At the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2009, I had the distinct pleasure to present the Introduction to SharePoint Designer 2010 session. The early estimates are that over 1000 people attended that session. I personally had a real good time talking about SharePoint Designer since, aside from the facts that it’s my favorite tool to customize SharePoint and that I co-authored the book on SharePoint Designer 2007, so many enhancements have been made to this product that I didn’t have to use the “maybe this feature will be included in the next version” answer even once in the session Q&A! Awesome! :-).
As they say, best things in life are Free
First, let’s talk about the price of SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD 2010)… well, or the lack of a price tag. Just like SPD 2007, SPD 2010 will also be a free product. Once it’s available (it will be released with SharePoint 2010 itself which is going to be sometime in the first half of 2010), it will be available at the following site: http://www.microsoft.com/spd. The question that might come to mind is “does this mean that Microsoft will not be further enhancing the product or supporting it fully since it has gone down the free route”. The answer I can confidentially say is Absolutely Not! The product is and will be supported as part of your SharePoint deployment. The reason Microsoft has decided to make the product free is because they did not want the price point of the product to be the barrier in trying to customize and extend SharePoint to its full potential (before jumping into code). You can only do so much within the web browser window. To take ultimate advantage of your SharePoint deployment, it is almost (dare I say) a necessity to use either SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio.
What’s in a Name anyway
The last word in the name of this product confuses many people who first hear about it (IMHO). SharePoint Designer to them insinuates that it must be a product for people who need to do branding or styling in SharePoint. While it’s true that SPD is really good at letting you apply style sheets to your sites, modify existing SharePoint themes, alter or create new Master Pages etc, this is only one part of its functionality. In my own case, for example, I use SPD for all the non-branding reasons. I use it to create end to end solutions on top of SharePoint using functionality such as the Data View web part, Workflow designer, manipulating web part zones, creating page layouts, using the built in reports etc. just to name a few. I truly believe and always mention to my customers to very seriously consider using SharePoint Designer in their environment to take full advantage of their SharePoint investment.
The bells and whistles of SharePoint Designer 2010
In my session at SPC, I presented 10 features of SharePoint Designer 2010. I also did plenty of demos related to these features. Whether you attended the conference or not, you can find the video demos for all of them at the SharePoint-Videos.com site here: https://www.visualsp.com/free-sharepoint-sharepoint-designer-and-infopath-2010-videos/. The features that I highlighted are listed below. Keep in mind, that there are more great things about SPD 2010 then are listed below. Also, not all of them are new, but they are all very useful. This is just to give you a taste of the power of SPD.
New User Experience with Summary Pages, Ribbon and Quick Launch navigation
Just like the rest of the Microsoft Office suite, SPD also now has a Ribbon on top that changes depending on the object (site, list, workflow etc) you are focused on. Of course there is a learning curve if you are not comfortable with ribbons yet, however, once you do get comfortable with it, it makes you Really productive and efficient! The Summary Pages show you the settings and summary of an object that you are currently viewing. For example, if you are focused on a list, it will show you the name, description, views, forms etc for the list. The Quick Launch navigation on the side gives you a quick way to get to different categories of objects within the site (lists, workflows, site pages etc.). Overall, it’s easier to navigate a SharePoint site using this new user experience.
Creating SharePoint Content structure
Once you start out with working in a SharePoint site collection, the types of things you will need to create will consist of subsites, lists for content, and pages to display the information among other things. While creating these objects, you will need to manipulate their name, description, schema and other settings as needed. You can do all of this in the browser or you can do it in SPD. My reason for doing this in SPD is that it’s much faster and efficient than going to the web browser and waiting for each page to load after clicking on a link to, let’s say, change the title and description of the site. The web browser is much slower than using the SPD client application. That’s a fact!
Configure Site Security
Until SharePoint 2007, you had to go through the browser to configure the security for your site. It didn’t matter what your credentials were. You could be the SharePoint server admin, but still you had to resort through using the browser. Not anymore! You can configure security directly in SPD now. Creating new SharePoint groups, associating them to the appropriate permission levels and adding users to the groups is all built into the environment now.
Create Content Types and attach to Lists directly
Having a good solid content type design in your SharePoint deployment is always a good idea. It is basically how you are telling SharePoint what types of content you will be generating in your environment. If you have not looked into content types, I advise that you read up on it. Using SPD 2010, you can now create your content types hierarchy without going to the browser. Adding site columns (or creating new ones) to content types is also pretty simple to do within SPD.
