SharePoint Blog Posts (page 1 of 2)

Morning Coffee 114 – MoMAAB Edition

  • We spent all day yesterday discussing four topics: SaaS, Tools for Scrum, Web 2.0 and Domain Specific Languages. Even though it was just a day, my brain is full. These were deep and challenging discussion. I need to let the discussions stew a bit before posting anything about them here. But I will.
  • Next time we do one of these, I’m bringing a video camera. I took notes, but looking over them the next morning they seem woefully incomplete. OneNote’s integrated audio/video recording capabilities would nicely augment my notes.
  • We ran this meeting using Open Space, and it worked very well. Of course, we only had 8 people, so we didn’t need a lot of process to self organize. However, it did whet my appetite for having a larger Open Space style un-conference for architects. Is that something other folks might be interested in?
  • Major thanks to the folks at Clarity Consulting who graciously gave us space to meet and fed us yesterday. Their CTO Jon Rauschenberger sat in on most of our meeting, and drove our Web 2.0 discussion. I said I wanted to stew a bit on the discussions, but Jon’s slides are available on line if you’re interested.
  • Scott Colestock showed me Diigo, a social annotation tool. Where lets you tag and annotate individual pages, Diigo lets you annotate and highlight specific parts of the page. They also have blogging tools, where these annotations and highlights become blog posts, but they don’t support dasBlog. However, since FeedBurner doesn’t support Diigo for link splicing, I’m afraid my use of it will be limited.
  • Jim Wilt introduced me to Virtual PC’s command line. He recommends using “-pc <vpc name> -launch -singlepc” which launches a single virtual environment without the VPC console. I rarely run more than one VPC at a time and I hate stuff cluttering up my taskbar and notification area, so I like this a lot.
  • Loren Goodman demonstrated the SharePoint Explorer Client. SharePoint & MOSS came up several times in all of our topics, so this is going to get a second look. I always thought it was strange that MSFT ships a smart client for editing WSS & MOSS, but not viewing it. SP Explorer looks like it fills that gap nicely.
  • Shannon Braun sent us all a link to the 50/70 rule, which seems like a good rule of thumb. Of course, assuming that things won’t progress linearly is almost always a good rule of thumb. But the 50/70 rule has reasoning behind the assumption.
  • Chicago is nice, but the weather has been a little freaky. It’s either been hot & humid, downporing thunderstorms or tornados. Keith Powell showed me FlightAware, which shows you flight departure and arrival history. My flight hasn’t left within an hour of scheduled departure in a week. I’m going to try and grab an earlier flight, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long trip home.

Fantasy, Free Code and the SharePoint Model

It might sounds like a fantasy, but Nick Malik really wants free code. He started talking about it a few months ago when he was getting raked over the coals by debating Mort with the agile .NET community:

Rather than look at “making code maintainable,” what if we look at making code free.  Why do we need to maintain code?  Because code is expensive to write.  Therefore, it is currently cheaper to fix it than rewrite it.  On the other hand, what if code were cheap, or free?  What if it were cheaper to write it than maintain it?  Then we would never maintain it.  We’d write it from scratch every time. 

Then about a week ago, he laid out the reasons why free code would be a good thing. At a high level (Nick’s blog has the details), those reasons are:

  1. Lower the cost of IT through reduced skill requirements. 
  2. The speed of development goes up. 
  3. Projects become more agile. 
  4. Solution quality goes up. 

Talking about the benefits of free code is sorta like talking about talking about the benefits of dating a movie star. The benefits are actually pretty obvious, but talking about them doesn’t really help you get there from here.

Actually, Nick isn’t suggesting that all code can be free. He’s focused on separating out business process modeling/development from the rest of software development. In essence, he’s describing a new class of developer (should we call the persona Nick as an homage?) who needs their own class of tools and for the IT department to “formally” allow them to “easily develop, test, and deploy [aka host] their processes.” For the most part, these BP developers wouldn’t be traditional developers. They’d be more like software analysts who do the work directly instead of writing specs for developers.

I call this separation of business and IT concerns the SharePoint Model. SharePoint, IMO, does an amazing job of separating the concerns and needs of business and IT users when it comes to running intranet web sites. Only the truly geeky stuff that requires specialized access, knowledge or equipment – installing the SharePoint farm in the first place, keeping it backed up, installing service packs, etc. – is done by IT. Everything else is done by the business folks. Need a new site? Provision it yourself. Need to give your v-team members access to it? Do it yourself. I see similarities in the free BP code approach Nick’s suggesting. I’d even argue that SharePoint is the natural “host” for such business processes. It already supports WF and can provide access to back-end enterprise data via the Business Data Catalog.

On the other hand, some of what Nick suggests seems fairly impractical. For example, he thinks IT should “formally and officially take control of managing the common enterprise information model and the business event ontology.” First off, who officially manages this today? Does such an official information model or event ontology even exist? I’m guessing not. That means you’ve got to start by getting the business people to agree on one. That’s usually a sucker’s bet. Nick also suggests we “reduce the leaky abstractions” in our services. To suggest this is even possible seems incredibly naive.

