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WSS platform momentum and templates

Today, we released information about Windows SharePoint Services momentum in the marketplace, especially as a platform for SIs and ISVs. You can read all about it here:-

http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/features/2006/jan06/01-20SharePointServices.mspx

I'm a big believer in WSS as a platform, so its great to see recognition in the article for partners that are building successfully on WSS. I've seen some very interesting solutions built on WSS, but I'm always interested in more. Feel free to comment with a link to an interesting site/solution if you know about one.

Also, if you haven't tried the new templates, there are 30 to download and try out here:-

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/sppt/wssapps/default.mspx

Personally, I like the 'event coordination' template since my team spends quite a bit of time preparing for events and delivering content at them.

 

Posted by pjhough | 8 Comments

Tracking Applications in WSS

Tracking in WSS
A very common use of WSS lists is to track important information. Lists are really useful as a tracking tool; they can easily be sorted, filtered, grouped. They can be easily edited and the Datasheet control can be used for bulk list operations. By subscribing to a list for alerts, individuals can easily identify when important changes happen to the list items they care about. 

In WSS V3, we have added some additional features to our list infrastructure that are both useful in their own right, and also make it easier to build more sophisticated tracking applications. The main tracking features that we have added include list item versioning, append-only field type and workflow. However, the features are not unique to a particular list type in WSS – we decided to build these features as core platform extensions. Each one of these capabilities has a myriad of uses in WSS – we have combined them to enhance WSS as a platform for tracking applications, but they also benefit our Document Management and Content Management capabilities, as well as opening up a wide array of scenarios to developers and partners building on WSS.

In addition to building the underlying features that enable tracking applications, we will also ship an Issue Tracking list template out of the box. This template will have all of the tracking features enabled by default and will be a great starting point for customers who want to experience all the enhanced tracking features in one place.

List item Versioning
Many tracking applications rely on being able to see the evolution of an item over time. This can be easily modeled using list item versioning. By enabling versioning, WSS will keep track of all edits to the list item and display a rich view that shows the changes that have occurred for each version. Here’s a small example of how it will appear.

 

web feed button

You can see that for each version, we show the fields that have changed, when the changed happened, and who made the change. As an aside, we’ve used this view as the basis for improvements to our email notifications, but more about that in another post. One important change we've made for task lists is to allow the list owner to determine if all task owners should receive email notification when a task is assigned to them. This will help overcome the problem of task owners not knowing that a task (perhaps on a list that they don't visit regularly) had been assigned to them.

Append-only field type
The append-only field can be used to append comments to an item that's being tracked without the possibility of changing previous comments. We’ve made this ‘append-only’ capability a property of the multi-line text field, so that you can include such a field in any list.

web feed button

The ‘description of change’ field in the form above is an example of such an append-only field. When the item is edited, new data can be appended in this field, but none of the earlier remarks can be edited or deleted. For issue tracking and helpdesk applications, this type of field is very useful. It preserves the history, yet it makes it easy to see the latest status.

Tracking and Gantt views
One of the common visualizations that we have seen to present data stored in WSS is a Gantt view. Often, this visualization is simply used to quickly communicate the status of the project and to provide a high-level view of the main tasks. Our Gantt view combines the Gantt chart of the project with the associated list data.

web feed button

 

This Gantt view is simply that; it’s a view (one that can be enabled on any list that has start and end dates for the items in the list). We don’t model or calculate  dependencies or resources; customers requiring such capabilities should continue to use Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server. For more sophisticated tracking scenarios, it will be possible to associate approval workflows with each item that's being tracked in the list. I’ll write more about workflow in a later post.
Its also worth pointing out that it will be possible to synchronize WSS tasks into Outlook 12. The synchronization is 2-way – changes made to the task within Outlook will be sync’ed back to WSS, allowing users to consolidate tasks from Outlook and multiple WSS sites into a single view in Outlook to better manage their time and priorities. Our Outlook 12 integration is quite extensive, and I’ll save that also for another post. In the meantime, you can check out Melissa MacBeth's blog posts on Task and Time Management in Outlook 12 http://blogs.msdn.com/melissamacbeth/

Also, the Microsoft Access 12 team has built a tracking template that interacts directly with Issue Tracking template that will ship in WSS. The schemas for the two applications are identical, and the Access solution can be used as a rich front-end against WSS data. Here's a screenshot of how that application will look in Access 12.

web feed button

All of the features I’ve described above can be applied to any list that you create in WSS V3, and even to lists that you upgrade from WSS v2. So, if you’re already using a list for tracking purposes, you can easily enable these features when you upgrade.

