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Archive for October, 2009

Things I’ve Learnt About InfoPath and Forms Services

Posted by workerthread on October 30, 2009

Recently I’ve been involved in the development of a SharePoint 2007 solution using InfoPath and Forms Services.  The purpose of the solution was collection of employee questionnaire data using one of several forms designed as a multi-page survey.  InfoPath was chosen because the process needed to make use of SharePoint workflows, which are not supported with survey responses.  Also, the survey form needed to behave differently depending upon whether an employee or their manager was completing it.

I wanted to use this post to document some of the things I learnt during the development process.

Only Use Custom Code if Rules and Views Can’t Do the Job: You can do an awful lot with InfoPath Rules and Views to give the user a good experience when completing a form.  You also have the added advantage that when publishing your browser-compatible form to SharePoint Forms Services, you don’t have to deploy it as an Administrator-approved form.  Over at EnduserSharePoint, Paul Galvin has posted a useful starter template for InfoPath which includes views for handling successful submission and discarding the form.  And there are other useful InfoPath tips on Paul’s blog.

“Wizard” Style Forms Work Well Using Views: Using [Next>] and [<Back] buttons combined with views, you can create a nice “wizard” style user interface for your form.  Here’s a nice post from the MS InfoPath team on this topic.

But You can Only Validate a Maximum of 5 Fields Using a Rule: This is one of the issues which required use of custom code.  On our “wizard” style form, there are 7 questions per page, and the user should not be able to move to the next page until all 7 have been answered.  So we ended up putting validation code on the “click” event of each “[Next>]” button.  This tutorial from DevExpertise explains how it’s done.  It ended up as one of the reasons for a custom code requirement – I guess it might also be possible to to this using XPath, but as we also ended up needing code for another feature (see below), we used custom code here.

If You Want to Pass URL Parameters to your Browser Based Form, You Need to Write Some Code: For this solution, a manager could be assigned multiple questionnaires to complete (one for each person they are managing).  So we wanted to pass the ID of the employee into the new form, then this would be used to look up employee details on a secondary data connection.  Turns out that you can only read URL (querystring) parameters using code.  Here’s a post from the InfoPath Team showing how to pass/retrieve these parameters.

Use Site Columns for Promoted InfoPath Fields: Our solution required two different forms to be available as content types in the same forms library.  If both of these forms use the same set of promoted columns, your life will be a lot simpler if you first create the columns you want to promote as a set of site columns specific to the solution.  If you don’t, and you deploy the forms to different servers, you can end up with multiple “Microsoft InfoPath” site columns with same name but different IDs.  Also, we wanted to promote some InfoPath text to SharePoint multiline text columns.   This doesn’t seem to be possible using the default “Create New Column in this library” option but can be done using site columns.

Ensuring your Submitted Forms Have Unique Names: You need to ensure that the submitted form has a unique name.  Here are couple of items you might find useful – Hannah Scott: Submit InfoPath forms to SharePoint with Unique File Name and  SharePoint User Group UK Submit InfoPath with unique filename using SharePoint Library ID.

Centrally Managed Data Connections Make it Easy to Switch from Dev to Test to Production: Converting your SharePoint data connections to centrally managed ones makes it much simpler to move your solution between servers or web applications.  To make this work you will either first need to use a data connection library for data connections, then upload these using Central Admin, or use this UDC File Authoring Tool (which is also an InfoPath template).  More information here and here.

If You Are New to InfoPath, Read Paul Culmsee’s “Humble Leave Form” Series”:  Paul Culmsee of CleverWorkarounds fame has written an amusing and useful series on InfoPath called A Tribute To The Humble Leave Form.  There are 7 parts to the series so far, all based around a leave form for the Springfield Nuclear Plant.  In part 5 Paul discusses using the UserProfile web service to get more useful info about the user completing the form. 

And More Information on Getting User Information Without Code: Here are a couple more posts on getting user information from Itay Shakury and Clayton Cobb.

I hope others embarking on InfoPath/Forms Services projects find some of this useful!

