May 24, 2004

Woops: Paris airport collapse

Good to see the French doing their bit to support the forensic engineering industry - Paris airport terminal collapse. No doubt there are a few nervous structural engineers around today, taking a second look at their analysis of an arch. I am glad I am not in their shoes.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Engineering category at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2004

Issues lists

Issues lists are worthy of mention, as there are none in a default sharepoint site, but they provide the closest thing to workflow automation that can be achieved without programming your own event handlers.

To create an issues list, select 'Documents and lists', and then 'Create'. At the bottom of the lists group, there is an 'Issues list' item. These are customisable to some extent, and provide a very useful way of tracking issues which may be assigned to different people in the course of their resolution.

We use them within our workplace to assign work and record drawing amendment and design checking processes. The person initiating the work creates the issue and assigns it to the recipient. They receive an email automatically (this is an option available when setting up the list) notifying them of the issue. When they have dealt with it, they open the item and edit it, where they have the opportunity to add comments to the item. They can assign it to someone else or close it depending on what is required next. Each set of comments are recorded chronologically in the item, and as far as I can tell are not editable after they have been posted (this may be either good or bad depending on your viewpoint).

You can add custom fields to the basic issues list form, and link these to other lists on the site if desired. In our case we maintain a list of unique project numbers, which we often link to in other lists and discussions. Attachments are also permitted on issues list entries. Overall, the Issues List is a useful tool in the default Windows Sharepoint Services website.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 04:20 PM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2004

Web parts: WSS building blocks

WSS functionality is presented through the extensive use of "web parts". This concept may be foreign at first to those used to building HTML pages, but it provides a modular approach to adding your own content to a WSS site. In this article I outline the types and uses of the basic web parts, and how to insert them on pages of a WSS site.

If you have administrator rights for the WSS site, click on the 'Modify shared page link' and select 'Design this page'. This will then present the page to you in Design mode. A number of boxes appear around the page content. These denote the 'web part zones', and are basically containers for web parts. To see the available web parts, click on 'Modify shared page' | 'Add web parts' | 'Browse', and a toolpane listing the available web parts will open.

All of the document libraries and lists in the site will be represented in this list, along with some others - Content editor web part, Form web part, Image web part, Members web part, Page viewer web part and XML web part. To add a web part, just drag it from the list to the web part zone in which you wish it to appear. You can then select 'Modify shared web part' from the drop down list on the web part titlebar to open a toolpane that enables options for the web part to be set, such as the width, height, title, etc.

It is worth noting that the document library and list web parts provide views of site data, and do not contain the content themselves. If you delete the web part, the source data is unaffected.

Usage of most of the web parts is straight forward, but some are worthy of comment further. To insert your own javascript or html content on a page, use the Content Editor web part, and you can either type the content as rich text, or type it in as html source. To insert a view of an RSS feed from another site, you can use the XML web part. (You will need to supply an XSLT file to format the data; one source of these is Sig Weber's page.)

Web parts can be linked, so that the content displayed in one web part depends on the options selected in another on the page. I will leave the details of this for a future post. When editing a page in Frontpage, there is another web part available called the Data view web part. This web part is very powerful, and I hope to write a separate article about it at a future date.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2004

PDF's and WSS

Just a short note about a topic that has been covered in depth elsewhere (try the WSS FAQ or demo site linked from my main page for a start).

By default, WSS does not have a pdf icon, and it does not index content within pdf files. Both of these can be achieved, but it requires admin rights on the local server. In my own case, we were able to convince our service host to install the Adobe iFilter and icon for us. Note that officially the iFilter is for Sharepoint Portal Server, but it works fine with WSS as well. MS knowledgebase articles 832809 and 837849 are a useful reference on this topic (and the former contains a link to the iFilter).

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 03:53 PM | Comments (0)

Backup a WSS site - updated

As soon as you take the time to add content to your WSS site, the obvious question is how do you make a backup? If you don't have admin rights on the local computer, the options are somewhat reduced.

You can either use Frontpage 2003 to open the website, and "Publish to.." a local drive, or you can use the Microsoft migration tool smigrate. Yes, even though it is a migration tool, it is intended to be used for backup/restore of WSS sites. The smigrate option does not give a full-fidelity backup as some customisations may be lost after a restore, but it is the best that can be achieved without local access. In the remainder of this article, I will outline how to obtain and use smigrate.

(I found a lengthy and very recent article on an MS site comparing the various methods of backing up WSS sites in detail, including the stsadm command line tool for those with local access. If anyone has the link to this article, please post it in a comment, as I cannot find the article again.)

(Update 7 July, 2004: A Frontpage whitepaper available here compares all of the backup options in detail (including those not available in Frontpage). An extract summarising the options can be viewed here (36 kb pdf).)

