Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Free SharePoint 2013 training for End Users

Date:January 7th, 2016 Author: Tags: ,
Category: Community, Training Comments:0 ;

It’s a common problem when IT systems are implemented that we give little thought to End Users and they are expected to just ‘figure it out as you go along’.

I think it’s particularly acute for software like SharePoint as it’s a huge, complex product and can be used in so many different ways.

There is a huge amount of information available for Developers, Administrators and Power Users – but surprisingly little aimed at End Users.

So to help we’ve partnered with – one of the leading providers of online training videos for software products – to bring you a totally free training course for SharePoint 2013.


We were particularly impressed with ClipTraining’s approach of breaking down each course into short to-the-point task based videos – this allows you to work through the whole syllabus or jump into specific areas when you ‘just need to get something done’.

Free? What’s the catch?


You have to register by the end of March – you can then use the online training as much as you want until the end of 2016.

Pentalogic and ClipTraining will receive your registration details but we are committed to treating you fairly. We won’t rent, sell or disclose this to anyone else and we will not bombard you with emails!

Register Now!

Help us spread the word!

If you think this is useful then please help us spread the word.

  • How about that colleague who is new to SharePoint?
  • Tweet to your followers.
  • Someone asking a question in a forum who needs a helping hand?

About ClipTraining

ClipTraining’s eLearning library includes training videos for the full Office suite (Excel, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, OneNote, Publisher, Visio) as well as Windows 10, Skype for Business, Yammer and OneDrive.

Everyone is sure to learn something new about the tool they use every day – increasing productivity and saving hours of work.

Included are ClipTraining’s convenient administrative tools to track user activity, and easily organize and manage your entire team’s learning.

Purchase for individuals for just pennies a day – or get access for your whole organisation to slash your training and helpdesk budgets.

Free online SharePoint conference – SP24

Date:January 24th, 2014 Author: Tags:
Category: Community, SharePoint Ideas, Training Comments:0 ;

The team over at are organising their first on-line conference - SP24.

It runs on Wednesday 16th April, 2014 from 10pm GMT for 24 hours.

There are two tracks – Business and Technical focused and each track has one session per hour. There are some great speakers lined up already and more being voted in by the community.

Its totally free to attend - just hop on over and register.

Key Facts

  • Free for all attendees.
  • It’s entirely on-line – so you won’t need to leave the office or home!
  • Takes place on 16th April 10pm GMT.
  • Lasts for 24 hours.
  • Famous speakers from all over the world.
  • Keynote from Bill Baer (Senior Product Manager, Microsoft).
  • Comprises of 2 tracks, (business and technical).
  • 48 Live sessions + on-demand sessions.

Find out more and register at

10 things developers should know about SharePoint

Date:May 4th, 2012 Author: Tags: , , , ,
Category: Community, General, SharePoint Development, Training Comments:1 ;

Many developers walk into the world of SharePoint unaware of the strange and interesting journey of discovery they’re about to begin.

It’s often difficult to know where to being, so here’s the top 10 most useful things I’ve learned since I joined Pentalogic back in 2010.


1. Know your Editions
2. Don’t even look at the database
3. Get to know the front-end
4. Dispose of your disposables

Building your Knowledge

5. Learn the language
6. Get a good book
7. Love the MSDN documentation
8. Find a SharePoint community that suits you

General advice

9. Learn to live with CAML
10. Remember that SharePoint is enormous

1. Know your Editions

SharePoint comes in many flavours, each of which has it’s own features and shortcomings. Here’s a quick run down of the notable versions:

Release Cheap Expensive MS Hosted
2010 Foundation Standard/Enterprise SharePoint Online
/ Office 365

It’s useful to get to know these for when you’re searching for solutions, as you’ll sometimes come across those that are edition specific (e.g. the Standard Edition’s ContentIterator class for querying large lists).

There are few things more frustrating than finding the perfect solution, and then discovering you have the wrong Edition.