 

Posted by pjhough | 28 Comments

blogs, wikis, rss and WSS

Making the channel9 video was fun, and it was over before we knew it. Basically it was as casual and real-time as what you saw. Some of the comments about the video on channel 9 were to the effect that we spent too much time talking about blogs and wikis and not enough time talking about the SharePoint that everyone knows; lists, document libraries, meetings workspaces etc. I am the first one to agree that the video is not representative of the investments that we made, but I’m not quite sure what 20 minute video we could have made that did justice to the work we’ve done over the past couple of years! Before I abandon the topics of blogs and wikis and broaden the discussion to other WSS enhancements, it’s probably worth taking some time to explain *why* we’re adding blogs and wikis to WSS.

 

It would inaccurate to say that when we started work on 'WSS v3' (my working title - not the real name) 2 years ago, we were thinking a lot about blogs and wikis, but during our customer visits, we observed a number of WSS v2 deployments being used in conjunction with related collaborative tools such as internet blogs and wikis. We even found some customers that were experimenting with blogs and wikis inside their enterprises, but this was/is still at quite an early stage. At the beginning of the summer, we took a very hard look at both technologies with a view to finding a good fit for the capabilities within the context of WSS. The wiki template was easy to rationalize with respect to WSS; it’s simply another way of organizing a set of loosely coupled pages (content) within a site structure. We decided not to make the whole team site a wiki, but rather to host the wiki within the team site. By doing this, we hope to encourage the free-form page creation and casual linking of wikis, but within the structure of WSS. A WSS wiki has some key benefits for WSS users; I won’t describe all the wiki features that we support in this entry, but our goal was to bridge the concepts familiar with wikis (rapid page authoring, easy linking, versioning etc.) with related WSS capabilities (security, search, page editing, forms, views etc.). The result is a very lightweight page authoring model that benefits from the flexibility of a wiki and the security, structure and robustness of a WSS team site. We built the wiki on our document library infrastructure, so it inherits all of the WSS v3 document library capabilities (security, versioning, rich views etc.) One capability in WSS wikis that we have found quite appealing during our internal testing is the ability to extend the schema of a wiki page in quite a non-wiki way by allowing metadata to be added to the wiki page and all future pages. The most logical use for this in a wiki is to categorize pages. Adding metadata that describes the page classification enables rich WSS views over page collections, and its proving to be quite powerful in our testing to date.

 

Blogs were somewhat more challenging since they are typically used today (like this blog) to put forth individual ideas and views, not necessarily the edited and collective wisdom of the combined membership of a team site [:)]. We spent some time thinking about their uses within teams and our analysis of existing team sites uncovered a number of sites using the ‘Announcements” list as a mini-blog. It was positioned on the home page of the site and acted as the authoritative public face of the site to visitors. In some cases, the rest of the site was blocked off to casual visitors and the only information they saw was the Announcements list on the home page. A blog on a team site homepage would be a better fit for this scenario, and it is perhaps the most obvious potential use of a blog within a team site. However, with a SharePoint Portal (SPS) deployment, there are personal sites (called MySites) that represent a public, personal home page for each portal user. This page is a perfect place to host a personal blog, and in fact, it’s totally in line with the goals of MySites within SPS.

 

Of course, a blog wouldn’t be a blog if it didn’t support RSS. Not only will WSS v3 support an RSS feed on its blog template, you can generate an RSS feed from any list in WSS. Outlook ‘12’ is integrating an RSS aggregator (as is IE7), and you will be able to use these clients (or any other RSS aggregator that can consume RSS 2.0) to subscribe to the RSS feeds from WSS lists. The owner of the list can configure the RSS feed to determine which fields are included in the feed.

 

In summary, a key goal of WSS is to help individuals and teams capture and manage all the content necessary to do their jobs. In this context, adding blog and wiki templates to WSS seems like a logical extension to the content set that individuals and teams care about. They are not a replacement for email (more about this later), document libraries or lists, but they do provide a new way to capture, manage and present content that’s relevant to the team and the organization. By putting that content in WSS, it can be managed, archived, searched, secured etc. along with all the other collaborative content in the organization.

Posted by pjhough | 30 Comments

Windows Sharepoint Services 'v3' at the PDC and on channel9

If you’re attending PDC 2005, or just reading blogs or news sites, you’ve probably heard some news this week about SharePoint. We are unveiling quite a lot of detailed information about the next versions of Windows SharePoint Services, SharePoint Portal Server, Content Management Server and the other “Office 12” servers and clients.

Windows SharePoint Services ‘v3’ (which is my working title, not an official name) contains a lot of new features, and discussing them will be the focus of this blog. My name is PJ Hough and I’m the Group Program Manager for Windows SharePoint Services.

Today’s WSS-related announcements in the keynote at PDC were focused on Enterprise Content Management (including Windows Workflow Foundation), but there’s a lot more to WSS ‘v3’. We have many sessions at PDC focusing on developer platform capabilities in WSS, but if you just want a quick look at some of the new UI and new features, check out our impromptu interview/demo with Robert Scoble on http://channel9.msdn.com/showpost.aspx?postid=115383. It was filmed last week as we prepared for PDC.

Posted by pjhough | 4 Comments