SharePoint 2010 – Microsoft Presentation, Nashville TN.

9 12 2009

I attended the SharePoint Users Group meeting at Microsoft’s Nashville offices on December 8th 2009. Microsoft presented and sponsored the event. The Pizza was really good :-) The presentation was to introduce SharePoint 2010 to the user community highlighting new and improved features.

Microsoft could have spent more time in preparation and planning, there were delays due to technical glitches and the speaker did not cover all the subject areas he would like to have.

Here is what I learned.

Platform

SharePoint is exclusively a 64-bit application. It only runs on Server 2008 R2 and only supports SQL or SQL Express for content storage. The Windows Internal Database no longer exists, which is a good move. However it will pose an extra challenge for those upgrading from 2007/3 to 2010 if their data is in an internal database store. SharePoint can access  SQL ‘Remote Blob’ objects.

WSS has been renamed to WSF (Windows SharePoint Foundations). Foundations is the base SharePoint functionality included with Server 2008.

Search has been enhanced, phonetic ‘sounds-like’ matches are now returned.

SharePoint Designer 2010 is only compatible with SharePoint 2010, likewise Visual Studio 2010 only works with SharePoint 2010. Microsoft decided to sacrifice backwards compatibility to enable them to add a lot more features to the latest version of SharePoint.

Migration tools are available only for Moss 2007 servers. 2003 and previous versions will not be migrated directly from 2010 server administration.

New Licensing Options

In previous versions of SharePoint, making sites outward facing was an expensive proposition, requiring an expensive license. Two licenses are now offered for external facing sites. A lower cost license is available for sites that do not utilize enterprise features, for instance a publishing site. A higher cost enterprise feature set version is still available.

Better Browser Support

SharePoint 2010 support what Microsoft refer to as ‘Tier 1 Browsers’. This is Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. As an exclusive Firefox user this is especially welcome. I won’t need the IE Tab extension to Firefox anymore to work on SharePoint sites.

New Interface

Microsoft have adopted the ribbon in all office products including SharePoint 2010. (Interestingly the SharePoint product no longer has ‘Office’ in its official product name). The Ribbon is not always visible, they have chosen to reuse the space where the ribbon has less value, it is present for any operation that involves editing content or page configuration.

The Ribbon can be disabled/hidden for some or all users and sites. One reason Microsoft did this is to allow a company to upgrade their SharePoint server to 2010 but keep the 2007 look and feel allowing for training and adoption of the new interface in a gradual manner.

SharePoint designer is integrated as an option on the ribbon, no need to launch a separate application from the host desktop. SharePoint Designer has undergone major revision and its performance has been greatly increased.

Better Integration

Integration to Office 2010 products and the desktop has been improved. Colors, logos and fonts established as a master page in PowerPoint can be saved as a theme file (.thmx extension) and imported into SharePoint to provide the same look and feel on a  SharePoint site. This makes it much easier to create branded themes allowing users to create their own without involvement from IT.

A feature has been added to allow a user to make a local copy of a SharePoint site including all of its content. This can then be accessed offline and changes synchronized when back online. (It’s similar to Collegio Networks Collegio Reader). This sounds like a very useful feature for those that travel a lot, however when quizzed about security of data should a laptop be lost/stolen no specific solution was offered (except a vague mention of Group Policy). I suppose Bitlocker would be one way to protect the data, it would be nice for DRM and security features to be available with offline access.

SharePoint can now host office applications allowing for the creation/editing of office documents from inside a browser window. The functionality and look of the web based office apps is very close to the desktop products. A few features such as word art aren’t supported in the hosted mode. As long as licensing is addressed, it is now possible to offer full office functionality to computers that do not have any version of office installed locally. This is known as Office Web Applications (OWA). Oh boy, I thought OWA stood for Outlook Web Access, I suspect that Outlook will be rolled into the new Office Web Apps, it is an office application after all.

Content Editing

The new interface allows for formatting and editing of text and objects directly from the Ribbon, negating the need for a separate Rich Text web part. Any page on a SharePoint site can be modified as rich text. Several features demonstrated drew me to the conclusion that web parts as separate zones are being de-emphasized and reserved for specific purposes. Editing content is much more like using Word.

A new feature called ‘Notepad’ allows content contributors to add a separate set of comments attached to each page allowing for an ongoing dialog regarding the editing of the associated page content. This is very much like the ‘talk’ feature on Wikipedia.

Content types can be mized on the same page, for instance in a team site for example WIKI content can be created in-line simply by creating a link [[Link]] with double square parentheses and clicking on the new link to edit the wiki content. Wiki and non-wiki content can be interwoven on the same page.

