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What’s New in Microsoft SharePoint 2010?

In November Microsoft released a beta version of SharePoint 2010. This is the fourth version of SharePoint, and the product is showing its maturity with a lot of improvements from the 2007 version. Indeed, whether or not you currently have SharePoint, 2010 is worth a serious look, and in this article we take a look at what SharePoint 2010 will deliver.

As a SharePoint specialist, a question I frequently get asked is “what is SharePoint?” and that question is surprisingly difficult to answer, as SharePoint covers a breadth of functionality that isn’t really matched by other products. According to Microsoft SharePoint 2010 is “The Business Collaboration Platform for the Enterprise & the Web”, and it helps you to:

  • Connect and empower people by letting them work together in ways that are most effective for them, whether via a PC or a mobile.
  • Cut costs with a unified infrastructure whether deployed on-premise, in the cloud, or a combination of both.
  • Rapidly respond to business needs by easily designing and creating business solutions with little or no coding.

To help explain in more detail, the functional areas of SharePoint have been split into six areas.
So let’s drill down into each of these areas:

  • Sites. Collaborative sites remain at the core of SharePoint. The user interface has improved significantly, and now includes the “Office Ribbon” that was introduced in Office 2007. Different browsers are better supported, and accessibility standard WCAG 2.0 AA is achieved. Accessing SharePoint through mobile devices is improved, and a new tool – SharePoint Workspace – allows documents and data to be worked on offline and subsequently synchronised back to SharePoint. Integration of SharePoint with the Office suite is excellent as you would expect, and interestingly we see the introduction of web versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, so you can work on documents when using a machine that doesn’t have the latest version of Office installed. Multi-language support is also much improved.
  • Communities. Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are having a big impact on the way people interact. While many executives and IT managers are suspicious of such tools, it has to be realised that they can bring significant productivity gains, and that employees are increasingly expecting to have them available. Also employees are going to use them anyway, for example through mobile devices when internet access is blocked. So, the argument goes, isn’t it better to provide them internally and retain control? SharePoint delivers social networking primarily through “My sites”, with user profiles, blogs and wikis, status updates, tagging, bookmarking, feedback, organisation charts, and note boards. The functionality is intuitive and easy to use. If you’ve resisted the introduction of such technologies to date, it could be time to look again.
  • Content. If you have been wary of the content management capabilities of SharePoint in the past you will find that many of the shortcomings have been addressed. Managed metadata allows you to define centrally managed taxonomies that can be used to classify and find content. Unique document IDs allow documents to be found later, even if the document has moved. Document sets allow documents to be grouped together and treated as a unit. The records management capabilities have been enhanced significantly, with more options and more control.
  • Search. The SharePoint search has been improved with phonetic search, “did you mean”, refinement of search results, and definitions. Social search enables you to find people with specific skills or talents. For true high end, enterprise search capability that works well with millions of documents there is an option to upgrade to FAST Search for SharePoint 2010.
  • Insights. The business intelligence capabilities of SharePoint have been enhanced. Spreadsheets can be published to Excel Services and access to them controlled, while PowerPivot allows you to use Excel to analyse millions of rows of data. PerformancePoint Services allows you to quickly assemble dashboards with graphs and key performance indicators. Visio diagrams can be rendered in the browser using Visio Services.
  • Composites. Potentially one of the most exciting aspects of SharePoint 2010. Composites are business solutions created using out-of-the-box SharePoint components and tools without the development of custom code solutions or deployment. They promise to allow business solutions to be built in hours or days, rather than weeks or months. Business Connectivity Services allows SharePoint to be connected to external data, and for that data to be updated from within SharePoint. Forms management with Infopath Forms Services is improved, and Access Services allows full Access databases complete with tables, reports, forms and macros to be published to SharePoint and used through the browser.

So how should this upcoming release influence your SharePoint strategy? Clearly, if you have SharePoint 2003 or 2007 there is little point in investing further in it until you have assessed SharePoint 2010 and decided whether or not to upgrade. You may find that the functionality you require comes “out-of-the-box” in SharePoint 2010, or that the business solution you need can easily be built as a composite solution. If you are thinking of deploying SharePoint but have not yet done so, then it makes no sense to embark on a 2007 based roll out now unless you have a really compelling reason to do so.

Of course there is the question of cost to consider, and licence costs have not been announced yet. However one thing you can be sure of – SharePoint 2010 will deliver more functionality at a far lower price than attempting to deliver a similar solution through a “mix and match” approach to software vendors.

The author

Ian Woodgate, Managing Director, PointBeyond.

(ITadviser, Issue 60, Winter 2009)

 

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