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SharePoint Customization Best Practices

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SharePoint Customization Best Practices
Gale Pomper, Global Knowledge Instructor, Server +, MCSE, MCT, CTT, CNI, CNE

Introduction
SharePoint is Microsoft’s document management technology. From the standpoint of IT professionals, it is a set of products that work together to provide solutions to numerous business requirements. In this paper, we are going to tackle a subject that has raised many questions and an equally large number of answers. How do we customize our SharePoint environment, and what is the best solution?

SharePoint’s Major Products
SharePoint consists of different products that can be used in different combinations to satisfy a variety of business needs. Microsoft recognizes that not all businesses require the same application solutions and that sometimes there is a need for simplicity in design. In addition, SharePoint leverages the functionality provided by other products in the Microsoft lineup in order to provide a complete business solution. Table 1 on the next page describes the more recent Microsoft products and how they can be used in a SharePoint implementation. Notice that use of Microsoft Office is labeled “optional.” That’s because users can create new custom content types for SharePoint and, as long as an application exists on the user’s desktop that knows how to open that content type, data from any application can be stored. That leads us directly into our discussion of customization. SharePoint can be customized in so many ways that the first and most critical decision may be which aspects to customize. In this white paper, we will define various types of customization and then discuss how each of these customization elements can be implemented in SharePoint.

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Product Name
Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS 3.0)

Role
Collaboration; content management; version control; workflows; RSS feeds; wikis; blogs; master pages; mobile device support; calendars; e-mail integration; task coordination; surveys

Required vs. Optional
Required

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) Standard

Enterprise search; my sites; user profile store; page lay- Optional depending on outs; notification service; LDAP authentication provider; requirements Single Sign-On; slide libraries; legal holds; records repository; RSS content syndication; social networking features Data integration; forms services; business intelligence; business data catalog; spreadsheet publishing; Report Center; form import wizard Optional depending on requirements

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) Enterprise Microsoft Office Sharepoint Designer 2007

Creation of web parts; master pages; cascading style Optional sheets; no-code forms; and workflows; customize Sharepoint Sites; build business logic driven workflows; create custom applications to handle data from multiple data sources such as XML files, SOAP services, RSS feeds, SQL DBs. Interact with products developed using Office 2007 Optional applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook from within Sharepoint sites. Older versions of Office also provide some capabilities but best performance is achieved using Office 2007 Provides the backend database platform where configuration and user data is stored. Can be used as the backend database platform but restricts DB sizes and does not have tight integration with Sharepoint Allows organizations to perform life cycle project management. Distribute information using the Project Servers Reporting Data Services and the Report Server feature of MOSS 2007
Table 1. SharePoint Implementation Components.

Microsoft Office (Professional, Business, Enterprise)

SQL Server 2005 SQL Server 2000 SP4

Required Not Generally Recommended Optional

Microsoft Project Server 2007

Customization:What Can Be Customized in SharePoint?
It might be easier to define what cannot be customized because almost every aspect of the SharePoint implementation can be customized, including applications, look and feel, and web parts. Some of the more commonly implemented customizations are identified in the table below. But first, let’s discuss one element of SharePoint that cannot be customized – the SQL Server database.

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For now, SharePoint requires the backend database to be SQL Server. This is because SharePoint is written to use SQL Server-specific API calls rather than a generic database interface such as Open Database Connectivity (ODBC). However, you can access data from an Oracle database and present a view in SharePoint through a web part or custom application. Native content, such as a new word document that needs to be stored in a SharePoint document library, will be stored in an SQL Server content database. In the following table, we list a number of different types of customizations and how these customizations can be applied. You will notice that most customizations can be created in at least three different ways: • User customizations using standard SharePoint capabilities • No-code customizations using SharePoint Designer • Coded customizations using Visual Studio or ASP.Net applications Customization Type
Look and Feel

Customization Tool(s)
• Sharepoint built-in customization elements • Sharepoint Designer • Visual Studio

Customization Element(s)
• Themes, web part gallery, site templates, logos, master pages, navigation • Modify Custom Style Sheets, create master pages, design page layouts, etc • Create Site definitions, page layouts, templates, new custom style sheets • Create web part pages • Create new web parts • Create new web parts • Customize existing workflows • Create no-code custom workflows using the Workflow wizard • Create code-based Workflows for custom business applications using WSS SDK • Custom capabilities • Publish browser accessible forms to site collection • Create no-code forms • Create custom code-based forms • Add new search scopes, keywords, best bets, relevance settings to the site. • Add iFilters for each non-Microsoft document type