Multiple users can edit the same document ina document library. Purportedly at the same time though this was not demonstrated.

Multimedia Support enhanced

Silverlight is suported directly in SharePoint. Inserting video and photo content into a  page is very straight forward using basic ribbon tools. No need to install special modules on the server and perform arcane web part manipulation to support video streaming. An end user can easily handle multi-media without IT intervention. While the adding and editing of multi-media content has undergone much needed improvement. Little improvement was evident in the consumption of multi-media content, such as photo galleries, or a jukebox for audio etc. Shame, that would have rounded it off nicely.

Better Dash-boarding / Business Intelligence.

Performance Point Server has been built directly into the SharePoint solution and is now called SharePoint Insights. SahrePoint can now therefore consolidate and analyze data in addition to simply presenting it.

Enhanced Personal Pages

Personal pages are laid out more logically. Organizational hierarchy documented in Active Directory is graphical represented in the Personal pages. I wish I had screen shots, the drill down approach to the organization hierarchy was very creative and intuitive. Microsoft have made a bigger emphasis on the community building capabilities  of SharePoint.

Improved Administration

The Central Administration pages have undergone usability testing and are much easier to navigate and are organized in a more logical manner. The concept of SSP’s has been removed from the architecture.





Microsoft Releases short Office 2010 videos

6 12 2009

Microsoft have released some short videos showing the latest features in Office 2010.

They could have used professional presenters for a better result, but the message is the same.





Google Chrome OS – First Impressions

5 12 2009

About - Click on image to enlarge

Google Chrome OS (Cherry) is available for download. This is a preview release of the product. Google announced earlier this year that they would be rolling out an operating system  sporting its Chrome browser. True to their word here it is!!

The current release is a bootable image and is made available for writing to a USB drive. If you are using windows and want to try it you will need a program capable of unzipping the tarball file which is intended for use with Linux. I used 7-zip to do the extraction, for some reason I had to extract the extracted file before I got to the drive image I needed to flash to the USB drive.

Menu - Click image to enlarge

The first thing you notice once you are logged in is that you are presented with the Chrome browser, there is no traditional desktop. The menu is accessed by clicking on the top left tab in the Chrome browser. These are basically shortcuts to specific websites and services. This version of the Chrome browser supports Chrome extensions, which seem to install OK without issues. It booted up in 14 seconds on an average performance USB drive. Slower than Ubuntu 9.10 on the same computer It isn’t a  fair comparison, Ubuntu booted off a fast SSD drive. While Chrome booted fine on my Acer laptop it was not able to detect either the wireless adapter or the on board ethernet. The Acer is not on the list of compatible computers, so I then booted Chrome on my ASUS Eeepc 900 which is compatible. It worked fine detecting the wireless and authenticating using WPA2 encryption.

Hulu in Chrome OS - Click to Enlarge

Out of the box Chrome is flash ready and plays Hulu and YouTube videos without problems. The EeePC had trouble keeping up with the video feed, (using Windows 7 on the fast SSD drive works much better). Video sluggishness is probably a function of using the USB drive to boot. I tested several websites, predictably the google website worked without any problems. Yahoo mail complained that the browser wasn’t supported but worked just fine after I opted to continue anyway. I didn’t notice any rendering problems on any sites. Storage to folders on the USB drive is possible with Chrome OS, it wasn’t obvious how one could browse these files at a later date except in a file open dialog presented by google docs or another web application.

There is no option in Chrome OS to shutdown the computer. I found that simply pressing the power button once initiated a controlled shutdown. Closing the netbook screen put Chrome into a suspend mode.

As I used Chrome more I noticed that it would occasionally fail to render the entire row of tabs and options, hovering over or clicking on the ‘dead space’ fixed the issue. Looks like they still have some work to do there, at least on the ASUS netbook I used.

I’m surprised the product is complete as it is already, I can see it being ready before we can collectively blink. I’ll be on the lookout for more recent builds in the coming weeks and months.

It is promising – but how popular will it really be? One is totally constrained to internet applications, which is the direction the industry is going, I’m not sure the average user is ready for total commitment to running everything in the cloud just yet. (Neither am I :-)





Google DNS to take on OpenDNS?

4 12 2009

I have used OpenDNS for several years now with great results. I encourage others to use the service where possible. ISP’s really don’t want to sink money into services such as email or DNS, it’s a money pit as far as they are concerned so their services can bog down due to underfunding or otherwise be managed poorly.

