Every conference seems to have a sleeper hit - something which was underplayed and ended up drawing huge crowds, or as in this case, something which was added at the last minute and which didn't appear on the schedules, but still filled a whole ballroom.
For MIX06, the topic was Office SharePoint Server presented by Jackie Bodine.
SharePoint has been enhanced to include web service and RSS access to the information in its stores. This enables SharePoint to be used as the back end of a larger system, or to be used the way it is today.
SharePoint also added wiki, blogs, and updated albums and updated forums (now more standard) to its collaboration platform. This was spoken about, but was not demonstrated.
The real star of the presentation was the newly enhanced content management and integration with SharePoint. Content management server has been updated to .NET 2.0 and fully integrated into the Office Server. To dispel some myths about what a SharePoint site looks like, she demonstrated a version of xbox.com which looked just like the one visible at the link (as of 3/23/2006), but which was completely designed using the content management, site/page discovery, and rss capabilities of Office SharePoint Server 2007. You can brand a SharePoint site any way you want, and the users will never know it is SharePoint.
The new version uses ASP.NET 2.0 master pages to define the look and feel of a site. Anything you can do in ASP.NET 2.0, you can do on the SharePoint site.
For content authors, you can limit the formatting to what is available in a specific style sheet, or to certain fonts etc. This is a great way to ensure consistency across the site. Content is spell checked, and can be authored either directly on the page, or via a rich client app in Microsoft Word. It also supports tying a Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) workflow to the submit/approval process. That workflow can be anything you want. Support for checking in draft work is also included.
Site Administration, Deployment and Scalability
The content management functionality supports building on a stage server and deploying to production.The sites can be deployed to web farms with clustered back-end SQL Servers for some real scalability. The Office SharePoint Server team has said that the server performs with "internet-level scalability". able to support the largest and most bandwidth-intensive sites. This is important, as it shows a departure from thinking of SharePoint as an intranet-only technology.
The site administration console provides good access to the entire site. You can view things such as which pages are scheduled to go live in the next 7 days, roll back pages to previous versions, delete pages etc.
Questions and Answers
In short, you can use this technology to develop almost any kind of .NET content-based site. With that in mind, I asked a few questions related to a current project:
What level of SEO control do we have on the site? Can we control the URLs? Can we set position of the HTML content on the pages independently of where it physically appears using CSS schemes like we do now?
Office SharePoint Server controls the URLs. You can set page names, but don't have a whole lot of other control there. You will still want to use an external URL rewriter to handle that.
You can do anything you want related to content positioning. The content is in content placeholder controls just like it is with plain ASP.NET 2.0 sites. CSS files can be versioned along with the rest of the content.
Does the personalization system or any other system support in-place content authoring when it is a single page that varies depending upon something else in the URL? In our case, the pages are skinned based on the partner who refers the user to the page. With hundreds to thousands of partners, creating separate pages is not an option.
There is nothing built-in that will do that for you, but it may be possible to do this by putting a design-time control on the page that lets the content author select the partner. She suggested I check with the folks on that team for more specifics. I plan to do that.