2. Don’t even look at the database

To those new to SharePoint this is entirely baffling: Why wouldn’t you want to get data from the database? There are two good reasons for this:

a) Microsoft is very touchy about their database. They will not support any installation with software on it that modifies the SharePoint database.

b) The structure will give you nightmares. At some point in almost every database developer’s career they say: “Why don’t we abstract the table structure, and just have one massive generic table of text data?”

They’re then hit in the head by whatever small throwable object happened to be nearby, and their colleagues point out that although it would be very flexible, it would also be fantastically slow and unwieldy.

Unfortunately either the SharePoint team operated a clean desk policy, or they put an extraordinary value on flexibility, and the result is lurking in the darkness of the SharePoint database.

3. Get to know the front-end

It’s very tempting to dive straight into the code side of things, but when you’re trying to orientate yourself in the API it helps to have a good understanding of what you’re looking at from the front-end.

It’ll also give you a good feel for the site’s design, and hence what sort of layout the users will expect to see.

Many of the actions you perform in code will correlate to actions in the front-end, as well as the structure.

For example, to find a particular list’s view in the front-end, you would:

  • Open the site using the URL
  • Open the sub site
  • Select the list
  • Select the view

The code version of which is very similar in structure and information needed:

    using (SPSite site = new SPSite(http://site))
         using (SPWeb web = site.OpenWeb("subsite"))
             SPList list = web.Lists["List name"];
             SPView view = list.Views["View name"];

4. Dispose of your disposables

Some SharePoint objects (in particular SPWeb and SPSite) won’t automatically dispose of themselves when they’re no longer used. If you’re unaware of this, then you may easily run into post-deployment problems caused by the ensuing memory leaks.

The code in the previous section shows one method of dealing with this problem, and here is Microsoft’s advice on the subject: Disposing Objects

Interestingly, you shouldn’t always dispose of these objects; for example you shouldn’t dispose of  SPContext.Current.Web. As a general rule of thumb:

If you made it, dispose of it. If you were given it, leave it.

5. Learn the language

There is a huge amount of SharePoint-specific terminology, and some of it can be inconsistent and often misleading. For example, a Site Collection is an SPSite object, but a Site is an SPWeb object.

Another example that caught me off guard at first was that there’s a difference between the Object Model (the server-side SharePoint API) and the Client Object Model (client-side API). Whereas I was under the impression that one was an abbreviated form of the other.

Microsoft has published an enormous glossary, which seems to cover quite a lot of it: Glossary for SharePoint 2010. Although as with any jargon or language, most of it is learned along the way.

6. Get a good book

A good reference guide is infinitely more useful than an enormous glossary when getting to know the components of SharePoint. It’s vitally important that you get an overview of all of these components, to avoid inadvertently reinventing the wheel.

There are two I can personally recommend (having read them both cover-to-cover):

Building the SharePoint User Experience (Furuknap): Written for 2007, but still covers the mainstay of SharePoint. An easy and interesting read: If you’re quickly bored by dry textbooks, then this is definitely the book for you.

Inside Microsoft SharePoint 2010 (Various): A good follow-on from Furuknap’s book. A solid foundation of 2010 knowledge, and a good one to refer to now and again. Don’t start with this book though, or you’ll find yourself climbing a pretty steep cliff.

As your SharePoint knowledge grows, revisiting the books can also be quite useful. Parts you may have glossed over previously will suddenly start to make more sense, and you may find some useful tips you missed first time.

7. Love the MSDN documentation

Having developed and worked with a great many third party APIs and interfaces in the past, I can say with considerable confidence that the MSDN documentation is phenomenal.

Every class, method, and property is documented. Even the most obscure properties have at least a placeholder page, which in itself offers more information than many specifications. On top of this is the community comments on each page add clarification and often links to useful related articles.

However, there are two minor shortcomings. The first is that the background documentation (such as “Disposing Objects” mentioned above) is usually painfully boring to read and often skims around subjects rather than getting to the point.

The second is that the CAML documentation is very bizarrely structured: Elements used for almost completed different things share the same page just because they have the same name. There is also missing documentation where the CAML is more obscure, such as the elements used in SPWeb.ProcessBatchData().

