex and some of the vendors. o Not in SP2010.

• Column lookups
o The new relational list capabilities of SharePoint 2010 will open up a new set of solutions, and Access Web Services will probably address yet more previously- problematic scenarios. Delivered.

• More hierarchical lists.
o With the new relational capabilities of lists, “hierarchical” lists might be achievable, depending on exactly what type of scenario you’re trying to address. Delivered.

• Integrity between lists – if a list is used in some lookup field, prevent the deletion of values which are used (like DRI in SQL). For example: A list which contains projects is referenced in a lookup field in a list which contains subprojects. Now it is possible to delete a project and the corresponding subprojects remain with incorrect (nonexistent) values.
o One word: Delivered!

• Field level security in lists and libraries
o Not delivered and unlikely ever to be delivered, because of the amount of processing that is required. However, it is quite do-able to make fields “read only” or “hidden” with the greatly improved customized web form capabilities of SharePoint 2010, so while you aren’t technically setting permissions on fields, you are managing field visibility and modifications. Delivered, as much as it will ever be.

• The possibility to define a field or combination of fields as unique. For example, email address in the contact list. Now it is possible by mistake to enter the same person many times and SharePoint doesn’t check and warn about this.
o There is now field- and list-level validation so, happily, this is Delivered!

• Better rich text editing, support of media, etc.
o The new text editor—built into the ribbon and ubiquitous—is rich indeed. I think you’ll find it meets your needs! The media insertion and management story is so much better. Delivered.

Security and Management
• Permissions could be a LOT easier to implement. We have a one-hour training session that we strongly recommend that site owners attend, and most folks need additional help even after taking that class because the rules regarding SharePoint permissions can be confusing.
o Provisioning permissions to remove the onus of security management on non-technical users is the best practice, but is not always possible when you’re talking about site owners. Hopefully the streamlined interface will help. To be determined.

• End users would like to be able to control access (permissions) to their documents when they upload them.
o This is not a best practice according to information assurance guidelines: Security should be managed by IT. However, you can do this now with workflows that change item permissions when an item is added to a library.
But because it’s not a typical best practice, I can’t imagine this will ever be an out-of-box capability of SharePoint. Possible now, with customization.

• Better page hit reports
o The analytics that are built into SharePoint 2010 are much improved. I have not had the chance to play with the reports, but I know the data is there and is much better. Hopefully you’ll find this is Delivered.

• Transform STSADM to a GUI-based tool
o Actually, STSADM has been “transformed” to PowerShell … PowerShell is the new preferred command- line management tool. STSADM will eventually go away.

• More robust workflows with no code
o You will adore SharePoint Designer 2010. Wow. Delivered.

• Easier maintenance/visibility of security.
o New UIs and reports, not to mention the already- downloadable Administration Toolkit. Delivered, but we will always be wanting more. There will still be a big place at the table for third party security management tools.

• Reorganize content: drag and drop lists, libraries, sites between site collections
o Do-able to some extent today, with SharePoint Designer. No real change in your ability to do this in Central Admin or any web UI. SharePoint Designer customization.

Backup, Restore, and Disaster Recovery
• Scheduled Backups.
o Not exposed in the web UI of Central Admin yet, but possible in 2010 (as it is with v3/2007) using Windows Task Scheduler and STSADM (or PowerShell), not to mention SQL’s own backup capabilities (which are fully schedulable). Already in SharePoint, no change (yet) in 2010.

• Ability to restore a site, list, library, item or document.
o SharePoint 2010 allows the restore of a list or library, but not an item or document. That will still be the value-add of third-party ISVs such as AvePoint and Quest. Partially met.

• Full fidelity backup (file system, registry, metabase, etc.).
o SharePoint 2010’s backup and restore story is so much better than 2007/v3, but you will still need third party tools for full fidelity backup. Improved but not completely delivered.

• Replication
o There are big improvements that address scenarios that in 2007/v3 require replication. Most importantly, the managed metadata service makes metadata and content types available across boundaries up to and including farms. The content organizer will probably address some replication scenarios. But there remains lots of room for third-party tools for replicating SharePoint content and configuration.

• Disaster recovery
o SharePoint 2010 leverages SQL Server mirroring and supports failover. The bottom line: Your SharePoint front ends can fail over to another SQL Server instance. This is a big improvement.
But there’s going to be a lot of room for further improvement because the failback scenario isn't fully fleshed out—there’s a lot of heavy lifting to get everything back to normal on the original instance, with all of the updates that were made to the “standby” instance while the original was offline.
Out of the box, SharePoint provides DR that will address minimum requirements for many organizations, but for fully fleshed-out geo-replication and DR, you’ll still be looking at third-party tools. I’ll be addressing this, specifically, in a future article.

• Staging Environments: It would be nice to extend the concept of content management from individual web parts and the content therein to entire site collections or even web applications. It would be important to provide the ability to synchronize content with another instance of the environment prior to deployment or during the process of deployment.
In this way, a virtual development or testing environment could be created. Once ready, the overall administrator would have the option to deploy the whole environment or segments thereof to production in a manner akin to “publishing” content.
o A full solution to address every “staging” requirement is not there yet, but there are big steps forward, both with the new Service Applications model (which allows “sharing” services between the staging and production farm, where appropriate), and the new sandbox solutions capability.

Big improvements
• More themes and easier customization of look and feel.
o Delivered!

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