Sunday, July 12, 2009

Necessary modifications

I’d like to tell you a bit of a story if you’d be kind enough to indulge me.

I have always been an avid ‘petrol head’ and none more so when I purchased my first car. I used to spend just about every weekend pulling it to pieces to either add something new or try and improve it. Some of the most notable failures were when I created a dead short to the battery through a wire that ran underneath the carpet, which resulted in plenty of smoke, some fire and a scorched carpet. Another over sight was the inability to locate a critical part of the engine that had been removed during tuning and adjustment that went undiscovered for 6 hours! The small item turned up exactly where I had put it – in the bay between the wipers and the engine, but until that discovery the car wouldn’t start.

My avid ‘customization’ efforts usually commenced on Friday evening and sometimes weren’t finished by the following Monday morning. In many cases this meant driving the car around ‘superleggera’ style (i.e. lightweight). That was basically a car without anything except a drivers seat on the inside – i.e no other seats, carpet, roof covering, glove box and so on. Another common problem was that after I managed to reassemble the car I always had some parts left over. Plenty of times I asked myself whether the car not having these particular parts was going to make it better or worse? The answer was usually worse but took a few days to uncover why.

Being a keen electronics buff I also delved into improving the cars instruments. For example, I installed an alarm system that was so ‘good’ that it managed to flatten the battery in less than 15 minutes if it was activated (which happened quite often, thanks to a faulty trip switch). I also managed to blow up a home made graphic equalizer I have built and fill the car with dense smoke during a rainy day, luckily I made it to the side of the road before hitting anything. In the end the car probably had as much cabling running through it as a jumbo jet.

So I think that you get the picture of the lengths that I went to ‘improving’ the car, all with varying degrees of success. It was great fun (except when I needed to get somewhere and couldn’t get the car started) and I learned a lot. Probably the biggest lesson I learnt is that although mucking about with the car was fun, it really didn’t make the car that much better and consumed a lot of time. Since then, if I have purchased a car I try and ensure that it has everything I wanted and didn’t tinker much.

What’s the point of this story? Well, I’ve been thinking about how much work you need to do to bring Windows SharePoint up to the level it should be at and I kinda see it like days when I was fiddling with my first car.

Out of the box Windows SharePoint does a lot of really great things and is a huge benefit to most businesses but making some further simple modifications can it dramatically improve its functionality.

What sort of stuff doesn’t SharePoint do or have configured by default? Here’s a short list:

- No PDF search

If you upload Adobe documents then they will not be indexed and not available via the inbuilt search utility. You can still check them in and out but having the ability to search within documents is a huge time saver that really needs to be enabled.

- No PDF icon

If you do upload an Adobe document to SharePoint you find that it doesn’t display a little PDF icon next to the file type. As you can see from my Supportweb site it is possible to have the PDF icon displayed.

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- No Office 2007 document indexing

You’ll get .doc, .xls and so on out of the box with Windows SharePoint but you won’t get the ability to index .docx, .xlsx, etc. That may not have been a issue a while back but with everyone moving more and more to Office 2007 native format you really need to index these formats.

- No OneNote document indexing


Of the greatest abilities of OneNote is to capture and index documents that are printed to it. So you can print a web page to OneNote and it will not only capture the information but also index it. This indexing ability also gets extended to SharePoint if correctly configured. Problem is you don’t this ability by default.

- No .MSG email document indexing

When SharePoint works with email it normally does so in .EML format, which is natively for Outlook Express. You can save email messages in native Outlook .MSG format but again, guess what? They won’t be indexed by default.

- No file share indexing

It continues to amaze me that people have no strategy for indexing the information they have saved on their internal servers. They create it, save it and forget it. From there it appears doomed to be lost in the bowels of network file shares. I bet most people don’t realize that you can enable Windows SharePoint to index all documents in all network file shares, but again not by default.

- No public folder indexing

Just like network file shares SharePoint can index Exchange Public folders, just not by default. If you have a lot of information invested in Public Folders just image the return you could achieve by unlocking it by full text indexing.

- No web site index

Again, if you have internal or external web sites that you business uses regularly you can use Windows SharePoint to index and retrieve the content. All you gotta do is configure it.

- Limited templates


Windows SharePoint comes with a number of default site templates but Microsoft makes at least 40 more available for free. These templates can save a whole lot of customization time given you can start with a site that pretty well already configured. Only problem is, you have to install and configures these after you get Windows SharePoint running.

- Wrong regional settings

As with most Windows products the regional settings for SharePoint are typically wrong. Why can’t they work out these settings from the machine they were installed on? I don’t know, but they don’t so you generally always need to go in and configure the correct regional settings for your site. Is that easy? Clearly not because most people never seem to do it.

- Usage analysis not enabled

Another hidden gem inside Windows SharePoint is its ability to display usage analysis. This will show you popular pages, locations and referring locations. Why wouldn’t you want to understand how your users are working with the site? Unless you enable this feature, which isn’t enabled by default, you’ll only be guessing.

All of the issues that I’ve mentioned here can (and should) be configured for Windows SharePoint. Even on Companyweb on SBS 2008 they are not enabled so imagine how much better your implementations of SharePoint would be if you did all this? If you wanna stand out from the crowd with SharePoint, here’s a very simply way.

If you enjoy playing around with Windows SharePoint and learning about all this ‘non-standard’ stuff (like I did with my car) then there are plenty places on the Internet that will show you how. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a single location which you can go to, so be prepared to spend a lot of time doing research. I certainly hope that if you see Windows SharePoint as a commercial opportunity then you’ll appreciate the advantage of having all that information in a single location. That is the reason I created my Windows SharePoint Operations Guide, exactly for this reason.

Rather than wasting hours of research and testing, for the cost of a few hours of labour, you getting all this information plus more. Even better its gets enhanced, updated and improved every month. It’s like every car from my second one, I worked out what I wanted and paid for it rather than wasting my time doing the modifications myself. Why? Because it is a better return on my investment.

I have even been thinking of creating a condensed version of my guide with a list of recommendations and configurations for how to optimize Windows SharePoint out of the box. However, I don’t want to duplicate what I’m already doing unless there is some demand. So if you’d like to perhaps see a shortened Guide covering items like configuring the above items please let me know via director@ciaops.com.

In the end I’d urge you to consider taking SharePoint from its default configuration to something that really utilizes all the capabilities the technology has to offer.