SharePoint Designer 2013 is the Preferred Tool for Working with Master Pages with SharePoint Online Office 365

In a video tutorial titled Working with Master Pages in SharePoint Online, Yaroslav Pentsarskyy, a subject matter expert on branding SharePoint sites, and a published author on related topics, says of the value of mastering how to successfully work with Master Pages in SharePoint Online, Office 365: “Working with Master Pages is the meat of SharePoint branding.”

Nearly the entire tutorial is dedicated to introducing SharePoint Designer 2013 as the preferred tool for working with Master Pages for SharePoint Online. Yaroslav demonstrates how to open Master Pages with SharePoint Designer, and also provides several best practices intended to safeguard the integrity of the controls, and other elements not related to a branding effort, which, nonetheless, are included in any Master Page.

The video tutorial ends with a demonstration of how Firebug can be successfully used to identify page elements and “decouple them”, so “what if” branding scenarios can be tested.

The intention behind returning to a look at Firebug is, apparently, to demonstrate how to pull CSS from external sources into a Master Page (or at least demonstrate how to work with external CSS and a Master Page at the same time).

Given the substantial changes Microsoft has made in the 2013 version of SharePoint Designer (the most obvious of these being the removal of the WYSIWYG viewer, meaning Design Mode), it should be refreshing for anyone viewing this tutorial to reacquaint him/herself with SharePoint Designer as a very important tool for a new purpose.

The video tutorial also briefly touches on working with Master Pages with the browser (Yaroslav refers to this approach as “using the UI”). But, aside from demonstrating how Master Pages appear in the Gallery, from a browser, and remarking how the presentation of these files is not as useful as is the case when they are reviewed with SharePoint Designer 2013, there is little actual instruction on this point in this tutorial.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Consolidated Looks, Color Pallets, and Master Pages are Design Assets of SharePoint Online, Office 365

SharePoint Online, Office 365, like its on premises sibling, offers users an opportunity to create a custom look for branding sites. A quick way to build a custom look, as Yaroslav Pentsarskyy demonstrates in an exclusive video tutorial available on SharePoint-Videos titled Creating a custom look for SharePoint Online sites, is to edit one of the “Composed Looks” included with any SharePoint Online site. The set of “Composed Looks” actually appears as a SharePoint list and is accessible from the Site Settings page. By the way, this list is accessed whenever a user clicks on the “Change the Look” button from the SharePoint Online gear symbol.

Each item within the “Composed Looks” list includes a master page. Yaroslav explains how users can quickly access the complete repository of SharePoint Online master pages by simply clicking on the Site Settings option from the gear symbol and then clicking on the “Master Pages and Page Layouts” link.

It is also possible to access the repository of color pallets by opening an item from the “Consolidated Looks” list, noting the URL for the specific color pallet associated with the look you have selected, and then visiting the page for the library. But, as Yaroslav points out in this video tutorial, it rarely, if every benefits to take this route as color changes can be effected with much greater detail by working with the CSS for the master page. Readers should note there are some exceptions to this rule, and Yaroslav demonstrates one in this video.

As far as whether or not it makes sense for users to modify any of the out-of-the-box themes included with SharePoint Online sites, in keeping with his comments about color pallets, Yaroslav broadly advises not to modify these assets.

Readers interested in re-purposing assets like “Consolidated Looks”, master pages, etc, and sharing them across a set of SharePoint Online site collections, will need to plan on copying the set of custom master pages, pallets, etc. to each of the targeted site collections, as it is not possible build them once, save them, and then expose them across the entire set of site collections.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Building a Tool Set to Brand SharePoint Online, Office 365 Sites

SharePoint Designer 2013, a free product, is the primary branding tool for SharePoint Online, Office 365. As Yaroslav Pentsarskyy sums it up in a video tutorial titled SharePoint Online sites branding tools, “it’s essential that you have SharePoint Designer”.

