Office 365: Customizing SharePoint Online using SharePoint Designer 2010

The much anticipated Office 365 was finally made available at the end of June 2011. It provides a great turn-key solution for organizations to provide all sorts of services like messaging, collaboration, online conferencing and document management to their personnel at an amazingly low price. Take a quick tour around the Office 365 interfaces by watching this video.

The collaboration piece of the Office 365 pie is SharePoint Online. It’s basically SharePoint 2010 trimmed down to run ‘in the cloud’. Within your SharePoint Online environment, you can create multiple site collections for projects, departments, regions, business units or areas delegated for external sharing. A company’s SharePoint Online Administrator can delegate ownership of a site collection to a separate Site Collection Owner, who can then further create subsites and delegate ownership to a Site Owner. SharePoint Online is highly customizable and you can mold the environment to suit your needs as you see fit. Just like SharePoint 2010 on-premise, SharePoint Online is meant to be a platform on which to build business applications.

Customization Opportunities in SharePoint Online

Once you get a handle on what you have with SharePoint Online, the question becomes: How can I modify it/enhance it to suit my needs? That’s what I would like to address in this brief article.

The first level of customization is the kind of configuration you can achieve via the internet browser. Site owners and designers of a site can accomplish tasks such as creating subsites, managing site security, adding and customizing default Web Parts, creating and managing lists/libraries and more with ease. A lot can be done with the browser actually, but of course, you can only go so far with it. For example, if you wanted to get to and modify the underlying list and library forms or let’s say implement a multi-step approval process for documents in a document library, you’ll need to look beyond the browser. You’ll end up looking into creating solutions using either SharePoint Designer 2010 or programming them with Visual Studio 2010.

If you are a programmer and comfortable with code, you can use Visual Studio 2010 (VS 2010) to create custom applications that run on SharePoint Online. The following developer features form the foundation of developing for SharePoint Online:

  • Sandboxed Solutions (scoped within a site collection)
  • Client Object Model
  • Silverlight and Javascript

SharePoint Online provides both server and client object models for developers. Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 provides a range of specialized templates for creating sandboxed solutions that contain a variety of SharePoint items, such as site and list definitions, workflows, Web Parts, event receivers, and content types, to include in your SharePoint solutions. You can check out the SharePoint Online Developer Resource Center to discover more about solutions created using Visual Studio.

If you are not a programmer or even if you are, but want to understand all the things you can accomplish in SharePoint Online with SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD 2010) before jumping into code, continue reading. There is no way possible that I can list All of the customizations you can perform using SPD 2010, but the following information will give you a good idea of what’s available. You can pick up our SharePoint Designer 2010 book and be assured that most of the functionality explained in the book applies to SharePoint Online. Also, especially check out the related resources and video links listed in the paragraphs below to see for yourself the amazing things you can accomplish with this tool within the SharePoint Online space.

The Magic of SharePoint Designer 2010

With the release of Office 365, SharePoint Designer 2010 becomes more of an integral part of the SharePoint story. Why? Well, because almost all of your customizations in SharePoint Online will be at the site collection level – the space that SPD 2010 dominates!

The tasks you perform in SPD 2010 are generally referred to as customizations instead of development because tasks performed in SPD 2010 require you to edit SharePoint items declaratively, instead of using server side code. When you are using SPD 2010, you are going directly against the selected SharePoint Online site. This differs from SharePoint solution development in VS 2010, where you create and debug your solution on a local SharePoint installation, and then deploy the completed solution to the solution gallery in SharePoint Online.

Once you create a site collection using the SharePoint Online administrative interface, you are ready to crank up SPD 2010 and open the top level site of that site collection. Creating subsites and customizing metadata are very simple tasks to perform using SPD 2010. See for yourself how you can manage site components. Also, new in SPD 2010 is the ability to configure your SharePoint site security. The same functionality that will take you numerous clicks and lots of waiting to accomplish using the browser, you can perform easily using SPD 2010 in a matter of seconds. Especially if you are an admin of multiple SharePoint sites, this would be a most welcomed functionality.

Managing your site content types and metadata definitions (using mainly site columns) should be an integral activity for every site admin. Site columns and content types are declared at the site level, they work exactly the same within the SharePoint Online environment as they would with an on-premise installation. Generally, you would declare most site columns and content types at the top level site of your site collection in SharePoint Online so it would guarantee the availability of it throughout the site collection. Creating and editing site columns and content types for a site is simple enough to do in SPD 2010. If you want to see how it’s done, watch it in action here.