The good news is the things that will work (evolving BP into its own development discipline, building custom tools for BP development, getting IT into the BP hosting business) don’t depend in any way on the things that wont work (getting lots of folks to agree on anything, breaking the laws of physics, overcoming the law of leaky abstractions). I’m not sure it will result it truly free code, but it sure would bring the costs down dramatically. Thus, I think most of Nick’s free code vision is quite practical and not a fantasy at all.

As for dating a movie star, you’re on your own.

Apparently, Microsoft Delivered on Enterprise 2.0 Three Years Ago

In the past few weeks, there’s been a major uptick in discussion about Web 2.0 / Enterprise convergence. Andrew McAfee has a new article on what he calls Enterprise 2.0. Dion’s got an entire blog on the subject, though he thinks it should be called Enterprise Web 2.0. Nicholas Carr is skeptical. Seems to me all this discussion about what might happen in this space is pretty silly since it’s happened already.

Unfortunately, Andrew’s Enterprise 2.0 isn’t freely available (you can buy a copy of the PDF for $6.50), but it primarily focuses on the growing frustration with email and the rise of collaborative Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs and wikis inside the enterprise. No big shock here – for collaboration, blogs and wikis are to email what word processors are to typewriters. Andrew also introduces a model he calls SLATES for describing the aspects of these technologies: Search, Links, Authorship, Tags, Extensions and Signals. So far, all good stuff.

The problem with the article is that he talks about these technologies in the future tense. For example, he writes: “As technologists build Enterprise 2.0 technologies that incorporate the SLATES components” which implies that these are coming down the pipe rather than here right now. Not only here right now, but available for going on three years. I’m talking about SharePoint 2003. 2003 as in “a year before Tim O’ Reilly coined the term Web 2.0“.

SharePoint (I’m talking primarily about the free feature pack for Windows Server 2003 though about the portal server as well) supports Search, Links, Authorship and Signals – four of the six components of Andrew’s Enterprise 2.0 stack. (And frankly, I’m not sure where Andrew is going w/ his Extensions aspect so four out of five is probably more accurate.) More importantly, it’s specifically designed to support what Dion called the Democratization of Content. As of December 2004, Microsoft’s internal IT department was supporting “more than 60,000 users, 250 group and division portals, 50,000 team sites, and manages more than 3 terabytes of information.” Personally, I use the coportate enterprise intranet portal, my division portal, a handful of team sites and my personal site on a pretty much daily basis. Only the enterprise and division portal are centrally managed. Given the explosion of SharePoint sites inside Microsoft, I’m obviously not alone.

Creating a new SharePoint team site inside Microsoft is totally self service and takes literally a few seconds. Once you have a site, you can configure it as you like, creating lists and setting permissions as you see fit. Again, it’s totally self service. Plus, it’s totally public unless you specifically lock it down (well, public inside the firewall at any rate). Of course, it could be easier and better, and that’s what next versions are for. SharePoint 2007 will have direct support for blogs, wikis and RSS. Check out the C9 video for more info.

Given the market momentum to date and the impending release of a new version, I find it very surprising to find Dion, Andrew and Nicholas discussing the potential ramifications of these technologies without even mentioning SharePoint. If these guys want to see the Enterprise 2.0 technology in action, all they need to do install SharePoint.

Looking for SPSynd Volunteers

I had eight people waiting to be admitted to the SharePoint Syndication GDN Workspace. Sorry for the delay folks – my workspace was maxed out on users and I had to get upgraded by GDN. Anyway, I’ve been given more membership slots, so the people who’ve been waiting – some since January – are now in.

There has been a lot of interest in this project and others like it. Jonathan Malek has his SpsRssGen project. Sig Weber has an RSS Generator for SPS. All in all, there is quite a bit of interest in this developing for SharePoint in general and creating syndication feeds in particular. Too bad I can’t get more involved. With my new job, I just don’t have the time to work on this project anymore. 😦

Since I can’t keep the project up, I’m wondering if someone else would like to take up the reins. I posted all the code to the workspace, but so far there’s been little traffic other than people wanting to join. I was hoping for more participation, but then I haven’t done anything to foster that so I really can’t complain. So let me ask explicitly: If you’re interested in being an admin on this project, please send me email. Once I get an admin (or two) and a core group of interested developers, I’ll start hosting chats / email lists / live meetings / conference calls / smoke signals / whatever to discuss the project direction. Personally, my #1 feature is an admin interface for creating the syndication feeds integrated directly into the existing SharePoint admin interface. Not sure how doable that is, but let’s find out. After that, I’m open to suggestions as to project direction.

Hacking InfoPath

I had a few negative things to say about InfoPath a while back. Today, I finally used it to solve a “real” problem and I was extremely pleased with the result.

I’m working on some team stuff and needed to collect a bunch of info on all my teammates and stick it in an XML file. Traditionally, I’d have to send out email asking everyone to send me this info, then manually cut-and-paste the results into an XML file. Instead, I whipped up an InfoPath form (well, truthfully, I whipped up several – but that’s just because I’m not familiar with the tool) and stuck it on a SharePoint site. Now, all my teammates can go fill out the form and I can merge the results together in one big XML file. All in under an hour, including learning curve. InfoPath even supports pictures, so my teammates can even provide a photo of themselves in the form.

I’m not exactly uninstalling VS.NET, but it’s good to know how well InfoPath hits the mark for target scenarios like this one.