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Collaborating Within an Exchange Environment Using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 : Exploring Basic MOSS Features

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12/4/2012 6:26:23 PM
A SharePoint deployment can be used to create websites, manage documents, and provide other capabilities. Understanding and testing the features available in MOSS is an important prerequisite step toward effectively using MOSS, and a walk-through of those features should subsequently be performed.

The next sections walk through the features that are readily available to an employee using Microsoft Word 2007 when MOSS 2007 is installed on the network. Note that shared workspaces can be created from other Microsoft Office applications, including Excel, PowerPoint, and Visio.

Creating a Shared Workspace from MOSS

When a document is opened or created in Word 2007, click on the Office button followed by the Publish link and then Create Document Workspace. When selected, the Document Workspace interface appears on the right side of the screen. The user is prompted to name the workspace—the default is the document name—and enter the URL of the SharePoint site where the workspace will reside. The user can then add members to the site by entering either a domain and username, an email address, or both to define who will be included in the workspace. The level of participation for those members can also be set on the site with varying levels of authority, such as Reader, Contributor, Web Designer, or Administrator.

Six tabs in the Shared Workspace area provide information and tools to the user who created the site, as well as other users who open the file:

  • Status— Provides errors or restrictions regarding the file

  • Members— Provides a list of the different members of the workspace, and whether they are online

  • Tasks— Allows the user to view tasks assigned to members of the site or create new ones

  • Documents— Displays any other documents or folders available in the workspace, and allows the addition of other documents or folders to the workspace

  • Links— Displays any URL links on the site and allows the addition of new URL links to the workspace

  • Document Information— Displays basic information about the file such as who created or edited it, and allows viewing of the revision history

These features give the user a “dashboard,” providing valuable information about the document, and help other users collaborate on the document.

Tip

Online presence can be enabled on a virtual server basis when Office 2003/2007 and Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (previously named Live Communications Server) are installed. Smart Tags using the Person Name object type become active when the mouse pointer is hovering over a site member’s name. Additional tools are made available when the down arrow is clicked, such as a notification as to whether the person is online or available for instant messaging. Other options include Schedule a Meeting, Send Mail, or Edit User Information.


Working Within the MOSS Site

A MOSS 2007 environment is composed of multiple WSS sites, which are essentially individual workspaces that contain the knowledge worker content, such as document libraries, lists, document workspaces, and so on. Figure 1 illustrates a document workspace in MOSS 2007.

Figure 1. The MOSS 2007 document workspace.

Understanding Document Libraries

Document libraries may well be the feature most often used, as it is the location where documents and folders can be stored and managed, and document libraries offer a number of features not available in a standard server file share.

The team members who are working on one of the documents in the document library can upload related items to this library for reference purposes. This eliminates the step of printing out copies of supporting documentation for an in-person meeting, or emailing the actual files or hyperlinks via email.

A number of actions can be performed on the document from the Shared Documents page, as shown in Figure 2:

  • View Properties— Show the document filename and title assigned to the document (if any), who created the document and when, as well as who modified the document and when.

  • Edit Properties— Change the name of the file that SharePoint is storing and the title of the document.

  • Manage Permissions— Change who has rights to the document.

  • Edit in Microsoft Word— Modify a document that the user has editing rights in the Shared Document library. The document can be opened and edited in Microsoft Word. Note that if the document is a Microsoft Office document, the appropriate application will be listed, such as Excel or PowerPoint.

  • Delete— Delete the file if you (the user) have deletion rights in the Shared Document library.

  • Send To— Move the document to another location, email it to someone, create a document workspace, or download a local copy of the document.

  • Check Out— Retrieve a document that is reserved for the individual who has checked it out, and only that person can modify the document. So even if that person doesn’t have the document open, no one else can edit it. An administrator of the site can force a document check-in.

  • Workflows— Invoke the Workflow Wizard, which allows for special document workflow processes, such as approval routing or feedback collection.

  • Alert Me— Notify the user with an email alert if changes are made to the file.

Figure 2. Available actions at the Shared Documents page.

Note

Alerts are an extremely powerful feature in MOSS. A user can set an alert on an individual item stored in a SharePoint list, such as a document, so that if the document is changed, users receive an email letting them know of the change. Alternatively, an alert can be set for the whole document library, so if any items are changed, added, or deleted, users receive an email. The emails can be sent immediately, or in a daily or weekly summary. This is the primary way MOSS pushes information to the users of its sites, enhancing the flow of information.


Other capabilities in the Shared Documents page include creating a new document, uploading other documents to the site, creating a new folder, filtering the documents, or editing the list in a datasheet.

Using Picture Libraries

A picture library can include a wide variety of file types, including JPEG, BMP, GIF, PNG, TIF, WMF, and EMF. Examples are photos of members of the team, or screenshots of documents from software applications that might not be available to all users. For instance, a screen capture from an accounting application could be saved to the library in BMP format so that any of the users of the site could see the information.

Similarly, a Visio diagram or Project Gantt chart could be saved to one of these formats, or as an HTML file and then saved to a picture library and thereby made accessible to users of the site who might not have these software products installed on their workstations. By providing a graphical image rather than the native file format, the amount of storage space required can be reduced in many cases, and there is no easy way for users to change the content of the documents.