The core functionality of SharePoint sites is considered to be lists (and libraries which are essentially lists as well). All data is ultimately stored within a visible or hidden list or library. Using SPD 2010, you can make basic changes such as changing the name and description of the list, or edit the list columns (metadata) which is commonly one of the first things you need to attend to after creating a list. The content types attached to this list are also displayed in the Content Types section and can be managed directly from there. Customizations of list views and forms is key to really enhancing the functionality (and the look and feel) the way your organization needs it to be. You will find that there is a Lot more you can accomplish in this space using SPD 2010 compared to the browser. For example, watch how easy it is to create custom list form pages using SPD 2010.

One of the most robust and powerful features in SPD 2010 is the ability to create declarative sequential workflows. Sequential workflows are those that follow a prescribed path with a definite beginning and end with a set of conditions and actions. The workflow designer in SharePoint Designer 2010 lets you create three different types of workflows: List, Reusable and Site Workflows. All of them are available to use in their full capacity within SharePoint Online. If you have not seen the amazing possibilities of declarative workflows, I Highly recommend watching this demonstration of how you can model workflows in Visio, configure them in SharePoint Designer and then modify the workflow forms using InfoPath – all within a matter of minutes!

One of the most common requests that are received about customizing SharePoint sites is to change the look and feel of the site. You will at least want to change the logo, site colors and perhaps the font for the site – thus lightly designing and branding the site to match your corporate color scheme. You can also modify the look and feel of site pages using SPD 2010. It is all do-able in SharePoint Online with assistance from SPD 2010. If you are serious about branding your sites, pick up this book on branding SharePoint.

While working in the SharePoint Online environment, chances are that most of the times you will be utilizing the Team Site template to create your sites. In addition to the collaboration features, there also exists functionality in SharePoint called Web Content Management (WCM) – also known as the publishing infrastructure.

By enabling WCM features in a site, you can enable content authors to create and manage new page content in a consistent manner based upon the available page layouts. The functions that enable WCM in SharePoint are called publishing features. The designer of the page layout decides how to lay out the components on the page at design time using SPD 2010. Doing this controls the placement of content on a publishing page created by a contributor. Not only that, but the designer can also place restrictions on the type of content that can exist in every region of the page. For example, the designer can create a page layout which dictates that an image should be placed at the top right hand corner of the page and that a content region exists at the bottom left of the page which allows only plain text. Creating a page layout in SPD 2010 is a fairly complex, but a very powerful functionality.

Summing Up

Office 365 is targeted for all types of businesses. SharePoint Online within Office 365 starts a new chapter in SharePoint’s legacy. Now more than ever, it becomes a necessity to find out exactly how far you can take this product using the no-code customizations to quickly create business solutions. SharePoint Designer 2010 plays a major part in the customization story of SharePoint Online. It is essential that site owners, designers, power users and developers acquire a thorough understanding of what the right tools are to implement the necessary business experiences on SharePoint Online before they start building their solutions.

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Spotlight on SharePoint Video Tutorial DVDs

Do you learn best by watching examples/demonstrations? Do you want the ability to be able to watch the videos anywhere you are regardless of presence of an internet connection? If the answers to these are yes and yes then you might find that our DVD-ROM based video tutorials are just what you need! We are dedicating this newsletter to highlight our top DVDs and provide you with some more information on what you should expect to find inside of each video tutorial package.
 
SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services
Business Connectivity Services (BCS) is one of the Most powerful features in SharePoint 2010. You can use BCS to easily integrate data from your external systems into your SharePoint environment. The videos in this tutorial show you how to take advantage of this functionality in your SharePoint environment. Create lists in SharePoint which show your line of business application data (such as from custom databases, SAP, PeopleSoft and more) or show that information using pre-built BCS web parts. You will also learn about how to make BCS associations to relate two different connections. All of this and a whole lot more is all taught in this video tutorial package.
 
Reporting Services using SharePoint 2010
The introduction of Reporting Services 2008 R2, using the SharePoint 2010 add-in with the free Report Builder 3.0 authoring tool, provides an excellent way to create powerful reports for your business needs. These video tutorials show you how to take advantage of Report Builder’s design concepts to create reusable datasets and report parts from multiple sources. Also, easily create visualizations of your data such as sparklines, databars, charts, indicators and more. The end result is transformation of live data from multiple sources into powerful and meaningful reports inserted right within your SharePoint sites.
 
