SharePoint Portal and my left arm

I’ve been working quite extensively over the last several months with Microsoft SharePoint Portal and services, and let me tell you how much fun I am having…. It’s really pretty crazy. It’s a phenomenal product, has features out the wazzoo, capable of leaping tall racks in a single query – but why in the hell does it take an act of God to be able to create a usable template for the portal and subsequent sites?

It’s bad enough that I have to use FrontPage in order to be able to make my life less of a living hell – as much as I hate to say it – FrontPage is a Godsend for editing and customizing SharePoint. If you are thinking about trying without it. Don’t.

Once you get into the swing of it, and find your way around the hundreds of lines of CSS to change, it’s pretty quick if you are just changing minimal layout items like logos, style colors, fonts, etc…. Download the SDK, and root through it to find the section about what the styles are. There is an excellent representation of what they are, with a description and in some cases a picture of the element represented. And honestly, once you decipher the Microsoft code, you can figure the rest out.

There is a good tool released about a year ago, Macaw SharePoint Skinner – which I could go into further had I had time in the last couple of months to come up for air and try. It’s on the to do list – has been for a while. Since I have heard good things about it, and from what I have seen it appears to be quite capable for most situations – I will be using it before years end. We are going to moving all our sites into full-swing production soon, and i want to get things squared away before that happens….

My biggest problem right now though, isn’t skinning. It’s cross-platform compatibility. Microsoft has seen fit to almost completely ignore the MAC OS here, and since they discontinued IE 5 for MAC – there ain’t squat anyone can do. Bugs a-plenty to be had here, enough to feed thousands of bug eating creatures. SharePoint using (pretty extensively) that wonderful version of IE code they seem to like to jam down everyones throats. So things like attaching files to task lists items is not possible, since no browsers are supported. They use some funky form handling in JavaScript, so anything but newer IE browsers can’t figure out the form – since the code is non-standards compliant. Even using Firefox with IE emulation doesn’t totally get there. It suppresses the alert error, but still fails upon form submit.

The other thing too, since they lost their lawsuit with the EOLAS plugin breach, you will have to click on plugins like a crazy-man. All over the damn place in fact. I’m guessing they would be so kind as to release some kind of patch – but I bet they can’t. So the only solutions are; A. live with it or B. upgrade to 2007 and dump loads of scratch on a new Server platform for SharePoint. Yippee! Thanks again.

There’s a lot to like about SharePoint; Web Parts, customizable pages, surveys (these are really awesome) task lists, calendar integration with Outlook… And yet, some of these same things leave a lot to be desired. Why can’t the Task Lists be editable by Outlook, and interface directly with the task lists in Outlook so I can receive alerts when something is due? We have a copy of the new release, thanks to our uber-expensive MSDN subscription, so we will be installing it pretty soon to putter around with. It looks cool, and it probably will solve a lot of the issues we have with SharePoint – but it’s just more money – and out Portal server hasn’t been in service but about a year now – so I’m not sure if it is a justifiable expense yet.

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