Category Archives: SharePoint

Developers: How Do I Learn SharePoint?

UPDATE: 04/25/08: Was catching up on some blog posts and found a link to this article:  I make note of it because in addition to asking, "how do I learn sharepoint?", some people ask "why should I learn sharepoint?".  That article partly answers the later.

In the last several months, a dozen or more folks from across the planet have been emailing me and asking the general question, "How do I learn SharePoint?"

I’m hardly authoritative, but I’ve had some success (and trying to get better all the time) so I thought I’d document my personal road map.  Others may find it valuable.

Before I do that, I just want to observe that it’s obvious to me, based on these personal emails and the even greater number of MSDN / SharePoint University posts of the same nature, that there is huge developer interest in getting up to speed with WSS/MOSS.  I wonder what it’s going to be like a year from now … easier to find good SharePoint talent?  The same?  Are folks committing themselves to the platform at a rate sufficient to keep up with demand for good resources?  How could you even figure something like that out short of a WAG?

Paul’s Roadmap

I was full time employed by the good folk at Conchango while I followed this road map.  This means that from a learning perspective, I was actively engaged in projects as I followed the steps I outline below. 

Some Basic Terms

For people entering this world, there are two key acronyms:

  • WSS: Windows SharePoint Services
  • MOSS: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server

WSS is "free" in that it’s bundled with windows server 2003 (or at least can be downloaded from MS).  I put quotes around free because you need a box, a valid O/S license and probably SQL (though there’s a "free" kind of SQL as well). 

MOSS is built on top of WSS and extends it.  There is no MOSS without WSS.  MOSS is not free.

Perhaps not day one, but soon after you’ve got some basic familiarity with the platform, it’s important to learn the differences.  For example, a powerful web part, the Content Query Web Part, is a MOSS feature and not available WSS.  People often make the incorrect assumption that CQWP is available in WSS and then end up scrambling for a stop-gap measure when they realize their error.

Hit the Books

I started working with WSS/MOSS on about 01/02/2007.  I had a little prior experience with SPS 2003 but very little.  To get myself started, I purchased the two books listed here (!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!203/).

I started with the big blue administration book.  Naturally, it covers administration.  At the same time, it provides a survey of all MOSS features (and WSS features as well).

For me, it’s not so important to remember all the various details (until it’s time to get certified) but it’s good to know the boundaries.  (I follow this same approach in 1st person shooters I play on the xbox or PC — I enter a room and tend to make a counter-clockwise loop until I get back where I started.  I just feel better knowing the shape of the box I’m in.)

After reading the big blue book, I would read the entire Inside WSS book.  It dives deeply into issues that developers care most about.

Create a Virtual Environment

In order to do any development or properly use the environment, you need a full blown windows server operating system with SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio 2005 (2008 works, but some useful tools have yet to be ported as of the writing of this article), InfoPath 2007 and some other stuff.  There are many good blog entries describing this process.  I’d have a look at these two:

In addition, Andrew Connell shared his experiences with VMWare here:

Use your favorite search engine to see what other people do.  It’s a useful learning exercise in and of itself.

Spend a few minutes angrily denouncing the fact that you need a server environment on which to do development.  But … don’t bother blogging about it or posting it to MSDN forums.  It’s already been done 🙂.  Instead, embrace it and move on.  You’ll be better off for it.

Get Certified

I believe that the MS SharePoint certification path, which consists four exams, is exhaustive.  I suggest that you follow their online preparation guide and do your best to understand each of the areas of the test.

I do not suggest that you take the exam just to pass it.  I do not suggest that you use one of the "brain dump" style 3rd party "tools" for passing MS tests.  If you can take the test, pass it based on a combination of your own directed study and hands-on experience, you’ll be a stronger developer and job candidate for it.

There are four tests in two "tracks":



I recommend that developers study for all of these exams.  You’ll be strong for them, though I suppose if you skipped the admin exams, you would get by.

I found the WSS version to be considerably more challenging than the corresponding MOSS versions, much to my surprise.  I was in a class recently and several others made the same point.

