SPELL Tabs: commercial and free versions now available

This week, the SPELL framework is reaching version 1.0.0, and I am releasing the first component of this new version: the SPELL Tabs, successor of the Easy Tabs.

SPELL is not just about new or upgraded scripts, it also introduces a new way for end users to manage their solutions. In the past, the advertised, end-user friendly way to include solutions in a page was to link to code through a Content Editor Web Part. This is still an option in SPELL, but the default method is now to use… a Page Viewer Web Part! This offers end users a no-code experience, where each solution behaves like an “app” and comes with its own, client side edit menu.

Here is what the SPELL Tabs edit menu looks like:

TabsEditMenu

The commercial version is distributed by User Managed Solutions LLC. SPELL is a tentacular program, so feel free to contact me with your questions or to schedule a call. For now, SPELL is still in “early adopter” mode, and the final blocks – shopping cart, forum, videos – will be added in the next 2 months (early adopters naturally benefit from an extended subscription period).

For those who are migrating to SharePoint 2013 and are just looking for a way to fix the broken Easy Tabs, I am also making an entry level version of the SPELL Tabs available at no charge. As you might expect, features, terms of use and support are limited compared to the full version. If you are a subscriber of the SPELL newsletter, you’re already familiar with it, as it is the evaluation version you’ve been playing with in the past few weeks!

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SPELL Nav, the successor of the Easy Tabs

The SPELL library is reaching version 0.8 this month. My main achievement in this release is the completion of the “Inline Navigation” module.

SPELL supports SharePoint 2007, 2010, 2013 and Office 365, and to demonstrate it I have updated all my sites:

All pages run the same version of SPELL, and the look of each menu is controlled via options. The idea is the same as with the original Easy Tabs – reuse the Web Part titles to automatically generate the navigation – but the code has been completely refactored. It is now more solid, for example when it comes to synchronization with the rest of the page, styling, print preview, and inclusion in wiki pages. It also offers more features:

  • Option to have more than one Web Part per tab
  • Compatible with display forms (this is especially useful if like me you are a fan of the “Related Items” feature)
  • Direct link to activate a specific tab (for example access the SharePoint Hosting section on the UMS home page)
  • Can be implemented in the middle of a zone, not necessarily at the top
  • Can include hyperlinks to external page (see the demos)
  • etc.

If you have subscribed to the SPELL interest list, you’ll receive a code sample by the end of this month.

As I have already mentioned, I consider that the Easy Tabs code is obsolete and I won’t update it. Also, it has become more and more time consuming to support such UI widgets because of the increasing number of SharePoint versions, browsers and supported devices (for example tablets and mobile), so I am more careful than before when it comes to releasing such tools.

That said, I understand that not everybody is willing to subscribe to the SPELL program. To allow end users to enjoy a smooth upgrade to SP 2013, in the next couple months I’ll publish in the SharePoint User Toolkit a lightweight version of the SPELL Nav that will cover most of the features offered by the current Easy Tabs.

[Update] SPELL Tabs: commercial and free versions now available

Pie and Bar Charts (Google connector)

Pie

I already mentioned it briefly in an earlier post: the SharePoint User Toolkit now includes a tool that allows you to add simple pie or bar charts to your SharePoint pages.

The code is actually a connector that points to the powerful Google Visualization interface. For this reason, Internet access is required.

A common concern with online tools is data security. In this case, we are safe, Google’s privacy policy explicitly states that no data is sent to the server. The charts are directly rendered in your browser. This is a major difference with the Google Image Chart API, where data is sent in clear to the server, which uses it to build and return an image.

Under the hood, the code works the same way as the Image Rotator: it retrieves data from a specific view of your SharePoint list.

Bridging the gap between the users and IT

User Managed Solutions LogoHappy New Year 2012!

I discovered SharePoint 8 years ago, and I was immediately fascinated by the opportunities it offered. Being a functional consultant, I have always been on the user side, in “hosted” environments, where traditionally you have limited options to tweak applications. SharePoint was a game changer. The CEWP (Content Editor Web Part) and the DVWP (Data View Web Part) quickly became my best digital friends. It is at that time that I started using JavaScript, building my first user solutions like tabbed interfaces and list driven menus.

In 2008, I started this blog to share some of the techniques I had created. Overnight, they became popular and were relayed by bloggers around the world, including Mark Miller, the SharePoint End User Authority.

Then came 2010, and the release of a new SharePoint version, with a major innovation: sandboxed solutions. People now had a solid way to push packaged solutions from the SharePoint user interface.

My initial though was that it was the beginning of the end for the CEWP. Well, obviously I had missed the point. Sure, people liked what my solutions accomplished, easily adding tabs to a page or color coding to a calendar. But what they liked even more was the hands-on experience. With a CEWP and code accessible in a document library, the user was in control. Even better, because my solutions were closely tied to out of the box features, they helped the user understand SharePoint itself – page layouts, calculated columns, or workflows. It was not just about using, it was also about building and learning. The solutions didn’t just improve the site. They helped the user improve his/her own skills.

So here I start 2012, with my solutions still very much alive, and so popular that I plan to expand them, and adopt a more sustainable and professional approach. There are in particular two directions I want to explore.

With SharePoint pros, I plan to adopt a more structured approach, providing them with both a methodology and modules to embed in their own solutions, in the spirit of a Lego set. I see this as a highly interactive process, where the modules I’ll push will be based on the needs and feedback I collect. Flexibility is key here.