Another very useful tool, this time for debugging challenging issues, is a “developer toolbar” for each of the browsers users are likely to use to connect to SharePoint Online sites with custom branding. Browsers can perform in radically dissimilar fashion to customizations applied to these sites. If an anomaly appears with Internet Explorer 11, then the IE Developer Toolbar will provide the best method of identifying issues and monitoring remediation of them. For Firefox, Firebug is the preferred developer toolbar. Finally, for Google Chrome, DevTools, or “Chrome Developer Tools”, provide the most useful instruments for developing sites for an optimum experiencw with Chrome browsers.

This video includes a demonstration of how to use the Firebug developer tool set to remediate issues stemming from in real time. The key feature here, of course, is one’s individual browser. All of the latest browsers are fully configurable for an optimized, custom view for a particular user. What a tool like Firebug contributes, is an enhanced method for users to access to effect these changes. Once the changes are, effectively, “proofed” via this method, the optimized CSS can be incorporated into the source code for the site page, itself.

As Yaroslav points out, this “on the fly” method of proposing and testing changes to site branding can result in a considerable time savings versus an alternative approach, which would require an indeterminate number of repetitions of the same “upload, test, fix, upload, test, fix” routine. Finally, he notes Firebug, at least, can be used to debug JavaScript, as well.

Increasingly, branding developers will want to optimize SharePoint Online sites for mobile users. The tool of choice for this work is a “Mobile device emulator”. In this video Yaroslav demonstrates an older example of this type of tool titled “User Agent Switcher”, which works for Firefox browsers.

The final tool mentioned in this video is Visual Studio, which Yaroslav judges to be “even less important” than the tools previously demonstrated.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Streamlining the process of customizing a public site in SharePoint Online, Office 365

In a video tutorial titled The basics of SharePoint branding Yaroslav Pentsarskyy aptly sums up the opportunity represented by the out-of-the-box “Change the Look” feature included with SharePoint Online, Office 365: “There’s quite a lot of them — but there isn’t quite a lot of them”, meaning the range of out-of-the-box “looks” appears to be well populated, but, in fact, most of these “looks” are actually very similar.

But, as Yaroslav explains, if one looks beyond the outer trappings of a specific “look”, to what really matters, “. . . . to start with the layout (each of the layout options, by the way, is named for a capital of a country, “Berlin”, “Oslo”, “Lyon” and “Tokyo”), first . . . Is it centered? Is the navigation at the top?”, then, from the 41 options included with “Change the Look” feature it may be possible to find one, or more, from which the branding of a specific site can be customized. Of course, if this approach works, then there will be no need to start the entire process from scratch.

Starting with a decision as to which “Look” has a workable layout makes sense. In fact, as Yaroslav demonstrates in this video, it is a very simple matter of some clicks of a mouse to remove the background image included with a “Look” and, as well, to change the color scheme, either with another scheme, or to easily create a custom scheme by editing the file containing the color settings.

Once a “Look” has been selected, and packaged for use, then a click on the button at the top right of the page labeled “Try It Out” applies it to the site. Once applied, a click on “Keep It” transforms the “Look” into the default for a site.

In fact, for public sites, only, a number of the “Site” controls are available directly from the SharePoint ribbon, within a unique tab for SharePoint Online titled “Site”. But readers should be aware of a note of caution Yaroslav offers in this video. Opting to use the “Edit Style Sheet” feature of the “Site” ribbon tab can be “more of a headache than it’s worth” as it “doesn’t work as expected”. Yaroslav explains a JavaScript is used to inject whatever modifications a user chooses to make via this feature into the public site from a temporary folder, which can be counter productive given the other style sheets at work to project the entire site’s “Look”. The safest way to think about this feature is with regard to controlling the branding of page content, only.

Anyone familiar with site branding may wonder as to where, in a public SharePoint Online Office 365 site, one should store custom CSS files, and other design assets. Yaroslav points to the “Style Library” (accessed from Site Contents) as the best repository for this data, although images should be stored in Site Assets.

