A little rant about SharePoint

For those of you who have never encountered Microsoft SharePoint, consider yourself very lucky indeed.

A bit of history.  When I took over IT here, we had a very basic Health and Safety intranet and nothing else.  It wasn’t really even an intranet, didn’t run on a web server, nothing.  Within a year we had a very nice Drupal Intranet running our forms, health and safety, library information, photo galleries, stuff like that.  Very good, very functional, very nice.  Trouble was, no-one could really wrap their head around the fact that this web page could be a master document.  So instead of working within the version control and revision moderation system that was built in, people would be copying and pasting chunks of text from Word documents that they still (somehow) trusted more than my nice, shiny, web pages.  And the resulting MS Bloat had me correcting pages frequently.  Or, more often than not, “John, could you just update…” and doing the job myself.

Fast forward a year or so back.  Someone went on an introduction to SharePoint training course and came back convinced that it was the way forward.

Yes, so it’ll cost thousands and do exactly the same as the Drupal Intranet does for free.  The advantage is it integrates with Microsoft Office!  Everything can be done as Word documents!  Whoop-de-bloody-do.  Back to extra clicks and warnings about things not being checked out before you can read the policy about leave.  Great.  Anyway, ours is not to reason why and all that jazz.

One complicated installation later, two Windows 2008 R2 servers that took a couple of days to set up (I can have a Linux server up, running, and fully functional in under half an hour) and SharePoint is working.  But they don’t like the lists and folders.  They think a graphical interface is a nicer way to navigate things.  Fine.  See above about not reasoning why.  It’s in.  Visio diagrams that you can’t bookmark links from, can’t refresh without resetting everything.  Let’s see what the usability survey has to say about that.

Fast forward to now.  People in the right places are starting to see the potential of SharePoint, the fact that it can do a whole lot more than just hold documents.  Workflows.  Triggered events.  That sort of thing.  Exchange integration (“John, can you move our email across to Exchange?”  Not without the training and a whole lot of time and effort!).  So now I’m looking at rebuilding the first of several crumbling Access XP databases into SharePoint.  And bloody hell is there a lot of hassle here!

First off, there’s the obscure security that whoever designed these bloody databases put in place.  I’m not allowed to edit form designs, change table designs, anything useful.  And the macros they’ve got running on start-up hide everything useful from the users.  Goodness knows how much they paid to get these things written in the first place.

Secondly, they’re blithely doing things that SharePoint finds difficult – if not impossible.  For instance.  There’s a waiting list for courses.  You can send letters to people on a waiting list when you decide to run that course.  A horrible chunk of VBA code steps through a Word document line by line inserting text like an old typewriter being used to fill in a form.  SharePoint, it seems, can’t do this.  Doesn’t know how to even store a document inside a list the way Access will store it inside a field in the database.  It was at this point that my head exploded and I had to start all over again.

Right now I’m ignoring the letters, concentrating on getting the rest of the logic (if that’s the right word for it) working.  If anyone knows a simple way to mail-merge based off an attachment to a SharePoint list item, please let me know.  Til then, I’ll carry on cursing the day they invented Microsoft Access.

Rant over.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday.

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