8. Find a SharePoint community that suits you

Sometimes no amount of Googling or searching of MSDN’s documentation will find you the answer to the problem that’s been bugging you. In these circumstances it’s good to have a community of like-minded SharePoint developers to help you with your problem.

Being an active member of a community will also help you to expand your knowledge of SharePoint in general.

Here are a couple of the more notable SharePoint developer-friendly communities:

I’ve previously discussed the differences between the two in the following article: SharePoint Questions: MSDN versus Stack Exchange

9. Learn to live with CAML

Collaborative Application Markup Language (CAML) is another example where flexibility seemed to take precedence over usability. In certain circumstances you’ll be forced to write unserializable and poorly validated XML to perform seemingly simple tasks, such as importing comparatively small quantities of data (a few thousand rows).

However, it isn’t all bad: As I mentioned, CAML does allow a great deal of flexibility, and also has very easily readable syntax. The core resource for CAML can be found here: Collaborative Application Markup Language Core Schemas

When querying data you can avoid CAML by using LINQ, which is reputedly faster and easier to use. If you have no fear of CAML (or are working on 2007), the following tool may be of use to you: U2U CAML Query Builder

P.S. While we’re talking about tools, I should mention the extensive and impressive list of SharePoint development tools found here: List of SharePoint 2007 development tools

10. Remember that SharePoint is enormous

It’s important to bear in mind that SharePoint is a mind bogglingly large framework, with dark corners that even the SharePoint Development Team themselves haven’t visited in years.

This is important because occasionally you’ll find an area that’s poorly documented or has strange known issues, and it helps to have a little perspective on the scale of the system you’re dealing with.

You also need to be aware that there’s an awful lot you don’t know, and some of which you may never know. Getting a good overview of the components is essential. I wouldn’t recommend designing a project to use a component (such as a Custom Field Type or Site Template) until you’ve at least made a prototype in that area; to appreciate the depth of what you’re tackling.

The variety of customizable components in SharePoint also means that there is almost always more than one solution to a problem, as you can see in some of my previous posts: How to do list highlighting in SharePoint


The first challenge in SharePoint is discovering the existence of all the things you don’t understand yet. Once you’ve got a vague idea of all the different components, then you can really start to learn what each is about.

To borrow Mr Rumsfeld’s turn of phrase: Once all your unknown unknowns are known unknowns, you can start learning known knowns.

SharePoint Questions: MSDN versus Stack Exchange

Date:October 17th, 2011 Author: Tags: , , , ,
Category: Community, General Comments:7 ;

SharePoint is an enormous heaving behemoth of machinery; full of spinning cogs, churning engines, and peculiar dials. We’ve all worked with parts of it, but not even those that created it understand all of its inner workings.

So where do we go when the wheel that goes ‘whir’ is going ‘squeakity’? Or when we’re having trouble bolting on some shiny new levers? What we need is an expert in that area.

Two likely candidates for finding yourself an expert are:

  • The MSDN SharePoint forums (MSDN): A SharePoint specific branch of the MSDN forums; a staple of the Microsoft Support offering for the past 7 years
  • SharePoint Stack Exchange (SPSE): A community-created sister site to Stack Overflow, whose rebirth into the new Stack Exchange engine (which I’ve blogged about previously) culminated in a re-launch on its 2 year anniversary last month

All about Questions and Answers

So where does everyone else go to post their questions? A quick glance at the number of questions on each in the last 24 hours* is quite revealing:

MSDNvSPSE questions

The MSDN forums have had over 10 times the amount of questions in the same times period, across its various forums. SPSE is clearly the underdog in terms of its volume of questions, and certainly in terms of traffic.

This is largely unsurprising, as most people will automatically go to Microsoft with their questions, and the MSDN forums are a long-standing staple of the Microsoft support process.

What’s more surprising, is the percentage of questions that are actually answered**:

MSDNvSPSE Answered That’s a 64% answer rate on MSDN and a notably higher rate of 91% on SPSE. So why is there such a big difference? This boils down to two factors:

  • The quality of the questions
  • The quality of the answers

Question quality

Part of the difference in answer rate (and question quantity) is the different motivations behind the sites. MSDN’s goal is to help an individual person with their problem, whereas SPSE is built on Stack Exchange’s ethos of building a definitive FAQ on the subject; making it more likely you’ll find an answer to your question without even asking it.