While I was studying for the 70-542 exam (MOSS development) I tracked my study resources.  These may be helpful to you as well:!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!192.entry

Plug Yourself Into the Community

The SharePoint community is vibrant, strong and growing larger all the time.

You want to look at the following to start:

  • Blogs
  • Forums
  • Codeplex
  • Twitter


If you don’t understand RSS, stop everything and learn it.  It will take 10 minutes to learn it, maybe another 10 minutes to find a web based RSS reader (I like google’s reader,

Start by adding this blog to your RSS reader 🙂

Next, add to your reader.  They aggregate many blogs into a single feed.

Over time, you’ll find blogs that are not aggregated that way.  Just add them individually.

I subscribe to a few dozen blogs which I’ve accumulate over the last year.  If you want, I can export my list and email it.

Eventually, you may want to start your own blog.  I personally think that a series of blog entries describing a "newbie’s" progress learning WSS/MOSS would be an interesting series. I wish I had done that myself.


I actively participate in two forum groups: MSDN and SharePoint University.

Forums are excellent places to learn.  People ask questions ranging from the very simple ("How do I create a site column") to the panicked ("My server is down!") to more hypothetical design questions.

Once you get a flavor of the environment, venture out and start replying.  Short of directly interacting with a customer, nothing is better than this for hands on experience.


Go to

Check it out and search for SharePoint projects.

Subscribe to the daily summary Codeplex feed in your feed reader.

Add any new SharePoint projects to your feed reader.

Eventually, after reading the forums and facing down your own WSS/MOSS demons, consider putting together your own codeplex project.


As I write this blog entry, a lot of SharePoint folk have started using Twitter

It’s hard to characterize Twitter.  You’ll just have to check it out yourself.


That wraps up my roadmap and makes me current.  I just started using Twitter two weeks ago.

WSS/MOSS is a very cool platform and the community is growing all the time.  Use community resources to improve your skills and enjoy the journey!


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SharePoint Does Not Provide Calendar Roll-ups; Potential Solutions

UPDATE: An anonymous person in the comments posts this link:

Forum users often ask a question like this:

"I would like to have a calendar at the site level that is populated by events from subsite calendars.   Ideally, users in subsites will create calendar events, and will have the option of marking them as ‘public.’  Events marked as public will dynamically appear in the shared site calendar.  Thus the shared site calendar is a roll-up of all public events from all subsite calendars."

Is WSS 3.0 or MOSS 2007, it is not possible to directly configure a "roll-up" calendar.  Calendars exist on their own, independent of any other calendar.

To create a roll-up calendar, follow one of these paths:

  1. Use a Content Query Web Part.  This is the easiest solution for MOSS users (WSS does not provide CQWP).  CQWP, unfortunately, does not provide a calendar view of data out of the box.  It does provide enormous rendering flexibility (see here for one example) but by default, shows its results in simple list format.  In many cases, CQWP probably a good choice.
  2. A more programming-oriented solution would be to use event receivers.  Implement event receivers on the subsite calendars that keep their public events in sync with the master calendar.  As a given subsite calendar is modified, reach out to the master calendar and update it as needed.  This option is available in both WSS 3.0 and MOSS.

There are probably other clever solutions to this problem.  If you have one or know of one, please leave a comment or email me and I will update this post.


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End User Quick Tip: Sort Views in a Document Library, List, etc.

We can, should and do create many views in SharePoint lists (document libraries, custom lists, etc).  SharePoint always lists available views in alphabetical order.  We cannot change this using out of the box functionality.  If it can be done via customization (and I’m not sure it can), it’s far to technical for your typical end user.

If you want to control the order in which SharePoint lists available views, simply prepend a number or letter to the view name, as in:

1 – By Material Type
2 – All Documents
3 – Due Date


A – By Material Type
B – All Documents
C – Due Date

I have also created views whose purpose is strictly to feed a KPI.  I have been following this naming convention:


That causes my "KPI" views to appear at the bottom of the list.