With end users, I believe that a little guidance can go a long way. Of course it might be hard to picture users digging into client side code today… well, just like 20 years ago it was hard to imagine users editing Web pages or building automated workflows. One step at a time. For example this year I’ll push in my samples more JSON, a JavaScript notation that is considered almost humane. Could the user and the computer share the same interpretation of {flag:”red”} ? This is definitely something I’ll experiment with this year!

How does this look from the IT side? Honestly, I didn’t even ask, as I am certain IT pros are not too excited about these user driven initiatives. And to be fair I can understand why. I am not the only one to have witnessed the flood of undocumented Excel macros in corporate environments, isn’t history just repeating itself? So here is another important point: these user solutions have to be managed. Only by maintaining a clean and sustainable environment the users will gain long term benefits, and gain the trust of IT. Here too I plan to provide guidance, for example by introducing risk management to help the user understand the implications of his/her customizations.

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future (*). I am starting 2012 with ambitious objectives, we’ll see where we stand in a couple months!

(*) Niels Bohr, Physicist

Back to Blogging

User Managed Solutions Logo I’m back!

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of recent updates. Moving three times in less than six months takes its toll. But now I have settled down in San Diego and I have no intention to move anymore!

My first action item was to post a hundred replies to the readers’ comments. Again, sorry for the delay, I hope they were still helpful. What I have yet to do is reply to people who contacted me by e-mail, and a computer crash last week didn’t help. Thanks for your patience…

Even without me, the blog remained active, and passed two milestones this month: two million pageviews and 5000 comments since I started in August 2008.

So, what’s coming next?

First, Trudy Hutzler is going to continue her school site series. Her articles were very well received, the readers are asking for more! Note that if you are not interested in education, everything Trudy describes can easily be translated to another context, for example team management or project management.

On my side, my priority will be to release the Easy Tabs v6. It should be more convenient than the previous versions, with several new features. The alpha version has been on display for a couple months on this page:
http://usermanagedsolutions.com/SharePoint-User-Toolkit/

I’ll also release updates for other solutions, like the image rotator.

Based on the experience of the past three years, the blog format is not well adapted for sharing code. People who land on my blog after a Google or Bing search won’t necessarily find the last, up-to-date version. For this reason, I have moved most of my free solutions to the SharePoint User Toolkit. The blog will be more focused on news, tutorials, examples and demos. Occasionally, I’ll also use it to communicate on the activities of my company: SharePoint hosting, workshops, new solutions (all related to SharePoint of course).

Besides the blog, I also intend to stay active on the StackExchange SharePoint forum, twitterLinkedIn, Codeplex, and the San Diego SharePoint User Group.

Office 365: some frustration with public websites

In the past few months, like many SharePoint consultants, I have spent some time playing with Office 365, Microsoft’s own SharePoint hosting offer.

Having read on many blogs how great Office 365 is, once again I’ll go against the grain to express some frustration I had with public websites (plan E3).

On the paper, the SharePoint architecture offered in plan E3 looks very attractive:

  • On the one side, a collaborative site collection with secure access (https). Anonymous users are not allowed here.
  • On the other side a public site collection with pre-built pages (Home, Contact Us, etc.). Business users can easily do simple customization  – add a logo, move the navigation, etc. In addition, Microsoft offers a set of “gadgets” that can be added to the pages to insert a contact form, a map, etc.

I really like the clear separation between public and private sites. I also like the gadgets set, which makes it easy to add functionalities that are not available in SharePoint out of the box, like contact forms (several bloggers have claimed that they could build secure contact forms with SharePoint OOTB… but none has proved it!).

So, what’s my problem? Here is the catch: the usual content management features, that make SharePoint such a powerful application, are not available on the pages designed for the public site. You cannot, for example, manage your public announcements in an Announcements list, and have these announcements displayed on the Home page via a Web Part.

You can read about my discovery path in this thread from the Office 365 forum (obviously I was not in a good mood when I stumbled upon this):
http://community.office365.com/en-us/f/153/p/4533/17358.aspx

I also wrote about it and my current workaround on LinkedIn.

To conclude on a bright note, I really appreciate Microsoft’s recent efforts to get more involved in the community and provide proactive support. Special thanks to Jason Hennis for getting back to me and investigating the issue.

Coming soon on Path to SharePoint

No post in more than a month, this had never happened since I started this blog in 2008! Yes, starting my new company, traveling across the US, and the tax return have taken their toll…

Mind you, the blog still remained very active, with more than a hundred comments posted in the past month. But now it’s about time I add new content. So what’s coming next?

My next tutorial will be about countdowns/countups. I already published a live demo in February. If you can’t wait, head out for the SharePoint User Toolkit, a first countdown-countup page is already posted there! (and remember to send me some feedback)

I am also working on the Easy Tabs v 5.1. One of the most common request is to have more branding options (colors, hover effects, etc.). I already made a leap forward between v4 and v5.0, and I hope to bring some more improvements soon. I already published an example of custom style (including a live demo), but the release of Internet Explorer 9 changes the game (for example IE 9 natively supports rounded corners, no need for workarounds).

In March, I spoke at the San Diego SharePoint User Group. After I clean up my slides, I’ll post them, along with some interesting Q&As from the session.

I also have a couple projects with my new company, User Managed Solutions LLC. In particular I am working on a new online training offer for this Fall – more details coming in May!

Last, but not least, I am honored to welcome guest blogger Trudy Hutzler for a series on creating a “school site”. Trudy is a Senior Technical Architect for AT&T Hosting and Application Management, and a contributing author for the Mastering SharePoint Foundation 2010 book. As this blog is user focused, she is not going to talk about her experience on SharePoint 2010 migrations, but about a custom site she built for her daughter who attends school online. Stay tuned!