Facebook for the enterprise

After the new user interface, perhaps the next biggest improvement in SharePoint 2010 is the social experience, which centers on communities. My Sites go back to SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and are essentially personal sites where users can tailor the content.

In SharePoint 2010, users have far more flexibility in populating their personal attributes (profiles) with interests – and deciding how much of that information is public. Importantly, SharePoint exposes this public profile throughout the system – and therefore is the hub of an enterprise social experience.

Much like Facebook, there's a news feed, which helps community members keep track of the work their colleagues are doing. When you add keywords or tags to these activities, SharePoint becomes an even more valuable way to uncover, through searches, information about particular projects within an organisation.

Social bookmarking offers another way to build knowledge within communities. Any piece of Internet content can be included in a community's set of bookmarks. Users can rate the content, and comment on the activities and contributions of others, much like you'd do with a blog post. I believe this feature is valuable in a business setting because the feedback is searchable, thereby helping find experts or information that might otherwise be hidden.

People search (a feature of the included search engine) connects with the social capabilities of SharePoint 2010. The system automatically infers expertise, which is mined from a user's activities. Search also takes into account "social distance." That is, if I search for someone with .Net experience, the search results will rank someone who's a direct colleague higher than someone in another organisation.

FAST Search for SharePoint, a separate product, is highly recommended because FAST's faceted navigation lets you filter results by the names of people, places, and organizations.

Working with Office 2010

The integration story between Office and SharePoint improves greatly in their 2010 releases. The new Office Backstage view (available in all Office client applications), lets you do basic tasks such as check in and check out documents from a SharePoint library. Backstage also displays metadata auto-complete lists, such as the office locations that I created earlier.

What's more, users can work together as simultaneous co-authors on the same Word document. Word locks the section being edit by one person, while giving others editing privileges to the rest of the document – making for real-time team collaboration.

In Outlook 2010, integration lets users receive email alerts whenever content is created or updated – and eliminates going into SharePoint to see the changes. Outlook, additionally, connects to My Sites and displays updates from external sites, including Facebook.

Perhaps one of the best examples of integration, however, is that between InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint. In this scenario, I first created a typical SharePoint tabular list of people and their contact information. Next, from the SharePoint Ribbon, I opened the list in InfoPath, where I created a visually appealing data entry form. Users could then easily update the SharePoint data from InfoPath (or use the InfoPath form within SharePoint). Besides better usability, I took advantage of InfoPath's advanced data entry functions, including data validation, which isn't available in SharePoint.

I took a deeper look at Excel Services, which lets visitors to a SharePoint site view – and interact with – a subset of data in your spreadsheets. I easily protected formulas in the web-rendered version along with hiding the detailed data behind charts. Conversely, users could sort, filter, and work with other information in PivotTables.

Visio 2010, Microsoft's charting and diagramming application, isn't part of the standard Office 2010 product. Still, for organisations that separately licence Visio, Visio Services gives you an easy way to render diagrams within a browser. Where this gets interesting is that spreadsheets, SQL databases and SharePoint lists can be used as data sources for Visio 2010. Potentially, you could create dynamic mashups and present them as part of an executive dashboard page.

OUR VERDICT

With SharePoint 2010, the end user experience is much better because the interface is closely related to Office apps. Furthermore, many tasks that previously required IT assistance – and a long time – are now quickly accomplished by business users. In this version, Microsoft appears to have really listened to customer requests, and included their suggestions. Therefore, it's a highly recommend upgrade or choice for new installations.