Smigrate can be obtained here, and the usage is as follows:

Usage (backup):
smigrate -w -f [-e] [-y]
Usage (restore):
smigrate -r -w -f [-x]
The following command-line parameters can be used with SMIGRATE.exe.

Parameter Description
-f Backup filename (required). Specify a filename with the extension .fwp.
-e Exclude subsites during backup (optional). No parameters.
-r Restore (optional). No parameters.
-w Website URL (required). Valid URL to a SharePoint Web site.
-x Exclude security during restore (optional). No parameters.
-y Confirm that you want to overwrite an existing backup file.
-u Administrator username.
-pw Administrator password. Specify * as the password to be prompted for a password.

One thing that I have noticed is that it will fail if I leave my firewall running, so that needs to be shut down beforehand. Even though it is a command line tool, I have made a shortcut to it which passes the necessary parameters, and it runs fine without ever needing to type anything in.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

Shortcut to a document library

This topic is easy, but worth mentioning. With Office 2003, you can open documents from and save them to document libraries as easily as saving them to your local disk.

To save to a library and create a shortcut to it for future use, do the following:

1. With the document you wish to save open (in Word, for example), click Save as...
2. In the filename, type the full url of the sharepoint site, eg http://www.yourserver.com/yoursite and click Save.
3. You will be prompted to login to the site, then a list of the available document libraries will be given.
4. Double click the destination library.
5. Click the Tools option on the Save as dialog, and select Add to "My Places". This will create an icon in the left hand pane for future use (the icon can be renamed if you wish).
6. Save the document.

The shortcut can then be used to access the library for both saving and opening documents.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2004

Book review

Following are my comments on the book "Microsoft Sharepoint: Building Office 2003 Solutions", by Scot Hillier, published in 2004 by Apress (ISBN 1-59059-338-3).

The contents of this book are as follows:

Chapter 1: Sharepoint Business Solutions
Chapter 2: Sharepoint Products and Technologies Overview
Chapter 3: Sharepoint Portal Server Basics
Chapter 4: Sharepoint Content Development
Chapter 5: Building Web Parts
Chapter 6: The Microsoft Single Sign-On Service
Chapter 7: Advanced Web Part Development
Chapter 8: The Microsoft Office System
Chapter 9: Programming Sharepoint Services
Chapter 10: Sharepoint Portal Server Administration
Chapter 11: Office Solution Accelerators

As you can see from the contents, this book targets Sharepoint Portal Server. To follow the code examples provided, you need at least Microsoft Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition, Sharepoint Portal Server, and Visual Studio .NET. While the Web Part development topics are relevant to those using WSS only, they still require Visual Studio .NET. (That rules me out.) Still, I did glean some useful tips from this book, and it will be a useful reference in the event that I start developing Web Parts with Visual Studio .NET sometime in the future.

If you are interested in Web Part development, and want some examples for free, have a look at the companion content to the book "Programming Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange 2003", 3rd edition, by Thomas Rizzo (Microsoft Press, ISBN 0-7356-1464-4), which is available for download here. This download contains several supplemental chapters, some of which cover Web Part development.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2004

Why blog?

I have started this blog as a place to outline my experience customising Windows Sharepoint Services. There are plenty of blogs about WSS, many of these are maintained by gurus with a lot of development experience. My blog is aimed at WSS beginners like myself with modest resources, specifically:

Frontpage 2003,
MS Office 2003,
Windows Sharepoint Services (not Portal Server), externally hosted,
Limited coding experience.

This blog will record tips and tricks as I come across them, and outline the solutions to the everyday issues that arise within my organisation. I hope that it encourages new users to take advantage of the built in features of WSS, and those that are considering WSS to jump in and get started, as well as outlining some of the customisation that can be achieved with minimal effort.

My involvement with Sharepoint began with Sharepoint Team Services (the predecessor to WSS). I work for a decentralised structural engineering consulting firm whose staff work from their own homes. STS offered intranet-like functionality for remote workers, so we jumped in and set up a site in 2003. With the release of Windows Server 2003, WSS came along and we made the transition from STS to take advantage of expanded features. (Our site is hosted with Alentus in Canada.)

The use of our WSS 'intranet' site has grown to the point where it handles a major share of our administrative records, internal correspondence and design process. We are very pleased with the facility, and have realised significant productivity improvements as a result. A planned future use is the provision of extranets for our projects to enable self-service drawing retrieval by clients/builders.

And we also use a customised WSS site as our external 'advertising' site, which you can view at www.lemckeeng.com. Most of the customisations and content visible at this site were achieved within Sharepoint, with some minor modifications performed in Frontpage 2003.

Posted by Jeffrey to the Sharepoint category at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)