According to Plan

I had the perfect idea for this week’s blog. I was going to segue from my comments about SPTechCon into a discussion of the other places at which I will be speaking about SharePoint, as well as the reasons that people using SharePoint need to help sell SharePoint. Well, it turns out, one of those speaking engagements needed to be cancelled. My message, about how much you can do with SharePoint out-of-the-box, didn’t mesh with the event sponsor’s product line. I wasn’t bothered by this, my job does not depend on my selling SharePoint or selling my SharePoint expertise or experience – my job depends on making SharePoint work. That brings me to my second idea for this blog entry.

Over the course of the last three weeks, I talked about a solution I “developed” for our internal SharePoint server’s main page. The collection of calculated columns, instructions and workflows places our Recurring Calendar Entries at the ragged edge of acceptable solutions. One of my problems with the “answer” we came up with is the difficulty in replicating and documenting SharePoint Designer workflows. Once again, I thought that I would build on that concept and talk about the way SharePoint Designer 2010 solves some of those problems. That did not go according to plan either, but it is still an important topic.

One of my favorite features in SharePoint 2010 is the addition of Visio Services. The ability to display Visio diagrams, especially diagrams linked to live data for people to view in a browser is awesome. The ability to combine the power of well designed diagrams with the data they represent can lead to some powerfully informative pages. Separating the Model from the View not only reduces the number of Visio licenses required, it is the right approach to development. The thing I like most about Visio services in SharePoint 2010 is the ability to design workflows in Visio and the ability for SharePoint Designer 2010 to import/export workflows to Visio. This solves one of the problems I have with workflows – documentation. Not only does exporting a workflow to Visio create instant documentation, it allows you to maintain the workflow. Well, it would, if it worked. I have to look up and remind myself that this blog includes things we “attempt” and things we “find frustrating”, this is one of those things. I am not sure if the problem is with the Release Candidate version of SharePoint Designer 2010 I downloaded, or my laptop, but when I export a workflow to Visio, Visio cannot open the file.

SharePoint Designer 2010 exports a *.vwi file (essentially a Zip file), or a Visio interchange file containing yourWorkflow.vdx and a few xml files describing the guts of the workflow. Unfortunately, when I export a workflow, the resulting *.vwi file does not include the *.vdx file. As a result, the diagram of the workflow I developed for replicating Calendar entries is not available to show in this blog 😦 .

While this glitch may have helped derail that perfect blog entry, I’m not worried. Either my tech guy or Microsoft will figure out the problem I am having with SharePoint Designer, and this feature will be ready for prime-time when we go live with SharePoint 2010. We will be able to document, maintain and replicate our workflows. Also, since SharePoint 2010 supports Reusable Workflows, I may be compelled to expand greatly the places where we use workflows instead of turning to a developed solution – that is good news!

While I am sharing good news, I’ll briefly mention two things I like that I discovered about SharePoint Designer 2010 while recreating the workflow I spoke about in the previous series. Workflow variables are now explicitly typed. Being a Smalltalk developer, you would think I would argue against explicit typing, but if your development environment doesn’t really deal with dynamically typed variables, you should have the opportunity to specify that ‘NewDays’ is a Date/Time variable. The other thing I noticed is that you now have the ability to control your selection of list items. If you read my earlier series, you may recall that I found it easier to continue working with the Current Entry than to try to find the entries that my replication workflow was creating. SharePoint Designer 2010 gives you several ways to select the entry from the list you are working in during the course of the workflow.

Back to the original idea for this blog, later this week, I will be speaking at an event called WorkSmart 2010, a day of educational sessions and technology demonstrations presented by ADNET Technologies. ADNET is our VAR and I have spoken about them before in this blog. If you are in the New York – New England area, they are a vendor you definitely should check into.