Some Characteristics of the User Experience of Public Sites in SharePoint Online Office 365

Public sites in SharePoint Online, Office 365 are also referred to as Publishing Sites. With SharePoint Online, a public website is generated once a subscription is activated and has the the domain extension “-public.sharepoint.com” (Office 365 tenants can replace the site name with one incorporating what Microsoft refers to as a “custom domain”, meaning a company’s domain name, if one has been registered for it. Tenants on the public version of SharePoint Online, Office 365 are limited to one public site. Therefore, a click on the “New” button on the left hand edge of the “Site Collections” ribbon for the “SharePoint admin center” will produce a greyed out “Public Website” option. As Yaroslav Pentsarskyy, a subject matter expert on branding SharePoint sites, and published author, makes clear in a video titled Creating a public site, there is no option to select a template for this public site. Incidentally, this video tutorial is included in a set titled SP13-315 SharePoint Online (Office 365) Branding Course. This course is available to anyone with a subscription to SharePoint-Videos. In addition, it is available for purchase for unlimited local viewing by individuals or even by an entire organization.

By default, the SharePoint Online public site is not viewable by the public. This condition is controlled by an on/off switch. In the case of our Office 365 subscription, the control is titled “Website offline”. In our video tutorial set, Yaroslav Pentsarskyy refers to this control as the sole method available to the SharePoint Online tenant to control “anonymous access” to a public SharePoint Online site. He also explains the two ribbons we found exposed with our public site:

  • the first including links to Outlook, Yammer, Calendar, People, etc and
  • the second simply including “Browse”, “Page” and “Site”

will not be visible to any anonymous visitors to the site.

Some of the limitations of public sites in SharePoint Online, Office 365 include the following:

  • Users cannot create subsites, though there is a workaround via SharePoint Designer 2013
  • Sidebar and top navigation bars “both read from the same data source”, as Yaroslav Pentsarskyy explains, which means developers should plan on either simply using one of the navigation options (in other words, by hiding one of them), or having duplicated links in both places. It is important to note Yaroslav does allude to an option to add different menu bars, for top and sidebar navigation, but does not demonstrate the solution in this video tutorial
  • Users cannot add SharePoint Online features to public sites. However, apps can be added for most of the functionality otherwise to be found in SharePoint features

Yaroslav demonstrates how to use an “anonymous browsing” browser to check on how anonymous visitors will see a public site.

SharePoint-Videos Will Offer a Class on Enterprise Social with Yammer in August, 2014

Anyone with more than a cursory familiarity with SharePoint Online, Office 365, will note the out-of-the-box features of the platform designed to support collaboration. If readers aren’t familiar with this emphasis, please take a moment to read a post to the Office blog authored by Jared Spataro titled Work Like a Network! Enterprise Social and the Future of Work. An important component of these features is Yammer, which is available as a cloud solution for collaboration and offers more features than the SharePoint 2013 Newsfeed service.

On August 21, 2014 SharePoint-Videos will host an online course on a related topic. Naomi MoneyPenny will lead a course titled Making Enterprise Social Real in your Organization with Yammer – Online Class. The opportunity presented by this course is especially timely, given Microsoft’s recent announcements about how Yammer’s “enterprise graph” is slated to evolve into one of the key components of Satya Nadella’s “ubiquitous computing” vision of the near term future of computing — Delve.

Our course may not touch on Delve, but attendees are sure to benefit from Naomi’s presentation of how a foundation should be built to support the kind of healthy appetite for the benefits of enterprise social computing required to produce a useful implementation of a powerful service like Delve. The main cornerstone of this foundation must be built through a combination of an accurate understanding of what an organization can reasonably expect healthy enterprise social activity to deliver in the form of benefits, together with a correct understanding of the organizational structure required to support the effort. Finally, our course will suggest some methods of measuring the performance of enterprise social computing efforts against a plan.