When it comes to asking a question there’s unfortunately very few ways to improve how someone goes about it (short of Internet-based mind control rays). So the question quality is largely determined by how it is handled after it has been posted. This brings us to Moderation:

MSDNvSPSE modsThe mysterious fade effect isn’t entirely because I just found the ‘Gradient fill’ button; the MSDN SharePoint forums are moderated by the mysterious and unquantifiable force of Microsoft Support, and an unknown number of community moderators with their own pockets of influence.

In contrast, SPSE is moderated by three recognised members of the community. Much like MSDN’s Forum Issues forum, SPSE has Meta for contacting them, but it also has a chat room that can be used for asking questions about questions.

The final and most important effect on question quality is us (the community). Here are the ways we get involved in this process:

Editing Moderators only Anyone can suggest an edit
High reputation users can approve suggestions
Reporting Anyone can Report Abuse As MSDN, with additional dedicated Review reports and achievements
High reputation users can close questions

This additional community contribution on SPSE has a noticeable effect on the quality of questions. Unfortunately this can lead to a much higher maintenance role for Moderators, which may not translate well to MSDN’s moderation processes.

Answer quality

The biggest factor in answer quality is of course the answerer: The quantity of experts on a site that may know about the problematic area, and the amount of everyday people who may have suffered the same problems in the past.

In terms of quantity, both sites have roughly the same number of responses (~3.5 per question***). Approximately 1.6 of these being proposed answers on SPSE; unfortunately the MSDN proposed answer rate isn’t available (except through checking each one of the 163K questions manually).

An important step is luring and identifying the experts, while also rewarding the everyday contributor:

Points Recognition points Reputation
Awards Achievements Badges
Incentives MVP and MCC programs Increased site privileges

Although very similar in other respects, the two sites use very different incentive methods. The prestigious MVP award and more commonplace MCC award are highly sought-after by experts (especially aspiring ones), and draw many people to the MSDN forums in search of widely-acknowledged recognition.

The incentives on SPSE take a slightly more understated route: As your reputation increases you become more trusted by the community, and hence the site. This increase in trust gives high-reputation users comparable abilities to moderators, purposefully blurring the boundaries.

Another important step is to make it easy for experts to find questions about their area of expertise. MSDN has 21 forums, each dedicated to a category of SharePoint. Between these forums there is fair bit of overlap, and moving misplaced posts is a continuous battle.

In SPSE the questions are all bundled together on a single page. While this would seem chaotic, the tag system thankfully mitigates most confusion, while allowing more flexibility. However, tags are even more open to misunderstanding and misuse than MSDN’s separate forums, leading to the addition of the ability for medium-reputation users to retag questions.

Which site is best?

As a person with a question, the above pie charts would seem to make it clear that SPSE is the best choice. However, it’s worth mentioning that the comparison is not as straightforward as it seems. Both sites have slightly different means of showing questions as answered, and SPSE has a built-in reputation incentive for marking your question as answered (possibly skewing the results).

As an expert, MSDN is like seeking your fortune in the Big City; you might see your name up in lights, maybe just make an honest living, or you might quietly disappear into anonymity. SPSE is more like staying in your home town; the rewards aren’t as dazzling, but they are more certain and (depending on your community-mindedness) possibly more satisfying.

So what’s the conclusion? Post on both of course! There’s no law against cross-posting questions on both sites, and experts are welcome wherever they go. In time you may find you prefer one or the other (which is likely to be a personal choice) but at least now you know what to expect from each.


*SPSE numbers from Area51 (only overall total available), MSDN posts were manually counted for the 24 hour period prior to 11:00 13/10/11.

**SPSE numbers from Area51, MSDN answered rate based on sum of forum totals on the front page as of 11:00 13/10/11.

***SPSE numbers are from the Data Explorer (sum of comments and answers), MSDN response rate based on sum of forum totals on the front page as of 11:00 13/10/11.