Friday, December 19, 2008

Battling with SharePoint

Some consider SharePoint 2007's key competitive advantage to be "the breadth of integrated collaborative and community-based applications that are provided out of the box or can easily be developed with SharePoint rich platform services". It was certainly the point Lawrence Liu was making on his blog.

In practical use SharePoint 2007 leaves a lot to be desired. It may be the way it is implemented in some environments but it seems to get used primarily as a "souped-up" shared drive. Actual solutions built around SharePoint seem to be either disjointed or require custom configuration using Visual Studio or Frontpage's successor - SharePoint Designer.

The Wiki functionality in SharePoint 2007 is basically unchanged from the 2003 version. It is pathetic in comparison to other Wiki products. Have you tried adding attachments to a page on a SharePoint Wiki? It is a multi-step process that involves uploading files to a shared document library and then getting the shortcut and posting it in to the page you are editing on the wiki. This is not something your average user is going to want to do. Trying to find workarounds for these weaknesses seems to give further proof that SharePoint is not a collaboration platform. It is a development environment with a set of collaborative components that require professional development resources to configure to make usable solutions.

Trying to implement workarounds reveals other weaknesses. I would love to find solutions for these challenges that can be implemented by a site owner and not require system administrator privileges. If you have suggestions please let me know. Here are some of my attempts at workarounds:

Modify the wiki page to add an extra web part with a document library.

Now this works. You can go to site actions for an existing page and modify the page to add a web part. Choose a document library and you can have an add document link. So far so good.

The downside to this approach is that you are only modifying the configuration of that individual page. There does not appear to be a way to modify the default wiki page layout that all pages use.

Modify the Edit Wiki Page

This does not work. The Site Actions drop down does not let you modify the edit page. This means you can't add a web part to add a document library list.

Let's Forget the Wiki and create a Document Library

In this scenario I want to create a library with a multi-line text field that can have a file attachment. If you start with a standard document library you get all the upload functionality but there seems to be no way to add a record without uploading a file.

If I want to upload a link to a web page I can't do that. Using a URL instead of a document gives an "Error on Page" in the status bar. The record refuses to be created.

Other limitations also show up. For example, if I add a description field to the record it can be a multi line text field but you can't use enhanced text. Consequently font, formatting and hyperlinks are out.

Ok, so let's create a custom list instead

So there are problems with using a document library. Let's start with a custom list. Yes we can create rich text multi line fields so we can use fonts, formatting and hyperlinks. However, attaching a file is an extra step. What's more, once you have attached a file there appears to be no way to launch the attachment from a list. You have to open the record and select the attachment.

At least with the custom list solution I can include URL links and attach files but the user interface is not consistent with the standard document library. There is also no option, as far as I can tell, to add the document information that matches the standard document library.

Designed for Developers

My trials and tribulations attempting to do simple things that have been available for years in wikis and even in Lotus Notes seem to confirm that SharePoint is not a collaboration platform. It is a development platform with collaboration components.

Are You choosing sharePoint?

If you are thinking about using SharePoint in your organization. Yes, it is better than a shared network drive through the use of it's simple version control features. However, if you are looking for a collaboration platform then either look at one of the wiki platforms, like SocialText, or be prepared to invest significantly in additional third party web part components for SharePoint, or in maintaining a team of development resources that can customize SharePoint to meet your needs.


  1. "If I want to upload a link to a web page I can't do that. Using a URL instead of a document gives an "Error on Page" in the status bar. The record refuses to be created."
    To add a link to a document library you need to enable the "Link to a document library" content type. I have screenshots in my blog post here,


  2. Todd,
    Thanks for the tip. I am currently experimenting with this as an option.

  3. Have you considered using Confluence, the corporate wiki standard, and integrating it into your SharePoint instance?

  4. Hi there, great to hear the feedback.

    I'm Kevin, responsible for wikis in SharePoint vNext. I'm on twitter: @spwiki, I'd encourage you and others interested in SharePoint wikis to follow me there.