09 November, 2007

Dogfooding SharePoint

I have always believed in eating your own dog food (or sipping your own champagne, depending on how you look at it), so as a consultant with SharePoint as one of my specialities, I have always used the product a fair bit outside of work.

I used to run my personal website on SharePoint, mainly just for the heck of it. I have occasionally used team sites for organising trips and other social events. However most of this has now moved to Facebook because it relieves you of the cumbersome task of managing user credentials. I have used document workspaces for group assignments when I was still doing my MBA. When travelling I usually set up a secure document library with scanned copies of all my travel documents, so I can access them from anywhere if need be. And finally I currently have a few private wikis for developing various ideas and concepts with friends.

There are potentially a few scenarios in your personal life where you can take advantage of SharePoint as a productivity tool. The good news is that there are plenty of providers out there offering hosted SharePoint for a reasonable price (I use Webhost4life and WebCentral) or even for free (e.g. Frontpages Web Hosting).

08 November, 2007

Troubleshooting the RSS viewer web part

The RSS viewer web part is a quick and easy way to integrate external live content into a SharePoint portal. However, this seemingly simple web part appears to be causing trouble for a lot of people. Quite often it simply does not work straight off the bat because additional configuration is required.

First of all, if your environment is using a proxy server to access the Internet then the proxy details need to be added to the web.config file. Refer to this post on how to do this. If you have not configured this you will see the error "An unexpected error occured processing your request. Check the logs for details and correct the problem."

Once you have put in the proxy details in the web.config file you may hit another wall with the error "proxy authentication required" displayed in the web part. And this is despite the current user can access the feed directly in a browser.

The RSS viewer web part uses authentication delegation and is using the current user's credentials to access the proxy. However, the RSS viewer only supports anonymous and Kerberos authentication. So if you are using NTLM authentication the RSS viewer will not be able to authenticate the user through the proxy.

What you can do in this case is adding exceptions to your firewall so it will not prompt for authentication for certain URLs. The unfortunate downside of this of course is that every time a user adds a new RSS feed to a page the user needs to request the IT department to reconfigure the firewall.

Stay tuned to my SharePoint musings: Subscribe via email or RSS.

19 August, 2007

Commerce Server Product Roadmap

Microsoft Commerce Server is one a those products where it has been hard to find information about its direction beyond the current release. Hence, Ryan Donovan's post announcing the product's long-term roadmap is giving some much needed insight.

It seems there will be more and improved integration points reinforcing its bid to be a central e-commerce platform. The plans to incorporate social networking features also look very interesting.

22 July, 2007

Online productivity tools

All of us information and knowledge workers use many different tools to increase our productivity. But the days where we only use tools provided to us through the corporate network or the standard operating environment have long gone.

We use an ever increasing number of tools delivered through the Internet. Some of my favourite tools obviously include Google, Technorati and del.icio.us, but there are many more out there that I find extremely useful.

Masahable has published a very comprehensive list of online productivity tools available to everyone on the Internet. I can recommend you spend some time having a closer look at what's available out there. At the very least you'll be amazed by the capabilities on offer and more than likely you'll find a few tools that will boost your own productivity.

17 July, 2007

Social networking in the enterprise

Facebook seems to be sweeping across the globe like a wildfire at the moment. This social networking site is one of the most well-designed ones out there at the moment and is quickly on its way to become the most popular as well.

The recent popularity of Facebook amongst the 25-35 year demographic has proven that it is not only teenagers who find they get value out of social networking sites. Facebook's open platform means that there are now thousands of third-party applications you can plug into this social utility and use it for a myriad of quite useful and practical purposes.

One of the things that Facebook does very well is the way it reports back to you with a dashboard type view of everything that is happening in your social network. You easily get an overview of content recently added by friends, what your friends are up to and any notifications you need to take action on.

It makes me think how amazing it would be if you had this kind of visibility into what is going on within your own organisation. MOSS does offer basic social networking features through the My Site functionality and its colleague tracker, but it is nowhere near the capabilities of Facebook.

Michael Gannotti, who is a senior technology specialist with Microsoft, has just set up a new group on Facebook ("Social Networking in the Enterprise") for interested parties to share ideas around which social networking features and services can have a meaningful impact within the enterprise. Come and join us there if you are interested in this topic.

12 July, 2007

Using FeedBurner with Blogger

FeedBurner is a great utility for publishing and managing your blog feed. It gives you extended subscriber stats and you can easily add extra functionality to your blog posts such as integration with Technorati, del.icio.us and Digg helping the reader to use their favourite tools.

So if you aren't already subscribing to this blog via my FeedBurner url (http://feeds.feedburner.com/kalsing), please update your feed reader to do so. In exchange, I promise some exciting posts in the coming weeks.

