Monday, 7 June 2010

Master Pages and SharePoint 2010

SharePoint 2010 Themes and Resources for Upgrading a Custom Master Page - SharePoint Joel's SharePoint Land:

"SharePoint 2010 ships with both SharePoint 2007 master pages and page layouts as well as the new SharePoint 2010 master pages. One of the major things to be aware of is the build in minimalist masterpage a concept that grew up from the community in SharePoint 2010 with Heather Solomon. In the box you’ll find v4.master, default.master, and minimal.master. Default.master is the old masterpage if you just upgraded. v4.master is the new SharePoint 2010 master page with the ribbon and other visuals. The new minimal.master is as it self describes. It is has a minimal set of controls and no navigation. Developers especially those working with a complete custom design will be pleased with this design."

Microsoft has carried over the default master page from 2007. You will also be able to bring over any master pages you team has developed in SharePoint 2007 to run in SharePoint 2010. The users will see no change and it makes for a fairly quick migration.

But this would be a very short sighted win. v4.master and minimal.master are the two master pages you want to move your Enterprise to as soon as possible, and if possible you would be much better off rebuilding much of the logic and layout you may have already created in SharePoint 2007 by building new master pages with minimal.master.

Now this is that eternal gray area where business conflicts with technology. A business community might see it rather simply. Migration to 2010 will add better backup support and scalability but as long as SharePoint 2007 master pages can be imported over why waste the time and effort to just rebuild what you want in a new web page? It is a hard one to answer for a technologist. But SharePoint 2010 offers a lot of great advantages in the new master pages that would be well worth the time of converting.

Said simply SharePoint 2001, 2003 and 2007 used web page technology out of the late 1990s. SharePoint before 2010 used the table element as its principle tool of layout. A SharePoint 2007 portal OTB gave you a front page with tables inside of tables inside of tables. SharePoint 2010 moves to the use of DIV tags, which most of the rest of the web started doing around 2003. DIV tags have some significant business advantages you can make to the business, here quoted from a post back in 2003:

Why tables for layout is stupid: problems defined, solutions offered: Everything on one page):
  • make your pages load faster

  • lower your hosting costs

  • make your redesigns more efficient and less expensive

  • help you maintain visual consistency throughout your sites

  • get you better search engine results

  • make your sites more accessible to all viewers and user agents
  • "
Now only were SharePoint sites slow to download and search, but default.master SharePoint 2007 based pages keep you in to world of long post backs. Each time you do anything in a SharePoint 2007 site you need post a request back to the server, which needs to serve up another Table heavy page which is low to render. Modification to TABLE heavy pages can be extremely complex and working with the old default.master page was always a time consuming and deeply frustrating job. So SharePoint 2007 based master pages and layout elements will take up time on the server and time of the user.

The new SharePoint 2010 pages will load and render faster because of div tags. Because of AJAX and JavaScript their use will be more seamless and visually interesting. This also means less demand on your servers. Your development team will have less trouble creating new sites or editing old ones. Your business needs to be aware that sooner or later they will need to make the migration, and the longer they wait the more money will be wasted in resources, time, effort.

Perhaps the killer app is accessibility and search time. Accessible XHTML is not just easier for disabled individuals to use, it is much easier to different machines channels and search technology to use. My rule is that accessible documents are well formed documents with clear meaning. DIV tages not only break off content, but they can be richly tag in ways that make their meaning clear. They also offer much greater control of layout. Using JavaScript DIV tags can be turned on and off so your site becomes far more interactive.

With SharePoint 2010 Microsoft has finally caught up with most of the rest of the Web Development world. For a long time SharePoint could not carry its wait in the area of rich UI or UX. People who created very rich UI found they could not build on top of SharePoint. Now that has all ended.

Also I think not just with SharePoint, but introducing your entire firm to the accessibility of clearly defined content headings and labels will improve overall search of information, reduce content production, and make it far easier to re-skin content. Many firms have establish word templates with a great deal of styling and generally very confusing heading styles. These documents will also have embedded branding which is isolated in the document and multiplied by the billions in the company. Authors start working in the template, inheriting all these issues before they even being working. Formatting usually is only there for style and the logical nature of content is utterly lost. A well formed accessible document should use styles for sections like Header 1, Header 2, Header 3, Body, Quote, Strong, Reference, and Note. If you Word styles are not this clear or logical you are wasting money on storage, reducing search effectiveness, and making content migration harder.

I am personally extremely excited about all of this. For a long time Word and SharePoint were continuing some bad behaviours on document formation. Now with SharePoint embracing of XHTML and DIV tags, and Office 2007 and 2010 embracing XML standard of DOCX, your firm can have smaller documents, more reusable documents, documents easier to search, and easier to re-skin. In the modern world of business this will mean you can convert masses of binary data much faster in to the right answer. This is all inline with WC3 standards and can only benefit your firm.

I understand that all of this will take some time. But with the emerging Semantic Web and the flood of unformatted information coming in on firms, perhaps the time is right to fight this battle which started in the late 1990s.

Now there is going to be some training time as the Web Development community who have been using DIV tags and precise accessible lightweight designs with in page functionality discover that SharePoint 2010 opens all the Content Management, Enterprise Scale and acceleration tools to the higher end of development.


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