Web Parts

• Sharepoint Designer • Visual Studio • Custom asp.net tools • Sharepoint built-in workflows • Sharepoint Designer • Visual Studio

Workflow

Features Forms

• Visual Studio • Forms Server • Sharepoint Designer • Visual Studio • Sharepoint built-in site settings • Central Administration Site

Search

Table 2. Typical SharePoint Customizations.

Now let’s focus on manipulating the built-in customization features to change the “Look and Feel” of your SharePoint site. In this process, we demonstrate how to go beyond what the tools allow you to manipulate and make truly “custom” changes to improve the user experience in SharePoint.

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Look and Feel Customizations
SharePoint was designed to give users tremendous independence in deciding how sites should look and behave. In fact, one of the most important premises of the SharePoint design is to establish a layer of separation between server administrators and the content on the SharePoint site. By design, site security is managed by the content creators, and customizations follow that same model. Although SharePoint is security-trimmed, with the correct permissions, site users can change the themes, icons, web-part placement, and overall site branding just by changing the site settings. Later in this section, we will walk through a customization. But first, some fundamentals. In SharePoint, everything is arranged on a page. When you choose a site template, that template has an underlying “site definition” that tells SharePoint which elements will comprise the site, whether or not there are sub-sites, which elements should go on the web pages, and where on the page they should be located. In fact, if you want to create your own web page, there is a set of predefined templates available that has the web part zones already laid out in some standard formats. Adding additional web parts to a web part page is one method for customizing SharePoint. If you are a SharePoint administrator, or a have web designer privileges, your customization will show up for all users. Here is an example of how the Look and Feel of the home page in a site collection can be modified. The typical Collaboration site does not come with an Announcements list on the home page. Many companies prefer to have an Announcements list so that the company can position important items of interest on the first page seen by all users. Companies that are used to the Team site template are accustomed to seeing the Announcements list on the home page. If you try to add an Announcements list to this page in the normal way, by editing the page and adding the web part, you find the Announcements list is not in the web part gallery. The following procedure will allow you to add that Announcements list to your web part gallery so you can add an Announcements list to any page. In the site where you need the web part create an Announcements List. On the Quick Launch bar, click View All Site Content. Click the Create button. Under the Communications heading, click Announcements. Name it Announcements List. 1. Make sure the SharePoint Server Publishing feature is turned on in the site 2. Site Actions > Edit Page 3. Choose the web part zone where you want the Announcements web part to appear and click the "Add a Web Part" link 4. Click on the "Advanced Web Part gallery and options" link. 5. Scroll through the Site Gallery of web parts until you find the Announcements List you created in step one. Click on this item and "Add" You now have an Announcements list on your home page or wherever you decided to host your announcements.

Replacing a Site Icon
Another type of Look and Feel customization is changing the icon that appears in the upper left corner of every page. This is another example of user customization but, again, it involves just a little bit of up-front work. The first bit of work is the icon itself, because you want it to be able to fit on the page and have it sized appropriately for the space.

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1. Open file in Microsoft Office Picture Manager (for this demo, we chose a clipart file from the Microsoft Office directory) 2. Click on Edit Pictures 3. Click Resize 4. Under Resize Settings choose “Percentage of original width x height” 5. For our icon, we chose 15%. 6. Save the file 7. Upload this file into a Picture Library in your site a. Click on Document Center b. Site Actions c. Create d. Under Libraries – choose Picture Library e. Assign a name f. Click on Upload 8. Navigate to the Picture Library where you stored the icon 9. Double click on the image in the library 10. Rt click on image on the properties page and select copy shortcut 11. Navigate to the site where you want to imbed the logo 12. Click Site Actions 13. Click Site Settings 14. Click Modify All Site Settings 15. Select Title, Description and Icon 16. Replace the name of the existing logo image and paste in the shortcut to the icon in the Picture Library The site now has a custom icon in place of the default SharePoint icon. Each site can have a different icon using this method, so each project could have its own “mascot,” so to speak. Just follow these procedures for each icon you would like to deploy. All the icons can be stored in one shared library, or you can have a separate picture library in each site.

