How do I, uh, use Sharepoint?
July 15, 2008 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How do I make Sharepoint usable? Less ugly? Am I missing something or is this really unintuitive? What is everyone else using?

I really like the idea of Sharepoint, but I'm having a hell of a time trying to implement it. To put it simply: it is just ugly. The interface is confusing, cluttered and the text is small. I really like Basecamp, or at least how it looks from screenshots, but I'm afraid I need something I can run on my own servers.

My biggest points of concern: (1) needs to interface within Active Directory so I can use existing credentials, (2) easy to setup, get going, too much customization and I'm afraid it'll be an albatross on my back and more of a hobby and less of a productivity tool.

Is there something I'm missing? I've read a lot of books about how to install and setup Sharepoint, but I'm not finding books on how to effectively implement it. The interface seems designed so that customization is difficult, which is no surprise. The problem is that I find the default interface confusing, doubly so for those friends of mine who are not technically sophisticated.

Is Sharepoint a not-quite-primetime product where it makes sense to hire a developer to finish up the installation? My needs are fairly basic, just document sharing, maybe even calenders and tasks -- each on a project basis.

I looked at Drupal, as it looked easier to work with, but it seems to lack document sharing and more focused on maintaining extensive web sites.

Another thought: It always seems that Sharepoint comes just, oh so close to doing something cool, but always just fails short. Is it teasing me? I feel as if I'm missing a key piece of the puzzle.
posted by geoff. to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, Sharepoint is a bad product. Or, maybe as you put it, "not ready for prime time". My personal recommendation for a paid product would be Lotus Notes/Domino (although, that'll take some work to maintain). For a free product, I've heard some good things about dotProject, and about XOOPS with the "Smarted" project module (both of which are PHP).

( Disclosure: Notes/Domino is what I do for a living, I may be biased. That doesn't make Sharepoint any better. :) )
posted by Citrus at 11:37 AM on July 15, 2008

The key with Sharepoint is to understand the basic features it offers (workspaces, shared documents, homepages, etc) and really identify if you need those things. Don't just dump it all over your users and tell them to go nuts with all the features. Keep the cart behind the horse, so to speak. Also make sure you plan your database backups properly. Sharepoint is a messy can of worms, so be careful when opening it.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:42 AM on July 15, 2008

As someone that does SharePoint things for living (and in the past Lotus/Domino) things, there are real pro and cons to all of these things. SharePoint has a lot of power in its out of the box, Web UI so I would focus on getting the functionality that you want down. Do you want to share documents with end user settable alerts? Do you want to be able to create ad hoc lists for keeping project data in one place? Do you want to use it as dashboard to other sites and services? etc. Nail that down to see if SharePoint will work for you. Customizing the UI or the functionality of the product has a steeper learning curve than some other technologies (Notes/Domino included).

And regardless of what you choose, having a sound, tested backup process is well advised.
posted by mmascolino at 12:06 PM on July 15, 2008

You're absolutely correct - Sharepoint is a gigantic pile of crap.
posted by unixrat at 12:53 PM on July 15, 2008

As a sharepoint guy myself I would echo what was said previously. Focus on each of the facets. I love using the Lists for quick "databases" for my users. Don't forget if you have office 2007 you can directly use lists in sharepoint as data sources. This works REALLY well with access.

Start with a few small projects. Make a company calendar, then a vacation submittal system, then move up to bigger stuff.
We use it for a TON of stuff and I love developing new stuff in it.

Which version are you using? Sharepoint 3, or MOSS 2007?
Can you get the company to shell out a little money for a copy of infopath 2007. WebForms are the shit, and can really make some shiney stuff rapidly.
I've even convinced our PHP guy that infopath forms are pretty cool.
Stuff that would take him a week or two in PHP is do-able in a few hours with infopath and sharepoint.

I also love the features of the document libraries and think it shines there. Version control, check in/check out, and alerts are things users will like.

Stay in control, don't let everyone run around like its a sand box.

If its not already set up into some kind of structured OU organization, then take the time to make groups in your active directory, this makes sharepoint permissions super easy.

If you have any questions, feel free to mefi-mail me.
posted by Jonsnews at 12:57 PM on July 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Design is indeed a real issue with Sharepoint.

I created some icons and workarounds to get a Sharepoint site to look nice, but it required so many workarounds and non-intuitive fixes that the whole site is held together with duct tape and cat hair. If I'm not around to make changes, they do not get done properly.

MOSS is, ostensibly, somewhat better. However, it is still seriously ugly.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:58 PM on July 15, 2008

There is definitely a zen to implementing SharePoint in terms of understanding what the product is capable of, how these capabilities are exposed to the end-user (not always intuitively), and how the functionality maps to your needs.

In terms of installing the product are you trying to run MOSS or WSS? Are you using SQL Server or SQL Server express. Using domain or local accounts? You've probably seen it, but here's a link to the installation guide.

I think you will experience the "comes just, oh so close to doing something cool, but always just fails short" on nearly any software platform you choose to work with. Without knowing the specifics I would guess you would be able to fill in the gaps by using SharePoint's object model. The entire MOSS product is extensible via the fairly well documented object model (web parts, site definitions, custom policies, workflows, etc. etc.). Or are you looking for more out of the box types of customizations like creating custom lists. Customizing the look and feel is also relatively easy and Heather Solomon runs a blog that is a great place to start down that path.

I would suggest, once you get it installed is to spin up a blank site and add a document library (for document sharing), an event list (for calendar) and a task list. You have the option to set permissions on each of these different items if that is relevant for your needs. If you need to spin up more sites like this in the future, you can save the site that you've modified as a template.

Its a huge product that is wildly customizable but it comes at a cost - steep learning curve, and the willingness to work within the architecture the development team has implemented.

I'm also available by mefi mail should you have any specific questions.
posted by askmehow at 2:05 PM on July 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would seriously consider this as an alternative:

SharePoint sucks. I worked as a consultant for a company that was sold on SharePoint's ability to create custom designed websites. The project tanked, despite large amounts of funding. In retrospect, we would have been a lot better off using dot net nuke.
posted by xammerboy at 3:04 PM on July 15, 2008

If for some mad reason you're thinking of using it as a CMS rather than as a document store/portal then I'd follow Xammerboys advice - it's CMS capabilities come from having MS CMS rolled into it, and I found that to be a pretty terrible product even when it wasn;t bolted onto the side of Sharepoint. I suspect you want more of a document store/portal from it though if you're looking at basecamp as an alternative.
posted by Artw at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2008

Wow, great responses everybody. I really appreciate it.

As a sharepoint guy myself I would echo what was said previously. Focus on each of the facets.

This is the conclusion I was reaching myself, to deploy it as a big sandbox or try to tightly focus what it does. Good to know I need to un-Sharepoint Sharepoint to get it to work. Strip it and define exactly what I need to do.
posted by geoff. at 7:12 AM on July 16, 2008

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