Office 2010 for Business: Focus on SharePoint

Published by | Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Recently Microsoft released Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 to business customers, and lynda.com began to roll out training on the Office 2010 applications. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to some of our lynda.com authors about their experiences with Office 2010 and what this latest version can do for businesses.

SharePoint is at the heart of Microsoft’s enterprise collaboration efforts. Today’s Q&A features staff author Simon Allardice, who is developing a rich line of courses to help businesses understand how to get the most out of SharePoint. Look for his SharePoint 2010 New Features course, just released today in the Online Training Library®.

Q: We’ve joked that lynda.com should create a course called What the Heck Is SharePoint? Simon, what the heck is SharePoint?

SharePoint 2010 New Features Course TrailerA: What is SharePoint? is a question that can’t be answered simply. And that’s because SharePoint is not a product. It’s not a solution to a problem. It’s a platform that you use to build a hundred solutions to a hundred different problems, and it will be different for you than for anyone else. You can use it to create internal collaborative websites, or manage huge public websites. Move all your content (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, even audio or video) off your desktop and into SharePoint to manage it better. Work with document management, versioning, and workflow. Use its search engine to search all your stuff. Bring all your information together on-the-fly to understand it. And SharePoint even helps you extend itself when you need to add more features.

This thing is more like an operating system than it is an Office product. And everyone underestimates SharePoint. Everyone. It’s bigger than you think it is. And it’s more useful than you think it is.

Q: Why should businesses be excited about SharePoint 2010?

A: Most people think that it takes Microsoft (or indeed, any software company) a few versions of any product to “get it right.” Well, we’re a few versions in with SharePoint. They got it right. This latest rev is a hell of a product.

The overall user experience is significantly better. The user interface is hugely improved. It’s finally multi-browser. The tools (SharePoint Designer 2010, SharePoint Workspace) are tighter. Integration with Office is smoother. The new features—things like PerformancePoint Services, integration with Access and Visio—range from “cool” to jaw-droppingly impressive.

SharePoint is such a huge technology—and SharePoint 2010 is bigger than ever—that it’s difficult to learn it by yourself. But if you take a few hours exploring it, you’ll know things other people don’t. You won’t have to fight with it. It won’t puzzle you. You’ll find it more enjoyable. And that time is worth it, because SharePoint, used correctly, makes your life easier. It can take care of many things you have to do yourself—many of which you may not even realize till they’re not taking up hours of your day anymore—and it really can give you new ways of working that you may not have considered yet.

Once you realize the right approach with SharePoint—that it’s a platform you build your solutions on, not a solution itself—any knowledge worker in your organization should be able to spend just a few hours in SharePoint and do something cool, something useful.

Q: lynda.com just released training from you that teaches how to customize SharePoint sites with SharePoint Designer 2007. How robust is SharePoint Designer, and are users generally aware of everything it can do?

A: SharePoint Designer, like SharePoint itself, is a vastly underestimated program. And there are three—very different—reasons to use it:

  1. Create conventional websites. Forget about SharePoint for a moment. SharePoint Designer is a competent conventional web design tool. Use it to edit and build regular web sites and pages; there’s split view XHTML support, CSS, accessibility reporting—all the usual stuff. It’s basically Expression Web with extra SharePoint bells and whistles. And it’s FREE, which is news that still isn’t as widely known as it should be.
  2. Customize the look-and-feel of SharePoint sites. The typical layout of a new SharePoint site is dull. It’s functional, but drab. And it’s meant to be, so the site can immediately be used without worrying about color schemes and fonts. But if you want to change it? You can. It’s built to be modified. If you’re a web designer, you probably want to use your favorite tool: Dreamweaver, Coda, whatever. I get it. But if you try and make your SharePoint page layouts and master pages in a tool that has no idea what SharePoint is, you’re making life difficult for yourself. SharePoint Designer is a web design tool that understands SharePoint. BIG difference.
  3. Create workflow. You can use SharePoint Designer to create and edit Workflows—automated business processes—using a multi-page wizard.  (For example, “When a new expense report is created, automatically email Fred, check to see if the amount is less than $500, and if so, email Alice, if not, create a task for Bob…”) This is completely non-visual. It has nothing to do with web pages. And it sometimes seems like a weird fit, almost as if a team at Microsoft wrote a completely separate workflow design tool, weren’t sure what to call it, and just crammed it into SharePoint Designer because there wasn’t an obvious place where to put it.

As you can imagine, the folks who use SharePoint Designer for reason 2 are often totally different people than for reason 3. If you create workflows, that might be all you do. You could be completely uninterested in the design capabilities of SharePoint Designer. Or vice versa. In my course, I focus on the “Customize the look of SharePoint sites ” part.

In short, if customizing SharePoint sites is something you think will be part of your future—or is something you want to be part of your future—then this tool needs to be in your skillset. No question.

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