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New year, new SharePoint

New year, new SharePoint

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Welcome to 2010. As someone who grew up reading sci-fi books this is a year that should include colonies on Mars, regular trips to the moon and flying cars. Well, it doesn’t look that any of those will be coming out of Microsoft Research this year, but we will be getting SharePoint Server 2010.

I’ve already made some short posts about some of the nifty new features, but I’d like to take a little longer to talk about some of the key differences between 2007 and 2010, at least as far as SharePoint is concerned.

Business Connectivity Services

This is, I feel, one of the biggest improvements. The BCS replaces the Business Data Catalog. The names themselves should give you some idea of the differences. The BDC was a catalogue (I’m English; you get English spellings when I’m not talking product/feature names). It pulls data from an external source, indexes it and makes it searchable. It’s a source of information not a two-way conversation. There were workarounds using actions to create something that was two-way, but it was often far from straight-forward. BCS is about connections. We’re no longer dealing with a catalogue of information but a real connection between SharePoint and an external data source.

It’s now enormously easier to create SharePoint applications that interact with other (not necessarily Microsoft) systems.

The other big difference is that BCS is available in SharePoint Foundation, instead of being an enterprise feature like the BDC.

The ribbon UI

This makes it easier to interact with a SharePoint site, more consistent with the desktop products and is customisable.

The ribbon user interface introduced in Office 2007 was the result of extensive user testing and studies. Now the results of that testing is being applied across SharePoint as well. Contextual menus mean that you see controls which are relevant to the particular part of the page you’ve selected.

SharePoint Designer Workflows

I used SharePoint Designer 2007 to design workflows for SharePoint. This was because, most of the time, I was designing simple demos. I know, when doing a demo, that I will enter the right information in the right format at the right time and then press the right button. In the real world, processes are never as simple as you think they should be. When you start designing workflows to cope with everything that could go wrong, things start getting complicated.

SharePoint Designer 2007 is a great tool for creating simple workflows. I would like to see any company whose official processes are as simple as the majority of my demos.

SharePoint Designer 2010 allows a lot more complexity in the workflows you can design. You can now add parallel branches. You can run steps where the workflow impersonates the workflow’s creator, allowing people using the workflow to access information elsewhere in SharePoint, without necessarily giving them permissions for that information the rest of the time.

Another problem with SharePoint Designer 2007 is that it’s not always easy to get a visual idea of how the workflows will look. With 2010, you can interact with Visio to either see your SharePoint Designer workflow drawn as a Visio diagram or to create a workflow from a diagram.

You can now create reusable workflows with the Designer as well as editing the out of the box workflows.

So now you won’t be tied to using Visual Studio when you want to create a workflow even slightly complex.

Offline working

Offline working with 2007 is possible, using a combination of synching to Outlook and saving documents to a SharePoint Drafts folder on your laptop. With SharePoint Workspace, everything becomes a whole lot simpler.

You can save documents, lists, even whole sites into SharePoint Workspace. You can then access them as though you were going directly to SharePoint, even when offline. Workspace will then synchronise changes when you reconnect. For sites you’ve put in your workspace, you can get almost the full experience of working with SharePoint without needing a connection to the network.

That’s just the start…

There are a lot more features that are new in 2010, allowing improved social networking capabilities, better handling of policies, easier analysis of site usage, easier handling of photos and videos, phonetic searching, and more. If you want to learn more about what’s coming in SharePoint 2010, check out http://sharepoint2010.microsoft.com

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