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Managing SharePoint Portal Server's Digital Dashboard

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Get acquainted with the Digital Dashboard (DD) technology in SharePoint Portal Server, and learn how to create a new DD, how to create and customize Web parts, and how to download new Web parts from the Internet.
This chapter is from the book

The Digital Dashboard (DD) is a proprietary Microsoft technology that lets developers create custom portals, or dashboards. This chapter is written with nonprogrammers in mind—you don't need to know XML, Visual Basic (VB), or HTML to understand the contents of this chapter. However, it will be helpful if you have some basic knowledge of XML and HTML if you want to create customized Web parts.

Until the release of SPS, the DD was not viewed as a full, "real" product by Microsoft because it wasn't tied to any supported product. However, since the release of SPS with the DD technology tied to it, you can call Product Support Services (PSS) and obtain support for the dashboard. For many people, this is good news.

If you don't know much about the DD, this chapter will give you a good introduction. The default DD is being deployed in some environments as an introductory portal. A portal can be defined as an aggregation of entry points for accessing information and applications from a Web page that will run under existing Web server technologies. The default client for a portal is a Web browser.

As the name implies, SharePoint (a single location from which all information and applications are shared) Portal (the aggregation of services into a common set of Web pages as described in the preceding paragraph) Server ships with a default portal out of the box. This portal is also called the Digital Dashboard, which in turn comprises seven dashboards. In SPS, the seven default dashboards are both extensible and customizable. So, when you purchase SPS, you get not only a document management program but also a development environment in which you can create a customized portal for your users and customers alike.

In this chapter, you'll get acquainted with the DD technology and learn how to create a new DD, how to create and customize Web parts, and how to download new Web parts from the Internet.

Digital Dashboard Terminology

Before you can delve very far into this topic, you first need an understanding of the SharePoint Portal Server terms used to describe the dashboard.

  • Dashboard site: This is the Web site, including all the Web pages, used to host the dashboards and present them to the users.

  • Digital Dashboard: This is the Web page that assembles the Web parts for presentation in the user's browser.

  • Web part: This is an object composed of code that either displays information, performs a function, or both. Code can be written in XML, HTML, JavaScript, and VBScript. The results of the script can be displayed in the browser using either HTML or XML/XSL. Each Web part has its own schema, which defines its properties.

  • Web part folder: A Web part folder groups Web parts under a common schema.

  • Dashboard factory: This is the code engine that resides on the server and renders the view of the dashboard to the browser based on configured properties such as layout, style, and content (see the discussion in Chapter 2 on the dashboard.asp file).

The DD is an efficient method of sharing information because its Web parts are reusable and extensible. For example, a Web part that presents a list of company memos that are created on one of the company's file servers can be installed into each workspace's dashboard so that no matter which workspace a user needs to use, he will see the same memo information on the dashboard for that workspace. Moreover, any dashboard can be customized and extended to include Web parts that may be of interest to the user, including stock quote tickers, a pivot table from an Excel spreadsheet, or even a weather radar display from an online weather service.

SPS and SharePoint Team Services are the first production software packages that ship with a default dashboard. Because the DD technology comprises reusable components, a Web part written for an SPS dashboard can be used immediately in an Office XP dashboard and vice versa. For a Web part to be exported to another dashboard, it must be saved in XML format and named with a .dwp extension.

A default DD is created when a workspace is created. The default DD allows a user to search for content, use the document management (DM) tools, use the Web discussions feature, subscribe to information, administer workspace settings, and modify the dashboard layout, styles, and content.

The default DD is composed of seven dashboards. Five of them are present for all users, one (Management) is viewable only to coordinators, and one more (Document Inspection) is hidden by default. These dashboards are presented as one dashboard in tabular format (see Figure 3–1). As you look at the following figures, you'll notice that each page looks like a regular Web page, but in reality, each page is a combination of Web parts designed to look a single page.

Figure 3-1Figure 3–1 Home page for the default Digital Dashboard that installs with a new workspace

The seven dashboards are as follows:

  • Home: The Home page is used to expose Web parts and other dashboards in the dashboard site. (Refer to Figure 3–1.)

  • Categories: The Categories dashboard (Figure 3–2) displays the Category Information Web part and the Category Items Web part. If you have configured best bets for a category, a Best Bets Web part is also displayed. Notice that the Search Web part is displayed at the top of this dashboard and that it is accessed using the Categories tab on the Home page of the dashboard site.

    Figure 3-2Figure 3–2 The Categories dashboard

  • Document Library: The Document Library dashboard (Figure 3–3) displays the Folder Information and Folder Item Web parts. Again, notice that the Search Web part is displayed at the top.

    Figure 3-3Figure 3–3 The Document Library dashboard

  • Management: The Management dashboard (Figure 3–4) displays management tools to the coordinator only and provides links to the Manage Discussions Web part. In this Web part, you can remove discussions associated with documents that are either internal or external to the workspace. A coordinator can also manage individual subscriptions using this Web part. Finally, this dashboard is where a coordinator can use the Flush Application Level Cache link to refresh the server's cache, which can become full at times if too many Web parts are cached on the server.

    Figure 3-4Figure 3–4 The Management dashboard

  • Search: The Search Web part allows a user to execute a search against the index in the workspace. On the Search dashboard (Figure 3–5), you will see both the Simple Search Web part and additional search options. The results of a search are displayed using four Web parts: Search Summary, Matching Categories, Best Bets, and Matching Documents.

    Figure 3-5Figure 3–5 The Search dashboard

  • Subscriptions: The Subscriptions dashboard (Figure 3–6) is used to display and manage subscriptions for your users. The subscriptions entered by users are displayed in the Subscriptions dashboard and you, the coordinator, can manage them from there. Users have the option to clear notifications and to rerun and delete subscriptions.

    Figure 3-6Figure 3–6 The Subscriptions dashboard

  • Document Inspection: This dashboard (Figure 3–7), hidden by default, displays additional information about a document along with the Item Actions Web part. This dashboard can be seen by clicking the Show Actions link next to a document in the Document Library dashboard in the Search Results section.

    Figure 3-7Figure 3–7 The Document Inspection dashboard

The DD can be accessed by any user running a supported browser, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.01 or later and Netscape's Navigator 4.73 or later. Browsers that run on a Macintosh or UNIX platform are not supported and won't work with SharePoint Portal Server.

Because the workspace is accessible from the browser, a user is not required to install the SPS client, although not doing so will mean that tight integration with the Office suite will not be available.

The folder structure of the DD can be seen under the Portal folder using the Web Folder client. You'll find the dashboards are dimmed, meaning that they are hidden by default. If you can't find them under the hidden Portal folder, be sure to use the View menu options on your Web Folder client and configure it to show hidden items. The Document Inspection dashboard is listed under the Stand-alone Dashboards folder (contents not shown).

Creating a new dashboard that will appear as a tab on the default Home site is not as simple as creating a new folder under the Portal folder. Moreover, renaming a folder will not automatically rename the tabular name for that folder in the Home dashboard. The next section discusses how to customize your current dashboard settings and how to create new dashboards inside the SPS dashboard.

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