Some caveats remain from our first look at SharePoint 2010. It's 64-bit only, so you may need to upgrade your servers. It does not support Internet Explorer 6, so you may want to upgrade to IE8. And to get the full functionality you pretty much need to be running the latest version of other Microsoft products, including Windows Server 2008 R2 and Office 2010.
Our beta test focused on key features such as collaboration, document management, search and business intelligence. This time around, we're digging into customization, integration with Office 2010, social functions, and how metadata can be employed.
For this evaluation, we installed SharePoint 2010 on dedicated quad-core hardware running Windows Server 2008 R2 and SQL Server 2008 (64-bit). Clients could access SharePoint sites from a variety of laptops and desktops running Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.
Setup is simple. After running the Pre-Upgrade Check utility, and addressing any warnings (such as custom Web Parts), we had no problems moving a SharePoint 2007 server to 2010. Just remember that SharePoint 2010 is 64-bit only.
On the fresh server, the setup – from installing the OS, database, prerequisites, and SharePoint – required about three hours. The setup program automates almost all the work required to install and configure SharePoint, resulting in a successful installation the first time.
Once you're operational, it's worth recapping how the new web editing capabilities ease customising, especially for users who are familiar with the ribbon menu of Office 2007. I simply clicked the Edit option in SharePoint's Ribbon area to open the page in edit mode, reformatted text, and immediately saw a live preview of the changes.
Also, Wiki-like syntax cuts time when adding links to other content. For example, just enter '[[List:S' and documents stored in document library folders starting with 'S' will appear in the autocomplete dropdown; then scroll down to the desired document or page you want to link to. Inserting graphics and multimedia is equally straightforward.
I particularly liked the way Web Parts (components that display particular types of information) are now better organised and appear at the top of a page when editing. Simply pick a category, such as Media and Content, and select the Web Part you want to insert into the page.
SharePoint 2007 required detailed knowledge of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) to change the look of sites. Now, authorised users can update themes to match your brand – without any programming. I started with one of the many pre-made colour and type combinations, and within a few minutes had customised the theme by specifying individual fonts and colour hues.
Yet customisation goes far beyond look and feel. SharePoint 2010 lets you target any list item, not just complete lists of information. It works like this: First, you create a catalogue of rules, groups or memberships. Next, you can define that most any item within the site – from Web Parts to individual documents – will only appear to one of those defined audiences.
In a real-world example, I uploaded human resources documents and placed a Web Part on my home page to display the files, targeting the Web Part to the HR staff; the documents only appeared when members of the HR group visited the site. You could do the same with specialised material for employees in sales, R&D or any other department.
One of the biggest obstacles I've found in organising information within sites – whether documents, multimedia or pages – is getting users to consistently apply metadata. SharePoint 2010 has a smart solution with Term Store Management. To start this exercise, I imported a comma-separated variable (CSV) list of cities and countries where my company had offices into a SharePoint document library.
After a few more steps (which I think could be reduced), that list appeared in the properties dialogue whenever I edited a document. This capability helps you created standard taxonomies. Further, users can now filter document lists based on the metadata. For instance, a document library would now show a control where you could display just those documents that were tagged 'New York.'
I also tried several more of the document management improvements. The Content Organiser let me create rules that saved documents in the correct Document Library based on the type of file and its metadata properties. For instance, a PowerPoint show tagged with the UK might be saved in a document library you created for the EMEA region.
Since each library can have specific retention and other policies, this turns SharePoint 2010 into a very capable document and records management system for regulated industries or government agencies. Moreover, Document Sets helped me group related documents together, which is great for simplifying workflows and versioning.