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.How do we customize our SharePoint environment, and what is the best solution? 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.
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.
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. 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 list a number of different types of customizations and how these customizations can be applied are shown.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. 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.
SharePoint Online provides both server and client object models for developers. Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 provides a range of specialized templates for creating sandboxed solutions that contain a variety of SharePoint items, such as site and list definitions, workflows, Web Parts, event receivers, and content types, to include in your SharePoint solutions. You can check out the SharePoint Online Developer Resource Center to discover more about solutions created using Visual Studio. The Magic of SharePoint Designer 2013 With the release of Office 365, SharePoint Designer 2013 becomes more of an integral part of the SharePoint because almost all of your customizations in SharePoint Online will be at the site collection level – the space that SPD 2010 dominates! The tasks you perform in SPD 2013 are generally referred to as customizations instead of development because tasks performed in SPD 2010 require you to edit SharePoint items declaratively, instead of using server side code. When you are using SPD 2013, you are going directly against the selected SharePoint Online site. This differs from SharePoint solution development in VS 2012, where you create and debug your solution on a local SharePoint installation, and then deploy the completed solution to the solution gallery in SharePoint Online. Once you create a site collection using the SharePoint Online administrative interface, you are ready to crank up SPD 2013 and open the top level site of that site collection. Creating subsites and customizing metadata are very simple tasks to perform using SPD 2013. See for yourself how you can manage site components. Also, new in SPD 2013 is the ability to configure your SharePoint site security. The same functionality that will take you numerous clicks and lots of waiting to accomplish using the browser, you can perform easily using SPD 2013 in a matter of seconds. Especially if you are an admin of multiple SharePoint sites, this would be a most welcomed functionality. Managing your site content types and metadata definitions (using mainly site columns) should be an integral activity for every site admin.
Site columns and content types are declared at the site level, they work exactly the same within the SharePoint Online environment as they would with an on-premise installation. Generally, you would declare most site columns and content types at the top level site of your site collection in SharePoint Online so it would guarantee the availability of it throughout the site collection. Creating and editing site columns and content types for a site is simple enough to do in SPD 2013. If you want to see how it’s done, watch it in action here. The core functionality of SharePoint sites is considered to be lists (and libraries which are essentially lists as well). All data is ultimately stored within a visible or hidden list or library. Using SPD 2013, you can make basic changes such as changing the name and description of the list, or edit the list columns (metadata) which is commonly one of the first things you need to attend to after creating a list. The content types attached to this list are also displayed in the Content Types section and can be managed directly from there. Customizations of list views and forms is key to really enhancing the functionality (and the look and feel) the way your organization needs it to be. You will find that there is a Lot more you can accomplish in this space using SPD 2013 compared to the browser. For example, watch how easy it is to create custom list form pages using SPD 2013. One of the most robust and powerful features in SPD 2013 is the ability to create declarative sequential workflows.
Sequential workflows are those that follow a prescribed path with a definite beginning and end with a set of conditions and actions. The workflow designer in SharePoint Designer 2010 lets you create three different types of workflows: List, Reusable and Site Workflows. All of them are available to use in their full capacity within SharePoint Online. If you have not seen the amazing possibilities of declarative workflows, I Highly recommend watching this demonstration of how you can model workflows in Visio, configure them in SharePoint Designer and then modify the workflow forms using InfoPath – all within a matter of minutes! One of the most common requests that are received about customizing SharePoint sites is to change the look and feel of the site. You will at least want to change the logo, site colors and perhaps the font for the site – thus lightly designing and branding the site to match your corporate color scheme.
You can also modify the look and feel of site pages using SPD 2010. It is all do-able in SharePoint Online with assistance from SPD 2013. If you are serious about branding your sites, pick up this book on branding SharePoint. While working in the SharePoint Online environment, chances are that most of the times you will be utilizing the Team Site template to create your sites. In addition to the collaboration features, there also exists functionality in SharePoint called Web Content Management (WCM) – also known as the publishing infrastructure. By enabling WCM features in a site, you can enable content authors to create and manage new page content in a consistent manner based upon the available page layouts. The functions that enable WCM in SharePoint are called publishing features.
The designer of the page layout decides how to lay out the components on the page at design time using SPD 2010. Doing this controls the placement of content on a publishing page created by a contributor. Not only that, but the designer can also place restrictions on the type of content that can exist in every region of the page. For example, the designer can create a page layout which dictates that an image should be placed at the top right hand corner of the page and that a content region exists at the bottom left of the page which allows only plain text. Creating a page layout in SPD 2010 is a fairly complex, but a very powerful functionality.