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Bar is Still Pretty High to Extend MOSS

Today, I was working with a client and describing how to modify the content query web part and display additional bits of information from a content type. 

"First, you configure the CQWP to connect to its data sources, then you export it to your workstation, modify <CommonViewFields>, upload, remove the original and now it’s ‘primed’ to display those other columns.  Next, open up SharePoint designer, navigate to the site collection root and locate ItemStyle.xsl.  Copy one of the templates as a useful starting point.  Go back and modify the CQWP to make use of this new template.  Finally, modify the template to render your new fields! (Don’t forget to check it back in so that other users can see the results)."

It’s all quite clear to me (and most of us SharePoint developer types) what’s going on and how it’s quite nice, really, that the data retrieval aspects of the CQWP are so well-separate from the data presentation aspects.  But, it’s not so easy to explain, is it?


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Yes/No (check box) filtering in Content Query Web Part

To filter for a query for the Yes/No check box entitled "PG Milestone", configure CQWP like this:


This is another one of those obvious-once-you-know-it but hard-to-find-an-answer-to questions: How to filter on a Yes/No check box using the content query web part.

The first search result I find using the search term "filter yes/no content query web part" is flat out wrong, so I thought I’d put this up there and see if it can replace the incorrect result in typical search results.

It’s quite easy: True values = "1" and false values do not equal "1" (pretty retro, actually).

In the above example, I created site column of type "Yes/No (checkbox)" named "PG Milestone".  I added it to a doc library, uploaded a few documents, set the value for a couple and tested it.



MOSS Tells Me My Column Name is Reserved or In Use … But It’s Not

UPDATE 12/04/07: See this Microsoft KB ( for related information.

Actually, it turns out it is, but tricksy MOSS had to make it difficult.

My customer does some development work on his MOSS site over the weekend.  It’s a bit of a jumble as to what he actually did, but the end result is this:

  • He tries to add a site column called "Quantity" and MOSS replies: "The column name that you entered is already in use or reserved.  Choose another name."
  • He attempts to add it to another environment and that works.  Therefore, "Quantity" is not a reserved name.
  • He tries to find an existing site column named "Quantity" in that site collection.  He cannot find it.

I did some research,  and even some coding, waxed philosophical and finally found that a column named Quantity did, in fact, exist.  It was in the "_Hidden" group.  Hence, we could not find it via the SharePoint user interface.

How did it get there?  I do not know, but I have a theory (or as my wife would call it, "blah blah blah").  Somewhere along the line, a fabulous forty template was added and probably activated at a site in the site collection.  It was then deactivated (or the site removed).  The site column, however, remained but in the "_Hidden" group.  If someone knows better, please let me know via email or post in the comments.

SharePoint was telling the truth.  It’s hardly worth pointing out that that message is not as helpful as it could be.  It would be nice to see that message fork into two different messages in the future: 1) Say that the column name is reserved or it is not. 2) If it’s not reserved, show the site, or at least the group, where the column name is already used.


“Cannot get the list schema column property from the SharePoint list” — description/work-arounds

This week, we finally reproduced a problem that had been reported by a remote user: When she tried to export the contents of a list to excel, things would seem to start working, but then Excel would pop up an error: "Cannot get the list schema column property from the SharePoint list".  She was running office 2003, windows XP and connecting to MOSS. 

I searched the Internets and saw some speculation but nothing 100% definitive.  Hence, this post.

The problem: Exporting a view to excel that contains a date (date = the data type of the column).

What worked for us: Convert the date to a "single line of text".  Then, convert it back to a date.

That solved it.  It was nice to see that the conversion worked, actually.  It was quite nervous that converting things this way would fail, but it did not. 

This bug has thrown a huge shadow over the date data type in the client’s mind, so we’re going to be seeking out a definitive answer from Microsoft and hopefully I’ll post and update here in the next short period of time with their official answer and hotfix information.