Google now announce they have a DNS service. Is this a OpenDNS killer or will the Google name brand simply legitimize the idea of using an alternative DNS provider and actually help grow the market for everyone including OpenDNS?

OpenDNS are serving almost 20 billion DNS requests per day and have presence in ten markets around the world. It is likely that Google can reach more markets more quickly and have the money to provide more equipment. However failed URL requests from OpenDNS end up at a customized google search page, why would Google want to hurt this extra business? I see the Google move as benevolent towards the internet in general and also towards third parties like OpenDNS. Poor DNS can spoil the internet experience, Google want to ensure you can get to websites (including theirs) quickly an efficiently.

Which is best, Google or OpenDNS?

OpenDNS offer content filtering that rivals that from premium appliance providers such as WebSense. For small to medium businesses this is a great enhancement to their internet productivity. For those with kids, it serves as net nanny without having to load down the PC’s in the house with filtering software. Neat!!

Google will probably have a DNS server closer to you, but without the extra features of OpenDNS it is a service of last resort, not one of choice.

I’ll be interested to see if Google starts adding services to their DNS offering in the coming months/years. Then we will know what their true intentions are.





Office 2010 Installation Woes

4 12 2009

My first two installations of Office 2010 went very smoothly, however the third was definitely not a  charm. During the installation I ran into two errors.

Error 1310. Error writing to file: C:\Windows\Installer\21c0d0.msi.    Verify that you have access to that directory.’

Error 1935. An error occurred during the installation of assembly component {4FB1241B-9730-4DF1-B83B-1E9CFB73AAE4}. HRESULT: 0x80070005.

The second error caused the installation to fail and abort. Even running the install as administrator did not result in success, though the first error was resolved by doing so. Each time I ran the install it would fail at a different place in the install.

Eventually after rebooting many times and disabling various applications such as Carbonite and retrying it finally succeeded. I subsequently found some blogs complaining about similar problems during install of the 2010 office beta. The applications that seem to come up on the blogs are Panda AV and Microsoft Security Essentials. I do run Security essentials on all the three computers I installed Office 2010 on, so the problem would appear to be somewhat random, but I suspect security essentials contributed to the problems.

My advice to those installing office 2010 is disable security essentials (and other applications) and be sure to run the installer as administrator.

Update 2010-05-01

The final version of Office 2010 also suffers from touchy installation problems. The best course of action for office 2010 installs is to

  • Disable Real-time scanning in Microsoft Security Essentials. (See below)
  • Clear up any temporary files using CCleaner. (See below)
  • Pause Carbonite
  • Run the install program as administrator.

Be sure to uncheck the real-time scanning in Security Essentials

Use CCleaner to eradicate all temp files on your system

If you had installed 2010 Beta, be sure to unistall all office products prior to install.

Upgrading from 2007 can also be problomatic, best to do a complete uninstall first.





Office 2010 – First Impressions

3 12 2009

Office 2010 public beta now available

The Microsoft Office 2010 public beta is now available for anyone to download and try for free. The Beta is valid until October 31st 2010, so if you need a copy of office for a new computer this Christmas, don’t buy office 2007, use the 2010 beta until it is finally released (whenever). The beta is full feature and is not crippleware. Thank you Microsoft!!

I’ve had a quick tour of the new office suite and here are a couple of my initial ‘drive by’.

Ribbon, Ribbon, Ribbon

Minimize Ribbon, new function

Office 2007 introduced the ribbon interface. Microsoft applied this to the core office products only, products like Project, Visio etc did not get the facelift. With 2010 all office applications now sport a revised version of the ribbon.

One really nice feature is a button to minimize the ribbon to give one more screen real estate. The reality is that the ability to minimize the ribbon was available in Office 2007 as well, but via Ctrl-F1 keyboard shortcut or via an option on the quick access toolbar. Microsoft must have realized that most users were unaware of this (me included).

The Orb is gone and File is back!

Office 2007 'Orb'

Office 2010 File menu drop down

I imagine there are a lot of people who will applaud this, not having a file menu drop down just makes folks uneasy. Interesting what bugs us :-)

I noticed the color of the File menu option is the same as the programs desktop icon, so in word its Blue, PowerPoint its orange etc. Not sure why it had to be colored, but it is.

Excel Limits

With several versions of Excel, Microsoft have increased the number of rows and columns it will support. Have they increased in 2010? The answer is yes and no. Excel itself works similar to 2007 but a new feature (PowerPivot)  allows Excel to draw its data directly from a SQL database so how does 100 million rows sound?

Lots of new features?