Navigation
Helping users navigate between SharePoint sites is an important task for SharePoint administrators. In this section, we will explore some different ways of customizing the site navigation – again using built-in user tools. We’re also going to discuss how to show and hide items that are displayed on the Quick Launch bar and also across the top of the site page. First, the menu that appears on the left-hand side of your site page is called Quick Launch, and it’s easy to decide whether or not something shows up in “Quick Launch.” When you create a new site or library, the create tool will ask you if you want that specific item to show up on the Quick Launch. What if you decide, after the fact, you don’t want it? You’ll have to follow a different set of steps depending on how you answer the questions: Question 1 – Do you want all the sites on Quick Launch to go away? If yes – follow these steps: a. Click in order – Site Actions, Site settings, Modify all site settings, Tree View, and clear the check box in front of the Quick Launch selection.

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If you answered no, meaning you want to be selective about what is and is not shown, follow these steps: b. Site Actions, Site settings, Modify Navigation, Go to the heading that says “Current Navigation,” select the object, click Hide on the Navigation tool bar, and click ok. When you create a new site or library, the create tool will ask you if you want that specific item to show up on the Top Link bar. What if you decide later that you don’t want it? You’ll have to follow a different set of steps, depending on how you answer the questions: Question 1 – Do you want all the sites on Top Link bar to go away?If yes – follow these steps: a. Site Actions, Site settings, Modify Navigation, Go to the heading that says “Global Navigation,” select the site objects, click Hide on the Navigation tool bar, and click ok. b. To have a specific site be displayed, use the steps above but click Show on the Navigation tool bar, and click ok. Question 2 – Do you want to see a different object show up on the Top Link bar? a. Site Actions, Site settings, Modify Navigation, Select to have the item show up under Global or Current navigation, and add the link to that element. The easiest way to do this is to navigate to the element, copy the URL from the browser, and paste it into this page. Suppose you want to replace the default “Sites” experience. When the user navigates to the Sites “site,” it does not actually bring the user to a list of the sites in the site collection. Instead, the user encounters a list of categories that they typically do not understand how to navigate, and it is a process that leads to a number of “mouse clicks” before they are able to expose the site they want to visit. To change this experience, replace the navigation to the Sites “site” with the “site list,” which SharePoint creates when the administrator or site designer populates the links for these categories. Now, when the user navigates to Sites from the top link bar, they are only one click away from the site they would like to reach.

Summary
In this white paper we have explored how to change some of the default user experiences by customizing elements of both the Look and Feel and the site Navigation. Many additional “out of the box” customization elements are available. This paper has touched on those elements that are most frequently customized. As a SharePoint administrator, these customizations are easily implemented and empower you to place the items your users need closer to their fingertips. The fewer mouse clicks your user community needs to navigate to reach their content, the more content they will be with using SharePoint . It streamlines their work processes and reduces the number of helpdesk calls.

Learn More
Learn more about how you can improve productivity, enhance efficiency, and sharpen your competitive edge. Check out the following Global Knowledge courses: Implementing Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007

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For more information or to register, visit www.globalknowledge.com or call 1-800-COURSES to speak with a sales representative. Our courses and enhanced, hands-on labs offer practical skills and tips that you can immediately put to use. Our expert instructors draw upon their experiences to help you understand key concepts and how to apply them to your specific work situation. Choose from our more than 700 courses, delivered through Classrooms, e-Learning, and On-site sessions, to meet your IT and management training needs. Through expert instruction, you will understand key concepts and how to apply them to your specific work situation. Choose from more than 700 courses, delivered through Classrooms, e-Learning, and On-site sessions, to meet your IT and management training needs.

About the Author
Gale Pomper has over 25 years of experience installing and designing computer networks. She holds numerous certifications from Microsoft, Novell, and CompTIA, including Server+, MCT, MCSE, MCTS for SharePoint , and MCTS for Exchange 2007. She is the principal author for an exam guide for Windows 2000 Active Directory published in December 2001, and a contributing author for Windows XP Power Pack published in March 2003. For the past 15 years, she has been an independent consultant providing network design services, customized training, and SharePoint implementation services. She is also an instructor for Global Knowledge.

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