Posted in Collaboration, InfoPath, Microsoft SharePoint, Office | 1 Comment »

Windows SharePoint Services Becomes SharePoint Foundation 2010

Posted by workerthread on October 27, 2009

In my previous post on SharePoint 2010 I mentioned Windows SharePoint Services 4.0.  Turns out that this is now going to be called SharePoint Foundation 2010.  Also, looking at What’s New In SharePoint Foundation 2010 it seems that it will include Business Connectivity Services.

Oh, and Bjørn Furuknap has already registered the domain sharepointfoundation2010.com.

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Posted in Microsoft SharePoint | Comments Off on Windows SharePoint Services Becomes SharePoint Foundation 2010

SharePoint 2010 – Out of NDA and All Over Twitter

Posted by workerthread on October 27, 2009

Last week the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2009 was held in Las Vegas, and following Steve Ballmer’s Keynote address, the NDA was lifted.  Very soon after came lots of blog posts and tweets about all of the new features.

Here at WorkerThread Towers we’ve had access to the preview bits of both Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 since July and I’ve been doing my best to try out all of the new features in both.  I’ve also had a look at SQL Server 2008 R2, and spent a some time understanding how this integrates with SharePoint 2010. 

Before I get started, the clue is in the name: SharePoint and Office 2010 will be released some time in 2010.  Expect a public beta in November and I guess at least one more refresh of that (release candidate or similar) before it is released to manufacture.  But it’s still going to be worth spending some time before release understanding the new features.

As there’s a lot of stuff already out in the blogosphere, and I’m sure much much more to come, I thought I would use this post for two purposes – first to point you to some interesting summary posts on new features, and secondly to talk briefly about some of the new areas that will help develop (almost) code-free solutions.

So, to get a quick overview of the new features, take a look at these posts:

SharePoint Team Blog – Describing SharePoint 2010 in 1 Sentence,8 Categories and 40 Feature Areas

Joel Oleson – SharePoint 2010 Top 10 Features and Resources 

SharePoint Experts – Favourite Technologies Unveiled

Arpan Shah – Welcome to SharePoint 2010

SharePoint 2010 at Microsoft.com

And below is my quick list of favourite new stuff, with particular reference to features that involve the Office 2010 applications.   Actually before I start, I want to mention that some of the new stuff, useful though it is, should really have been there in earlier releases in my opinion.  For example, you can finally have unique constraints on list columns, SharePoint Designer Workflows can be list-independent, etc.  All of this is going to be very useful, just a shame we had to wait so long.  Also, for this post I won’t go into too much detail here on new features for developers using Visual Studio 2010 with SharePoint 2010 there is some really good new stuff here too – take a look here.

List Enhancements: many more configuration options such as not allowing duplicate values in columns, better column validation rules and options for “referential integrity” between a column and its lookup item (such as “cascade delete” so that deleting the “parent” record will delete its associated children).  You can also include more than one column in a lookup list – for example if you had a contact last and first name both can be displayed in the drop-down.

Access 2010 and Access Services: I’m really interested in this.  In a nutshell it is possible to use Access 2010 to develop an application using tables, queries, forms, reports and macros and then publish the whole lot to a SharePoint 2010 server running Access Services.  Now let’s not get too carried away – you wouldn’t want to use this for many of the very sophisticated Access apps that are out there, but it still looks to be a worthwhile technology to allow rapid deployment of a web application being used to capture data, produce reports etc.  There is a new Access show on MSDN Channel 9 where you can see a video explaining more.  Also I will be presenting on this subject at the UK Access User Group National Seminar on 26th November.

Business Connectivity Services: SharePoint 2007 has the Business Data Catalog, which provides a method to surface read-only “line of business” data in SharePoint as lists, searchable content etc.  In SharePoint 2010 this has been replaced by Business Connectivity Services and this can now be configured as a read-write data source.  To the user it can look like any other SharePoint list, and be used in DataViews, custom applications etc.  Under the covers it can be talking to a SQL Server database or similar.  Data from the connection can also be cached using a SQL CE database local to the SharePoint server.  It’s also possible to surface the BCS data in other client applications such as Outlook.  Powerful stuff, although it will definitely require tight control if we are to avoid performance bottlenecks when querying/updating line of business databases.  Read more on this here.  One other point – I believe I heard somewhere (but can’t remember where right now) that the original Business Data Catalog features will be available in Windows SharePoint Services 4.0 (the free version).