I'm using Blogger to host this blog and I've had a few issues with my setup that I finally found some time to address this morning:

  • Directing subscribers to the FeedBurner feed. I've always had a link to my FeedBurner feed on the blog site. However, users might not use this link and instead use the 'autodiscovery' functionality available in IE7 and Firefox. By default, this will point readers to the Blogger generated feed url rather than using the FeedBurner link. But the good news is that you can control what link is provided from the 'autodiscovery' buttons. More details about this here.
  • Wrong dates showing in Outlook 2007. When subscribing to my feed using the new feed reader functionality in Outlook 2007, the posts would not display the correct publication date (all posts had the same date, 1/01/2007) and hence the posts couldn't be sorted chronologially. The problem is that Outlook 2007 doesn't seem to read Atom feeds correctly. To fix this problem, configure your FeedBurner to use the Blogger generated RSS url rather than the Atom url. This url should be http://[YourId].blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss.

03 June, 2007

Are you blogging?

If you aren't, you probably should be! If you're not convinced, read Joel Oleson's excellent post on why you should blog. To cut a long story short, through blogging we have collectively raised the bar in terms of available and accessible resources. As a result, it has made us all more productive.

IT professionals have for obvious reasons been the first to adapt and create an invaluable blogosphere of information and knowledge. However, this may start spreading rapidly into many other professions very very soon. There simply are too many benefits to be reaped to ignore it.

Still too many are reluctant to share because they feel they're giving away valuable IP. But the world is changing. IP is no longer the raw information itself. Your real IP is about how effectively you utilise the information and use it in new and innovative ways.

Blogging is only one of the many new tools changing the way we all work. Others include tools for social bookmarking, peer production, ideagoras, crowdsourcing and tons of other emerging concepts that will require practically any business to change radically to stay competitive. If you have an interest in Web 2.0 and the future of business I can recommend you read Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams. It's a facinating read!

01 June, 2007

Upgrading SharePoint

I have recently been working with upgrades from SPS2003 to MOSS2007 so I thought I would share my experiences with getting through it.

First of all, read the Upgrading to Office SharePoint Server 2007 guide from Microsoft. It explains the upgrade process and provides detailed steps for the various options. In addition, read Joel Oleson's posts on upgrading. There are loads of valuable information and references in those posts. All up, there's a fair bit to study but doing your homework will save you grief and time down the track.

The two most important things to take away from Joel's posts are how to use the PRESCAN.EXE tool and how to choose which upgrade method to use. The PRESCAN.EXE tool has to be run and all errors surfacing from the scan has to be addressed before proceeding with the upgrade. Carefully consider your choice of upgrade method. Unless you have a very good reason not to, you should be using the Gradual Upgrade approach (aka Side-by-Side Upgrade).

Once you've understood the upgrade process, it is pretty straight forward. But do perform a trial upgrade first in a test environment that emulates your production environment. This will allow you to identify potential problems and estimate how long it takes before moving on to the real thing. And while you're doing this trial upgrade, document it thoroughly. Your upgrade of the production environment should then go smoothly and with minimal downtime.

Where it gets complicated, is when you come across customised site definitions (the PRESCAN.EXE tool will identify those for you). For each customised site definition you need to carefully consider whether to keep it, migrate it or ditch it. Again, refer to Joel's posts for an understanding of the issues and resources about how to address them.

Upgrading a heavily customised environment certainly is more complicated than upgrading an environment with less customisations done to site definitions (server templates). I guess, it's a healthy reminder that you should never customise just for the sake of it. Always have good reasons for changing the default environment. There are scenarios where it's not worth customising the UI.

On a final note, make sure there is enough disk space for your databases. When using the Gradual Upgrade approach, SharePoint needs space for the database with the original content, the database with the upgraded content and an intermeditate database used during the upgrade process. In total you need space available for at least three times the size of your original content. Trust me, it's no fun to have a four-hour upgrade job failing in the last hour because of a lack of disk space.

30 May, 2007

New Office Interactive Developer Map

Via Erika Ehrli's post I just discovered the newly released Microsoft Office Interactive Developer Map. It's a slick Windows application built on WPF. For each of the different feature areas in the Office client and server products, it gives you an aggregated view of the latest news, available reference documentation, community resources and much more.

Every time you launch the program, it checks for updates and pulls them from the server when available. I'll probably still use search and my blogroll as my primary sources of information, but when needing to get quickly up to speed on a feature area, I think this tool will come in handy.

28 May, 2007

Extended content management capabilities for MOSS 2007

The information management software company EMC has now partnered with Microsoft to fully integrate their EMC Documentum platform with MOSS. In particular around large-scale archiving capabilities, the EMC product will fill some current gaps in the MOSS platform. More details here.

11 March, 2007

IIS 7.0 features

This month's edition of MSDN Magazine has a great article giving insight into the features of IIS 7.0. Although Windows Server "Longhorn" is still some time away, Windows Vista actually ships with the same full-featured IIS 7.0 bits that are expected to be released in Windows Server "Longhorn." So you can start playing with it now!

I really like that the IIS metabase is gone. You can now configure all of the IIS specific settings through the hierarchy of web.config files side-by-side with your application configuration. This really simplifies deployment, configuration, backup and recovery.

07 March, 2007

Asia Pacific SharePoint Conference

The long anticipated Asia Pacific SharePoint Conference in Sydney has now been officially announced. It was held with enormous success in Europe in February with more than 2,300 participants. Only 500 spots are available the Asia Pacific event, so you have to be quick. More details here.