Other references:


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You Can’t Beat SharePoint’s Reach

During the last two days, I have participated in two meetings during which we presented the results of a SharePoint project.  The CIO and his team joined the first meeting.  That’s standard and not especially notable.  The IT department is obviously involved in an enterprise rollout of any technology project.  The second meeting expanded to include a V.P. from marketing, several directors representing HR, Logistics, Manufacturing, Capital Projects, Quality, Purchasing, Corporate development and other departments (some of whom were not even directly involved in the current phase).  That’s a mighty wide audience.

In my prior life, I primarily worked on ERP and CRM projects.  They both have a fairly wide solution domain but not as wide as SharePoint.  To be fully realized, SharePoint projects legitimately and necessarily reach into every nook and cranny of an organization.  How many other enterprise solutions have that kind of reach?  Not many.

SharePoint clearly represents an enormous opportunity for those of us fortunate enough to be in this space.  It provides a great technical opportunity (which is somehow turned on its head here under "Technologies You Must Master").  But even better, SharePoint exposes us to an extensive and wide range of business processes through these engagements.  How many CRM specialists work with the manufacturing side of the company?  How many ERP consultants work with human resources on talent acquisition?  SharePoint exceeds them both.

Like anything, it’s not perfect, but it’s a damned good place to be.

For the love of [fill in your most loved person/higher being], don’t change the ‘Title’ site column.


On the SharePoint forums, someone occasionally asks about "changing the label of Title" or about "removing title from lists".

Bottom line: Don’t do it!

Sadly, the user interface allows a one-way change of that column label as shown:


Title is a column associated with the "Item" content type. Many, many, many CT’s use this column and if you change it here, it ripples out everywhere.  There’s a good chance that you didn’t intend for that to happen.  You were probably thinking to yourself, "I have a custom lookup list and ‘Title’ just doesn’t make sense as a column name, so I’m going to change it to ‘Status Code’ and add a description column."  But if you follow through on that thought and rename ‘Title’ to ‘Status Code’, every list’s title (including document libraries) changes to "Status Code" and you probably didn’t intend for that to happen.

The real problem is that this is a one-way change.  The UI "knows" that "title" is a reserved word.  So, if you try and change "Status Code" back to "Title", it will prevent you and now you’ve painted yourself into a corner using paint that never dries 🙂

So what happens if you already changed it?  I haven’t seen the answer we all want, which is a simple and easy method to change the label back to ‘Title’.  Right now, the best advice is to change it to something like "Doc/Item Title".  That’s a generic enough label that may not be too jarring for your users.

I have few other ideas which are on my to-do list of things to research:

  • Contact Microsoft.
  • Do something with the object model, maybe in conjunction with a feature.
  • Figure out the database schema and manually update SQL.  (You should contact Microsoft before doing this though; it will likely void your support contract).

If anyone knows how to solve this, please post a comment.

Update late afternoon, 11/15: I found this link that describes a method for creating a type of list that does not have a title column:

SPD custom workflow actions — string manipulation enhancements

About a week ago, I started up a codeplex project that provides a simple and reasonably generic method for adding custom action functions to SharePoit Designer workflow.  It’s described here:  Beyond simply providing a framework, it also aims to provide a set of useful functions that will make SPD more useful/flexible/powerful. 

Here are the current planned features for version 1.0:

If anyone has any interest in this project, please leave a comment or start/add to a discussion here:

Here are the current set of functions that have been coded (though not fully tested as of 11/08/07):

Function Description (if not same as .Net function)
Num-entries() Returns the number "entries" in a string as per a specified delimiter. 

For example: Num-entries in a string "a,b,c" with delimiter "," = 3.

Entry() Returns the nth token in a string as per a specified delimiter. 
Length String.Length
Replace() String.Replace()
Contains() String.Contains()
Returns the word "true" or the word "false".
Substring(start) String.Substring(start)
Substring(start,end) String.Substring(start,end)
ToUpper() String.ToUpper()
ToLower() String.ToLower()
StartsWith() String.StartsWith()
Returns the word "true" or the word "false".
EndsWith() String.EndsWith()
Returns the word "true" or the word "false".