Given Microsoft’s emphasis on enterprise social, and its vision of how this service will provide Bing search with the required content to drive its expectation of very high value results from natural language queries, “Power Q&A”, etc. any organization with an interest should seriously consider attending this course.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

SharePoint Online Users Looking for Geolocation Data Mapping can Use Excel 2013 Power Map

As we wrote recently, SharePoint Online users can not add the same geolocation columns available to SharePoint 2013 on premises users. But the Power Map feature of Excel 2013 can be used to depict data according by geographic location.

This writer attended a demonstration of this capability on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, which was held his year in Washington, DC. The Power Map feature of Excel 2013 is not on, by default, but must be activated along with the other components of the new BI suite for this Office application.

The demonstration was built from some free data grabbed from the web. The download was in comma separated value (CSV) format. The data in the sample was poorly organized and inconsistent. But the presenter was able to clean up the first two rows of data (as far as columnar alignment goes) and the Excel 2013 replicated the same structure for every other row in the file, without any need for further manual intervention by the presenter.

Once the data was correctly arranged, the presenter enabled the Power Map feature and Excel 2013 produced maps depicting the data by country. When the maps took proper shape, the data was published to SharePoint Online.

The natural query bar in Excel 2013 is another feature readers may want to explore. More information about this feature can be found on Microsoft adds natural language search over data to Office 365.

Readers should note these new features further drive home the relational power Microsoft has claimed for its Bing search technology and how it is being integrated into Delve (formerly known as Code Name: Oslo) AND Cortana, Microsoft’s voice assistant.

SharePoint-Videos would be pleased to learn further about an interest from your organization in these features. If you are in need of a method of transforming your organization’s data into actionable charts and reports, our subject matter experts may be able to help. Please contact us to learn more about our consulting services.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Microsoft Simplifies Onboarding Process for Office 365

In a short video on MSDN Channel 9, titled Get your Office Tenant on, FastTrack Deployment of the New Service, Microsoft® demonstrates how enterprise businesses looking to add Office 365 computing can plan on a short implementation process.

The video presentation is led by Jeremy Chapman (one of the Channel 9 hosts) and Keith Laborde, an Office 365 Principal Service Engineer at Microsoft. The reason for the video, though not directly stated in the video, appears to be a widespread experience, on the part of business customers, of a much more effort intensive onboarding experience for Office 365, than would otherwise appear to be the case. Laborde sets the stage for the 15 minute presentation: “What we’ve done is looked at some of the compexities and the difficulties its taken to move to the service and now we’ve really cut that back and made it much simpler”.

The new onboarding process looks like a “simple three step approach”: “Pilot, deploy and enhance”. The task of synchronizing Active Directory between on premise and public cloud computing for business users is moved to the deployment stage. By making this adjustment, Laborde and Chapman claim a pilot now takes a mere few hours to set up, in contrast to the massive effort required before this method became the recommended approach. Any set up for Exchange services is also moved to the deployment phase and not included in the pilot. The video predicts the deployment process will now take a few days.

The Enhance phase now includes any set up for Active Directory Federated Services (ADFS). Any migration for SharePoint data is also included in the Enhance phase. Lync services, if included are also migrated at the Enhance stage.

The video also includes a comparison of the amount of time it will take to set up a trial for an organization via the method presented, versus implementing a method built around an on premise Exhange implementation.

Of course, for any organization looking at simultaneously supporting an on premise Windows computing platform (including SharePoint on premise, Windows Server, Exchange, etc) along with a public cloud platform built on Office 365, may require a test of everything implemented, in this video, across this “simple three step approach” in the Trial stage. If your organization is considering either a migration from on premise SharePoint to SharePoint Online, or a hybrid implementation of both computing platforms, on premise, and Office 365, SharePoint-Videos offers consulting services you may want to consider. Please contact us for more information.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Delve, a New Feature Coming to SharePoint Online Office 365 is Built on Office Graph

Satya Nadella mentioned something called Delve in his July 10, 2014 memo to all Microsoft staff members. As the public quickly became aware, Delve is actually the new name for a method of curating and presenting a panoramic view of information — independent of silos — now called Delve. Delve, in turn, is built on top of Office Graph, which was presented to the attendees at SharePoint Conference, 2014, by Jared Spataro during the Keynote of the conference, within his Work like a network: The power of Enterprise Social presentation.