22 February, 2007

Migrating users in WSS 2.0

WSS 2.0 does not synchronise itself with Active Directory. This means that if a user account is renamed or has been moved to another domain, it can no longer log in to SharePoint. You can of course add the new account to SharePoint to grant access but then you end up with two accounts representing the same user which is not ideal for clarity in history, etc.

The correct solution is to update the username across all the content databases. With Service Pack 2 a new API was introduced and with that a new operation for stsadm.exe called 'migrateuser' which does exactly that.

For example, if a user account has been moved to a new domain, it can be migrated with the following command:

stsadm -o migrateuser -oldlogin domain1\joebloggs
-newlogin domain2\joebloggs

18 February, 2007

BSPUG: Excel Services

To follow up on my presentation last week at the Brisbane SharePoint User Group, here are some links to my slide decks as well as good starting points for learning more about Excel Services:

29 January, 2007

Forms-based authentication in WSS 3.0

One of the cool things about the security model in WSS 3.0 is that you're no longer restricted to Active Directory when it comes to authenticating users. Because WSS 3.0 is using ASP.NET 2.0's provider model you can authenticate your users in any way you want, including forms-based authentication.

Forms-based authentication is useful in an extranet scenario where you don't want external users in your Active Directory. But what's really cool is that you can configure SharePoint to use multiple authentication providers for the same site. That means you can have external users of an extranet logging in by typing a username and a password (forms-based authentication) and still provide a seamless user experience for internal users of that same extranet by authenticating them based on their existing Active Directory credentials (windows integrated authentication).

There are two really good posts on how to configure SharePoint to use multiple authentication providers:

Now, my whole point of this post was to share a couple things based on my experience with configuring this:

  • The first couple of times I configured dual authentication carefully following the instructions in the posts above, it simply wouldn't work for me. I didn't get any useful error messages, SharePoint just didn't want to resolve my forms-based authenticated users. After many hours of frustration I realised that the account that my SharePoint application pool was running under didn't have access to the database where my users were stored. So, after you've created your ASP.NET 2.0 framework database with the aspnet_regsql.exe tool make sure to grant permissions to your SharePoint application pool account.
  • Following Andrew Connell's tip, Visual Studio 2005's ASP.NET Configuration Website is a quick and easy way to verify your web.config settings and to add some users into your database. But for your end users, you want to provide a more user friendly and secure way of adding new users. One way of achieving this is to create a new web part page that is only accessible by site owners. Using SharePoint Designer you drop the standard CreateUserWizard ASP.NET 2.0 control onto that page. Remember to set the MembershipProvider property for that control as well as other properties you may want to customise. Similarily, you can also utilise the other standard ASP.NET 2.0 controls, such as ChangePassword, PasswordRecovery, etc.

Update: I just came across this great post on Chandima's Blog. It's another detailed guide on how to configure forms-based authentication. He has also released an early version of a SharePoint feature he is working on. This feature will add user administration functionality to a site using forms-based authentication. Nice work!

Stay tuned to my SharePoint musings: Subscribe via email or RSS.

24 January, 2007

New SharePoint Designer Team Blog

The SharePoint Designer Team at Microsoft have just started a new blog. They are promising posts on usage scenarios and general positioning of the product. I must admit I was one of those slight sceptics of FrontPage. However, these days I find myself doing more and more cool things in SharePoint quite efficiently using SharePoint Designer. I look forward to learn more good stuff by reading the SharePoint Designer Team Blog.

23 January, 2007

Version numbering when migrating documents into SharePoint

When creating a new document in (or uploading one to) a SharePoint document library with versioning switched on, the document will be given version number 1.0 in the version history.

When moving documents across to a document management solution based on SharePoint document libraries, your documents will more often than not already have a version history in another system. This could be as simple as having kept a version number manually inside the document itself along with a revision history table.

I have had clients asking about the possibility for initialising the version number that SharePoint gives new documents. By design this is not supported by the SharePoint API and hence it cannot be done. Don't even think about going straight to the database to do it.

So, what do you do about keeping track of your audit trail across the two systems? Here's a couple of options I can think of:
  1. Create a custom column with a manually updated version number (or updated automatically by a workflow). Basically continuing the previous version numbering.
  2. Only use the new version numbers in SharePoint and then document the mapping between the last version in the previous system and the first version in SharePoint.

11 January, 2007

The MOSS Records Center

Just a quick one to draw some attention to the Records Center site template that comes with MOSS as I think it's quite cool. It's powerful functionality that's very easy to configure.

There is a brief demo here demonstrating the functionality and how you set it all up in a few simple steps. Following these steps, it will take you less than 15 minutes to build a working demo.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • When connecting the Records Center in Central Admin, make sure to enter the address of the Records Center web service and not just the Records Center url.
    (e.g. http://[RecordsCenterUrl]/_vti_bin/officialfile.asmx)
  • When setting up the record routing take care the Title matches the content type name exactly and that the Location matches the name of the destination document library in the Records Center.
  • The routing of documents into different libraries in the Records Center is all based on content types. Hence, keep the Records Center in mind when you design your content types across your document libraries. The more you leverage content types, the better you can structure and automate your Records Center.