SharePoint 2010 Fundamentals
If you need to start out with the basics of SharePoint, this is the video tutorial to pick up. However, even if you are an intermediate SharePoint user already, you are guaranteed to pick up other tricks and tips along the way. It covers topics such as customizing sites, navigation, document management, list management and more.
 
SharePoint Designer 2010 Fundamentals
Once you have mastered the fundamentals of SharePoint 2010, it’s time to dive into this video tutorial which will present you with all of the opportunities you have to create no-code customizations and solutions on top of SharePoint using SharePoint Designer 2010 (a free product). SharePoint Designer lets you create views of your data (fetched from lists, libraries, databases, web services and more) directly on any page within your site. In addition, you can automate processes using workflows, customize site metadata, security, list/library schema and a whole lot more.
 
SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows
Ready to dive deeper into all that SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflow capability has to offer? Pick up this DVD for demonstrations of various opportunities you have to produce workflows in SharePoint Designer. Learn how to create list based, reusable or site workflows and what the difference is between the three. Also, you will see how to package these workflows and transport them from one site collection to another when needed.
 
InfoPath 2010 Fundamentals
InfoPath is ‘the recommended tool’ to create and modify forms in SharePoint. Learn how to create form library, list and workflow forms using InfoPath designer. Already have forms created using Microsoft Word or Excel? The videos in this DVD will guide you on how to migrate those forms into InfoPath. You will also see how easy it is to fetch information from your data repositories like lists, libraries and even databases into your InfoPath forms to present to your users.
 
Check out our complete collection of video tutorials on DVDs. Have an idea on a subject area we should consider for our next batch of DVDs? Just comments on this post or fill out our contact form to let us know and we’ll definitely consider it!

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Access Data from a variety of sources using SharePoint Designer 2010

One of the main things that many of us ‘SharePoint people’ are responsible for is to display and manipulate data on SharePoint pages, right? All sorts of data – not just data from within SharePoint such as List and Library data, but data from databases, through web services, xml files and all other sorts of places.

So how are you currently providing access to data to your end users? or I guess the better question to ask is ‘Are you the one doing this?’. Usually the answer is: ‘Our developers are taking care of it. It is not something that I do’. This answer will not work for very long. These types of tasks are soon to become a responsibility for many of us.

The Age of the Citizen Developer

I have been developing applications for many years now. However, I have not touched Visual Studio for quite a few years. How is that possible you ask… well, the term developer is not the same as it used to be when I used to actively program using Visual Studio back in 2005. This term is evolving to mean you build applications for consumption by other users either with programming or with other composition tools. There is a term that Gartner has come up with to describe the no-code developers like myself called ‘Citizen Developer’. Gartner claims that at least 25 percent of new business applications will be built by citizen developers by 2014. I believe it!

As far as developing on SharePoint is concerned, my tools of choice usually are SharePoint Designer and InfoPath. Both of these extremely powerful tools let you make robust solutions on top of SharePoint without writing a line of code! The focus of this short article is on working with SharePoint data and external data in SharePoint using SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD) so let me get right to it. In a separate article, I’ll talk about InfoPath’s inherent functionality to let you create and modify powerful electronic forms in SharePoint.

XSLT Web Parts in SharePoint 2010

There are two main web parts that let you display and manipulate data in SharePoint:

  • XSLT List View Web Part (XLV)
  • XSLT Data Form Web Part (DVWP)

 

The XLV lets you display data from lists and libraries while DVWP lets you show data from literally anywhere. The shortcoming (in my opinion) of DVWP is that there is no easy way to customize this web part in the browser and it can only be manipulated effectively using SPD 2010. While the XLV can be customized using the browser, the real power for this web part is also realized when manipulated using SPD.

These web parts work by consuming data in XML format and then letting us manipulate it by using XSLT. Sounds complicated? I assure you that it’s not. Everything is very visual in nature. All you are doing is customizing and configuring the web parts to make them behave the way you need them. It’s truly as simple as that once you get used to doing it. The results are extremely robust data driven solutions that you can present on any SharePoint page. The average developer accustomed to programming in a traditional development environment and unaware of these methods will think that you spent hours or days creating these solutions when in reality, it will only take you a few minutes once you are proficient at it.

Alright, enough talking. Let’s get to showing you some of these things to make you a believer too. There are two videos that I would recommend you check out right now to prove to yourself the power of XSLT web parts:

Create Custom List Form pages using SharePoint Designer 2010

Report on data from your Database using XSLT Data View web part

If these videos have intrigued your curiosity, I would suggest continuing your XSLT web part exploration using the following resources.