The transformation doesn’t stop with Oslo becoming Delve. Office Graph is actually a transformation of Yammer’s Enterprise Graph feature. As the content on the destination page for the link just provided makes clear, a terse summary of Enterprise Graph produces a definition of this process as “a single mapping of everything employees encounter at work”. The graph part of the feature can be found in the pictoral depiction of relationships between what one can refer to as “zones of interaction” within the user interface. An example of one of these graphs is provided on the promotional page on the Yammer web site.

So it may be helpful to consider Office graph as another version of the immensely popular trend to graphically represent the frequency at which specific categories are treated in a blog. The difference is, of course, the personal nature of the fundamental relationship between the zones within the graph. In other words, each of the zones is included as the result of the participation of one individual (for whom the office graph has been prepared) in each of the zones. The enterprise piece, of course, amounts to another common foundation between each of the zones: namely these “scopes of bi directional communication” are all sponsored by the organization (the enterprise) using Office 365.

The purpose of all of this correlative filtering is to improve the usefulness of data for individuals. Office 365 and SharePoint Online provide a useful “playground” for a tool like Office Graph. After all, SharePoint Online is a platform with a very rich set of present and evolving scopes of interaction. One can make a credible argument about the value of data hinging on the extent to which users can actually find what they are after via search. Perhaps Office Graph and the Delve feature to be built upon it actually improve the odds more users will succeed at this challenge.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved

Code Name Oslo Emerges as Delve in a Memo from Satya Nadella to the Staff at Microsoft

At SharePoint Conference 2014 Microsoft introduced a new feature of SharePoint Online, Office 365, code named “Oslo”. This feature is important enough to Microsoft to emerge as something called “Delve” in a memo from Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, which was dated July 10, 2014, and published to the Microsoft web site.

Nadella mentioned “Delve” in the same sentence where he mentioned “Cortana”, Microsoft’s new voice assistant for Windows Phone, which will be distributed to anyone with a smart phone powered by Windows Phone 8.0, along with the rest of the 8.1 upgrade. It will also be available to anyone buying the new Lumia 930 (which is only available as of the date of this post to European markets), and, we would presume, any subsequent Windows Phone models running the Microsoft Windows Phone O/S.

So what is Delve all about? As Cem Aykan and Jeremy Chapman present it at the start of the video presentation of this feature, Oslo is “next generation search and discovery”. How is this connected to SharePoint Online? Well, the Group Product Manager at Microsoft heading up the development of this feature is Ashok Kuppusamy, who heads up the Fast Engineering team. Of course, Fast has been incorporated in SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, out-of-the-box, so it should be clear how all of these services are interconnected.

What is the force behind Delve? As Cem Aykan presents it, early in the video, the power behind Delve is to breakdown the information silos, which certainly provide containers for data, but, at the same time, actually can render some otherwise important data for users who ought to be served with it, invisible. When Kuppusamy joins the presentation he demonstrates what a Delve page of results looks like, which, incidentally, could not be the case without SharePoint Online, Office 365 on the backend. The page of what we would refer to as information “snippets” in Kuppusamy’s demonstration, are pulled from Yammer, Exchange, and SharePoint libraries and lists.

Kuppusamy also emphasizes the importance of the look and feel of how information is presented by Delve, as a very important component of the actual usefulness of the results it provides to users. We should note there is an AI component to the feature, as well. Delve can actually take the initiative and push information out to users without a request.

Ira Michael Blonder

©Rehmani Consulting, Inc. & Ira Michael Blonder 2014 All Rights Reserved