Maps of how to find a client’s office or digital photos of whiteboards can also be included. Some editing features are available using the Microsoft Picture Library tool (if Office 2007 is installed), which include brightness and contrast adjustment, color adjustment, cropping, rotation and flipping, red-eye removal, and resizing.

Pictures can be emailed directly from the library, or a discussion can be started about a photo as with other documents in libraries. Pictures can be sorted using the filter tool by file type, viewed in a slideshow format, and checked out for editing; the version history can be reviewed; or alerts can be set.

Although this type of library might not be useful in every collaborative workspace, it provides a set of tools that are well suited to newsletter creation, complex document publication, or less formal uses, such as company events.

Working with SharePoint Lists

Lists are used in many ways by MOSS, and a number of the Web Parts provided in the default workspace site are, in fact, lists. Some of the list options available are listed as follows:

  • Links— These lists can contain either internal or external URL links, or links to networked drives.

  • Announcements— These lists typically contain news that would be of interest to the employees accessing the site, and can be set to expire at predefined times.

  • Contacts— Contacts can be created from scratch using the provided template, or can be imported from Outlook. This type of list can help clarify who is involved with a particular project or site, what their role is, how to contact them, and can contain custom fields.

  • Events— Events can be created in the site complete with start and stop times, descriptions, location information, and its rate of recurrence. The option to create a workspace for the event is provided when it is created. Events can be displayed in list format or in a calendar-style view. Events can be exported to Outlook, and a new folder will be added to the calendar containing the events. Note that this calendar will be read-only in Outlook.

  • Tasks— Each task can be assigned to a member of the site and can have start/due dates and priority levels set, and the percentage complete can be tracked. These tasks do not link to Outlook, however, so they’re specific to the SharePoint site.

  • Issue tracking— Slightly different from tasks, issues include category references, and each receives its own ID number. Individuals assigned to an issue can automatically be sent email notification when an issue is assigned to them, and will receive emails if their assigned issue changes.

  • Custom list options— If one of the template lists doesn’t offer the right combination of elements, one can be created from scratch. This allows the individual creating the list to choose how many columns make up the list, determine what kind of data each column will contain, such as text, choices (a menu to choose from), numbers, currency, date/time, lookup (information already on the site), yes/no, hyperlink or picture, or calculations based on other columns. With this combination of contents available and the capability to link to other data contained in the site from other lists, a database of information that pertains to the site can be created that can get quite complex. For example, a custom list could include events from the Events list, tracking the cost of each event and which task corresponds to the event.

  • Data imported from a spreadsheet— Rather than creating a list from scratch, data can be imported from a spreadsheet (ideally Excel). The data can then be used actively within the site without the file needing to be opened in Excel. It can then be exported for use in other applications.

With any list, additional options are available to users of the site. Figure 3 shows a simple task list open in Datasheet view (Office 2003/2007 is required for this feature), as well as the additional options available when the Task Pane option is selected.

Figure 3. Datasheet view task options.

After the list is displayed in Datasheet view, new rows can be added by either selecting this option in the toolbar, or by clicking in the row that starts with the asterisk. Totals of all columns can be displayed by clicking the Totals option.

Using SharePoint Discussions

The next option in the Quick Launch toolbar is for discussions, which are a key component for online collaboration. Although email is well suited to conversations involving a handful of people, it becomes unwieldy when there are too many participants, as multiple threads of conversations can easily get started and the original point of the discussion can get lost. With a bulletin board or threaded discussion, the high-level topics can be viewed at the same time, readers can choose the topics of interest, and can see any responses to the initial item. With email, individuals have no control over which emails they receive, whereas a discussion Web Part in SharePoint allows the user to decide which items to read and which ones to respond to.

Members with the appropriate rights can also manage the discussions to remove topics or responses that are not appropriate to the discussion, or remove threads when they have been completed. This level of control facilitates effective communication and encourages participation by the various team members.

Figure 4 shows a sample of a discussion concerning a proposal that is about to be sent out. Other responses have been posted.

Figure 4. Sample discussion board.

Discussions can also take place on any Office document posted to a SharePoint site. The data is stored in the SharePoint database, not in the document itself. This encourages team members to share their input and thoughts about a document in a controlled environment that is directly associated with the document.

Depending upon which site group participants are members of, they might only be able to view threaded discussions, or they might be able to participate, edit, and even delete portions of the conversation.

The alerts feature is very useful with discussions, as users can choose when and if they want to be alerted about changes to a specific discussion thread. This eliminates the need for participants to check a number of different discussions on a regular basis, as they can receive an email informing them if changes have been made.

Understanding Surveys

An entry for surveys also appears in the Quick Launch area in the document workspace. With MOSS, it’s easy to quickly create a survey to request input from site users on any number of topics. They can be configured to request input on any topic imaginable, such as the functionality of the site, the information contained in it, or any business-related topics. As well as collecting the information from the surveys, the results can be viewed individually, displayed graphically, or exported to a spreadsheet for further analysis.

Surveys can be configured to be anonymous, so no information is saved or provided about the individual who responds to the survey, or the information can be displayed. In addition, both multiple responses and single responses are possible. Other options include allowing survey users to see other responses or only their own, or allowing them to edit their own and others’ responses (or none at all). Common sense would dictate that users should not be able to edit a survey after it’s submitted, but in some situations it might make sense to allow a person to go back and change input at a later date.

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