Additional SharePoint Designer XSLT Web Part Resources

There are a variety of scenarios that can be accomplished with XSLT web parts using SharePoint Designer 2010. The following links will provide you with the resources you need to continue your journey.

· Articles and Videos about Data Views at Office.com – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-designer-help/CH010373543.aspx

· Book – Beginning SharePoint Designer 2010 (Chapter 8)

· Video Tutorials – SharePoint Designer – XSLT web part videos

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SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows DVD

We just released the new SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows DVD. The complete information on this DVD package is available here:
https://www.visualsp.com/sharepoint-designer-2010-workflows-training-dvd/

There are four ways to implement workflows in your SharePoint sites:

1) Use the browser and built in workflow templates – A great way to start making simple workflows. Doesn’t require any other tools other than the browser.

2) Use SharePoint Designer 2010 – SharePoint Designer 2010 is free and lets you create powerful and robust workflows using a variety of built in activities (such as sending an email, creating list items, copying documents and a whole lot more). The resulting workflows are easy to understand and ownership can be transferred to business users as it seems fit.

3) Use Visual Studio – This is by far the most powerful and flexible way of creating workflows. However, it requires knowledge of the Visual Studio environment and programming. In addition, once you deploy the workflows, chances are you will need to manage them as well.

4) Buy workflow building tools from 3rd party vendors – There are some really good companies out there who will sell you their workflow building package bundles. Some of them are quite affordable and provide great functionality. Check out the recording of a webinar we conducted a while back in which I talked through the limitations of workflows in SharePoint and demonstrated the functionality of a 3rd party vendor (AgilePoint) – https://www.visualsp.com/sp10-best-practices-workflows-visio-sharepoint-designer

If you decide on option 2 above – to build powerful workflows without programming using SharePoint Designer 2010, the SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows DVD is what you need to learn all that’s possible.

Among other content, I wrote two chapters in our SharePoint Designer 2010 book (which was released in November 2010) dedicated to workflows. This DVD is a great companion to that book since it contains the videos of all of the workflow scenarios discussed in the book and more. Some of the scenarios covered in the DVD are as follows:

  • Creating List and Library Workflows
  • Creating Powerful Reusable Workflows
  • Creating Site Workflows
  • Creating Workflows using Visio
  • Managing Workflow forms using InfoPath
  • Packaging up Reusable Workflows
  • Migrating Workflows to other Site Collections
  • and more..

 

Best wishes to you on your SharePoint journey!

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Video – Create reusable workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010 and attach to Content Types

Being able to create reusable workflows is a major component of SharePoint Designer 2010. In this presentation, you will see how you can create a reusable workflow and attach it to a content type and then use that content type in multiple libraries.

Create Reusable Workflows using SPD 2010 and attach to Content Types

* This video will be available for free until Dec 3rd, 2010. It will then be returned to the Subscribers only video collection.

If you liked our Workflow videos, buy the SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows Video Package which contains all of our SharePoint Designer 2010 workflow videos:

  • Creating a Workflow on a List using SharePoint Designer 2010
  • Create reusable workflows using SharePoint Designer 2010 and attach to Content Types
  • Create a Site Workflow and modify its form using InfoPath
  • An end to end process using InfoPath 2010 for forms and Visio 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010 for Workflows
  • Create Workflows in Visio then transfer to SharePoint Designer
  • Visualize a running workflow with Visio Services
  • Customize SharePoint Designer Workflow forms using InfoPath
  • Publishing globally reusable Workflows
  • Modifying the built-in Workflow templates
  • Exporting a reusable workflow to a different Site Collection

 

Use the following discount code when purchasing for 10% off the purchase price: workflowarticle. This coupon code is only valid for 2 days until Dec 4th!

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Video – Create a Site Workflow and modify its form using InfoPath

One of the types of workflows you can create using SharePoint Designer 2010 is the site workflow. This type of workflow is not attached to a list or library but rather to a site itself. In this video, you will see how to accomplish that. In addition, you will also see how to modify the user interface form, that this workflow creates, using InfoPath 2010.

Create a Site Workflow and modify its form using InfoPath

* This video will be available for free until Dec 2nd, 2010. It will then be returned to the Subscribers only video collection.

Check back tomorrow for a new free video on SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows.

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