Doing a quick drive by of the basic office apps, Word, Excel, Powerpoint I didn’t notice a bunch of new features, however when I looked at Visio 2010 I was able to do all sorts of things with Visio I haven’t been able to before. My suspicion is that the feature set is similar, the ribbon interface has exposed me to so many more features I was blissfully unaware of. I ended up with a really sharp looking diagram versus what I could have done with Visio 2003.

File Format Compatibility

So far so good in opening 2010 documents with 2007 and 2003 products. Visio 2003 can open 2010 files just fine. 2007 can open excel and word documents just fine. Word Excel and Powerpoint still defaults to docx, xlsx, pptx file formats as with 2007.

Speed of execution

I have tested Office 2010 directly on a desktop PC and also on a virtual machine running Windows 7 (on top of XP). Even on the virtual machine office programs open comparatively quickly, Microsoft must have done some work here to improve the time it takes to open an application.

SharePoint Workspace basic functions

One component that was slow to execute was the SharePoint Workspace component. I was pleased to see in the SharePoint Workspace was a ‘google gears’ type function so that one can work with SharePoint resources while disconnected from the server using a local copy and sync up later.

Summary

I didn’t spend very long looking at the new Office suite, but my first impressions are that it the suite performs better, has a more consistent look and feel and has a few new features. Worth the money to upgrade from 2007 when it comes out, maybe. Worth putting off the purchase of office until 2010 comes out, definitely!!





Net Neutrality, Bandwidth Hogs and the ISP’s

3 12 2009

Netzians can easily be drawn into a heated argument regarding Net Neutrality, so what is it and do we want it?

Definition

An underlying principle of Net Neutrality is that as a consumer we will not have our internet access hindered based on where we go, what equipment we attach to the internet or what type of internet services we use. (Here’s a definition). Sounds like a good idea? Or is it?

Legislate or not?

To ensure Net Neutrality legally would require legislation and regulation of the internet providers and websites. Do we really need the government telling us what we can and cannot do on the internet? Legislation can be made to sound good, such as the Internet Freedom Act, who would vote against that? Censorship isn’t freedom.

So why not just leave it alone, isn’t it already neutral? In some cases no it is not neutral, ISP’s are increasingly using ‘Deep Packet inspection’ to examine the traffic coming from and towards your home. If they see something they don’t like they could potentially stop it or degrade it. Examples of this are Comcast blocking of  Bittorrent, or Shaw Cable degrading Vonage phone calls (unless their customers pay an extra fee).

Greed on both sides.

BitTorrent users can consume large amounts of internet bandwidth downloading and uploading files. This can and does reduce speeds for everyone. So the ISP’s claim they have the right to manage the bandwidth hogs. One is inclined to agree, however their methods are questionable. Why filter types of traffic? Why not just curtail the bandwidth hogs directly by capping, cutting them off or simply charge them for the abuse? The answer in my opinion is that Movies and TV shows are often transmitted via BitTorrent, so cable companies don’t like that, so they target it directly under the guise of network management to control the Bandwidth hogs, but really it is plain anti-competitive behavior. Why would Shaw degrade Vonage traffic? Maybe because they sell a competing product and don’t appreciate their internet service being used to compete with another service of theirs.

Legislate and we are dealing with the government and its agencies (Big Brother). Don’t legislate and we are dealing with large greedy corporations. What to do?

What  is the root cause?…..

The *real problem* IMHO is conflict of interest at the large ISP’s. Not only do they provide internet access they also provide content and services on the internet. The temptation to boost your own services or hinder your competitions will always be there. The more money involved in an internet service segment, the greater the temptation. Inevitably an ISP  will monkey with the traffic across its network to serve its own interests.

..and a solution…..?

A *reasonable solution* IMHO is to separate the provision of internet to homes and businesses from the content and service provision. In the telephone industry the Bells have to run a legally separate internet company from their telephone company. Should the Bells favor their internet company over another, the FCC will soon find out from their competition. In a similar way companies like Comcast, Shaw etc should be forced to deliver and sell internet separately from the provision of TV, Movies and Phone services. The conflicts of interest must be eliminated.

Eliminating conflicts of interest should allow for a reasonably Neutral net without the need for specific legislation of the traffic to try and ensure it. That way we can keep the government away from legislating what can happen or not happen on the internet itself. The temptation for the government to censor the internet is too great to allow them to decide what goes over it. Let’s not legislate the traffic, regulate the large ISP’s instead to ensure fair play.

Fingers Crossed

It’ll be interesting to see how the US deals with this issue. Hopefully sanity will prevail.