SharePoint Designer 2010: Like the current 2007 version, SharePoint Designer 2010 will remain free of charge, but worth noting that it can only be used with SharePoint 2010 servers (or WSS 4.0 I guess?).  For me, the best new features here are around workflows – you can create workflows in SharePoint Designer 2010 which are re-usable across different lists or sites.  Also, several new workflow conditions and actions which will make life easier, around the areas of list permissions particularly.  Here’s an initial post from the SharePoint Designer Team, and some info on the new conditions and actions.

InfoPath 2010: Lots of new design features here, many of which make it easier to build attractive and intuitive forms for use with Forms Services.  Also, you can use InfoPath 2010 to customise the design of the edit/display/new forms associated with SharePoint lists, instead of using SharePoint Designer.  Speaking as someone who has had “issues” more than once with SharePoint Designer-customised forms this will come in very handy.  More details from the InfoPath team here .

Visio 2010 and Visio Services: Microsoft’s own SharePoint 2010 demo videos include a look at one of new Visio/SharePoint features – you can create a Visio diagram which connects to backend data (in the Microsoft demo it’s a manufacturing process) then publish the data-connected diagram to a SharePoint 2010 site using Visio Services.  You can get a flavour of this here.  Also, Visio 2010 can be used as the starting point for creation of a SharePoint Designer Workflow.  The SharePoint Workflow template in Visio 2010 can be used to visualise what the workflow should achieve, then the finished article can imported into SharePoint Designer 2010 as a new workflow.  Here is a blog post from Phil Wicklund with some more detail.

Project 2010 Integration with SharePoint (and SharePoint 2010 Project Tasks Lists): Often, when I show users Project Task lists in SharePoint 2007, I’m immediately asked about task dependencies and how these can be incorporated.  Well the good news is that SharePoint 2010 task lists know a lot more about dependencies.  And with Project 2010 you can synchronise a task list between SharePoint and Project – something that many Project users will like a lot.

SharePoint Workspace 2010: This is what Groove has turned into.  Its a desktop client application that lets you cache copies of SharePoint site content on your desktop (or most likely laptop), work on the data, then re-sync with SharePoint. When you do this it’s possible to select which content on a site you actually copy offline, so again quite a useful tool.  Here’s a post from the SharePoint Workspace Team to explain more.

Business Intelligence, SQL Server 2008 R2 and PowerPivot: Microsoft evangelists have referred to SQL Server 2008 R2 as the “Business Intelligence Release”.  Definitely that’s where the emphasis lies regarding new features.   One much-publicised feature is PowerPivot (previously Gemini) an add-in for Excel 2010 which lets Excel users manipulate very large data sets in “slice and dice” mode, and publish the analyses up to SharePoint.  And if you want to integrate SQL Server Reporting Services with SharePoint, it looks like SQL Server 2008 R2 will make this a lot easier for admins – certainly the preview release allows you to install your SharePoint 2010 components, then install SQL Server 2008 R2 and select “Analysis Services with SharePoint Integration” as the configured option. 

Finally, don’t forget that SharePoint 2010 is totally 64 bit technology and definitely needs a fair amount of memory to run properly.  If you are planning to develop, test or demo on a laptop and want to use Virtual Machines, this means either installing Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V or using VMWare Workstation or Virtual Box.  Alternatively you will be able to install SharePoint 2010 onto a 64-bit Windows 7 machine for development purposes, and indeed Tom Rizzo did just this in his demo at the SharePoint conference.

Oh, and SharePoint 2010 now has the much loved/much hated Office style ribbon…..

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Posted in Business Intelligence, Microsoft SharePoint, SQL Server | 2 Comments »