Create Site Assets for your site
Use XSLT List View web parts to show dynamic views of your data
In SharePoint 2007, we had List View web parts (LVWP) to show our list or library content in a page on the site. They worked fine, however, they were not very extensible. Meaning, if you wanted to manipulate their look and feel, you could only get as far as using the pre-built styles and layouts either through the browser or through SPD. On the other hand, we had the XSLT Data View web part (DVWP) which you could configure visually using only SharePoint Designer. That web part lets us manipulate any data points at a very granular level since all data was fetched as XML and manipulated using XSLT which is a very flexible way of transforming and presenting your data. The problem with this approach was that once the web part is deployed, it could not be easily changed or manipulated using the web browser. Enters XSLT List View web part! It gives us the best of both worlds. All lists and libraries are now deployed on pages as XSLT LVWP which can be easily configured using SPD and also extended further as needed using the browser.
Connect to Data Sources outside of SharePoint
More often than not, you will need to display data on SharePoint pages that’s coming from outside of SharePoint. SPD provides an easy to use interface to make a connection to a data source that you have access to. It’s a fairly simple wizard driven process to connect to external data sources such as databases, xml files, server side scripts (including RSS feeds), and web services (also included in this release is the support for connecting to REST web services). The best part about this functionality is that you can link the data sources together and then show a unified view of the data. So for example, let’s say you’re in a retail business… your category information could be in a xml file, while your subcategories could be accessible through a vendor’s web service and then your actual products information is in your database. You can first create the connections to your data sources and then connect all of this information together to display a combined view of the data for your users. End users don’t need to know where the actual data is coming from as long as it all just works together ‘automagically’.
Create External Content Types using Business Connectivity Services
SharePoint 2007 introduced a new functionality called Business Data Catalog. That functionality has now been renamed Business Connectivity Services. The idea behind this functionality is to expose Line of Business data from your back end services (such as People Soft, SAP, custom databases etc.) to business analysts so they can use them within SharePoint. Each piece of information (for example a table in a database that has your Customers information) can be exposed as an External Content Type (ECT) by an IT professional or a developer using SharePoint Designer. Then a business analyst can use SharePoint through the web browser to make an External List which uses this ECT. The result will be that they have a list now showing information straight from the Customers table in the database (following the example from earlier). When anyone (who has permission of course) manipulates the information in that External List, it will actually be written back to that table in the database.
Create Powerful Reusable Workflows
SharePoint Designer 20007 came with a very versatile platform to make really powerful Workflows. These were rule based workflows and utilized the ‘Activities’ already deployed at the server level. Aside from all the good stuff that these workflows provide, there was one big problem… You could not copy these workflows from one list to another or one site to another site. That quickly became a big problem if you had invested hours or days in making the workflow and then found out you couldn’t replicate it anywhere else. With SharePoint Designer 2010, you can create reusable workflows! These workflows can then be attached to lists, libraries or even content types. Not only that, but you can even package your workflows as a .wsp (solution file) and extend it further using Visual Studio! In addition to the reusable workflows, you can also create workflows which are specific to a site so there is no need to attach to a list or library at all (called Site Workflows). Oh, did I mention that workflows can now be modeled in Visio 2010 and then exported to SharePoint Designer? There are so many improvements in SPD workflows that it will take a separate blog post to dig into it all.
Restrict SharePoint Designer usage as needed
SharePoint Designer 2010 is a powerful application. The usage of this application can be controlled at the Web Application and at the Site Collection level. A Site Collection admin, for example, can decide if she wants her Site admins to be able to utilize SPD at all. Not just that, but various functions within SPD can also be restricted. An example of that is creation and management of Master Pages and Page Layouts. Another facet that can be restricted is customization of pages and detaching them from the site definition.
As you can tell, this is a very exciting new release of SharePoint Designer and it will change the way we manage, customize and configure our SharePoint environments. Each of these 10 things I mentioned above (and more that I did not get a chance to mention), deserve their own separate blog posts. Over time, I will be digging deeper into each of these things to provide you more perspective of how you can best utilize the features to your advantage. For now, I would recommend checking out our free 2010 videos that highlight many of the features listed above and more.