Appearance Matters

Along the Windsor Locks Canal PathTwo weeks ago, we upgraded our internal SharePoint server to SharePoint 2010. I say ‘we’ because, years ago I drank the Microsoft Software Assurance Kool-aid that allows us to upgrade at our leisure, I beat the SharePoint drum around the office and I write the blog. My Systems Admin single-handedly performed the upgrade – good job Chase! I wanted SharePoint 2010 ever since I saw the first presentation that talked about the new look and feel and the new features. I wanted it even more after ‘we’ built out our test server and I started working with SharePoint 2010. I like the way our solutions work on 2010, and I like the way they look. I also like features like External Lists, and for the record, I am working in these latter areas. Despite all the testing, anticipation, promises and training, I was surprised to find just how much I like working in SharePoint 2010.

Last week, we welcomed a former employee back into the fold. This woman worked with us in the late 1990’s, just barely crossing into the new millennium. She is primarily a Systems Analyst, but like everyone in our small organization, she wears many hats. When she left, she had just put the finishing touches on a system in Lotus Notes, which was to be our document platform. Going forward, she will be involved with the solutions we build on SharePoint, as well as the systems we build that interface with SharePoint. Right now, she is in learning mode and one of the things she is learning is where we keep our department information, including our design documentation – of course that would be SharePoint.

I was truly amazed at how much easier it is to introduce someone to SharePoint, now that it’s SharePoint 2010; it’s almost intuitive! It was nice to be able to point to the Ribbon and say things like “this tab includes all the things you can do with the documents and this tab is all the things you can do with the library itself”. Simple look and feel changes like the way a form opens over the grayed-out library or list, instead of bouncing between pages, are really refreshing. Replacing the breadcrumbs with a drop-down little tree-view, and locating the Site Actions on the same side of the page as everything else, actually chip away at ‘navigation’ issue that has dogged SharePoint since inception. My new coworker was seeing all this for the first time, but I was happily aware of all the places I used to say “ok, this is a little confusing, but…

Of course, the really amazing thing became apparent when we stepped into the settings to add a few columns and create a couple of views. We made our Custom List and our Library significantly more useful, and we only touched about 10% of the available features. In previous versions, it seemed that by the time you fought your way to the settings, you were too tired to experiment. Now, it’s like walking down Main Street and popping into all the new stores. I know, the Settings page hasn’t actually changed much, but I am no longer frustrated by the time I get there. As further evidence that SharePoint 2010 was a big step in the right direction, another coworker offered that “this new version is much easier to understand.” This guy represents many of my users; he grudgingly agreed to use SharePoint because it made sense, but he never thought it was easy.

As I reflect on our training exercise, I think that SharePoint is finally getting out of its own way with 2010. I know some will point out that my new coworker is a bright, talented IT-type, but I think the changes in SharePoint 2010 will work for everyone. The stumbling block that was the cumbersome interface has become a stepping stone. In a previous series on this blog, I talked about my development mantra “make it work, make it fast, make it pretty.” SharePoint has always worked, and SharePoint has been “fast enough”; now, with SharePoint 2010, I think Microsoft has added just the right amount of ‘pretty’ to let our solutions stand on their own.