Sunday, 29 May 2011

Custom branding with SharePoint

Custom branding with SharePoint

For those of you working at new SharePoint 2007 sites, I have more of Darren Pritchard’s excellent beginner’s guides. This time he’s looking at custom branding.

There are a few different parts to custom branding a SharePoint Web application. You will need SharePoint Designer to create and change the pages. You will need to create a new master page and a CSS file to apply to the master page.

SharePoint Designer is a free application that is available from Microsoft at SharePoint Designer allows you to open your SharePoint Web application to see and access all the component parts and elements of the application. You are able to navigate through the whole site, which will give you a better idea of how a SharePoint application is built. Be carefully not to change anything unless you know what it is – you could break the Web application if you remove or change the wrong thing!

SharePoint Designer also allows the pages and code to be edited, which is good news for someone new to SharePoint because everything is available within one location.

Let’s start with master pages. These are the templates that are applied to all pages on a SharePoint Web application. They are written in ASP.NET 2.0. When applying custom branding to a SharePoint Web application, this is where the majority of the development will be carried out.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) are used to style the master page (just like on most Web pages). Within a SharePoint Web application, there is a ‘core.css’ file, which can be found in the ‘_styles’ folder. You won’t be able to navigate here without using SharePoint Designer. This is used by all of the master pages that come by default in a Web application. This file should not be changed. It is best practice to create a bespoke .css file and use this to override the core.css. This means that you will not affect the default master page styles that are used by other pages.

Content PlaceHolders Controls are regions of content on a master page that are predefined but customizable within SharePoint. So, for example, the PlaceHolder is in bold, which is housed within an HTML table:
<!-- Search Start-->
  <table border="0" cellpadding=0 cellspacing=0 width="100%" class="customcss.class" >

      <asp:ContentPlaceHolder id="PlaceHolderSearchArea" runat="server">
      <SharePoint:DelegateControl runat="server" ControlId="SmallSearchInputBox"/>

<!-- Search End -->

This is an example of a table that will contain the search placeholder shown below:

Any images that are referenced from within the master page must be able to be viewed by all users. Otherwise, users will be asked to log-in every time they refresh the page if the don’t have permission to the library where the image is stored.

I would suggest creating a folder for your master page within the ‘http://Your App/Style%20Library/images’ and locating all of the images there. This will use the standard image locations from the master pages, but keep them separate so that they can be identified easily during future development or maintenance.

When you’re ready to import branding into a Web application, you need to use the following guidelines.

To import a master page:
1    In SharePoint Designer open up your Web application
2    Navigate to http://your site/_catalogs/masterpage
3    Click File
4    Click Import
5    Add your master page here.

To import an image:
1    In SharePoint Designer open up your Web application
2    Navigate to http://your site/Images
3    Click File
4    Click Import
5    Add your image here.

To import a CSS file:
1    In SharePoint Designer open up your Web application
2    Navigate to http://your site/_styles
3    Click File
4    Click Import
5    Add your CSS file here.

Good luck with your modifying your branding.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

For the journey

There’s an accurate, but much-overused, metaphor for life as a journey. Well, coming soon, this metaphor has been taken a stage further by giving us a destination – Destination z. According to the Web site at, Destination z is a community where all things mainframe converge to keep you informed. The new site becomes live in summer 2011, and when it launches, members will be connected to a new global community of  peers – mainframe users, business partners, academia, consultants, and others.

An inaugural enewsletter (tentatively called zNEWS) will be sent out in June, formally announcing the community.

In fact, Destination z has been around since 2007 and had 26 founding members. Since then,  more business partners, supporting members, and academic members have joined, bring the number of members to 100 by the end of 2010. This next phase broadens the membership to include IBM System z clients and it’s planned to provide numerous resources and benefits.

Here’s their logo:
According to an article on the MainframeZone Web site: “The latest phase will bring value to mainframe clients and their employees by providing rich Web content, connecting the community through social media, and creating a ‘one-stop shop”’for everything z through an index of key resources, including IBM and partner product content, customer stories, and links to blogs, forums, an online mentorship program to introduce students to the mainframe community, and more. These members can access all the resources available through the Website and can opt to be included in special communications from both the IBM Destination z Team and IBM Business Partner members.”

To my mind, anything that helps the community of mainframe users has got to be good, and I’ve pre-registered to become a member. You might like to do the same.

And while we’re on the subject of moving things around, you might be interested to know that the IBM Information Champion programme has changed its home location.

For the past few years, it has been sitting at, but it is now on IBM’s developerWorks site at, and they’re promising that the shorter URL of will work. There’s also a new logo:

I’ve been a ‘Champion’ each year since 2009. You can see me my profile at

The change of location is, I believe, part of IBM’s strategy to raise the profile of this programme and help increase awareness of mainframes to the general public.

Hopefully, after the summer, with these two initiatives, information and other resources for mainframers will be more readily available and easier to locate.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

All change in the office

It started with me looking for the best ‘office’ application to run under Honeycomb (Android 3) on a tablet – but I got sidetracked. It seems that Oracle has dumped OpenOffice, and Microsoft has a beta of Office 365 – it’s new cloud variant of the ubiquitous office software.

Oracle has given OpenOffice back to the user community, while at the same time strongly supporting open standards such as ODF (Open Document Format). Oracle got OpenOffice with its acquisition of Sun Microsystems a few months ago. Last September, unhappy community members set up the Document Foundation and LibreOffice. There was some talk of Oracle rewriting OpenOffice using JavaFX, but nothing seems to have come of that. There was also talk of Oracle cloud office, but again that seems to have sunk without trace. You can download the latest LibreOffice version from

It’s worth noting that IBM is a fan of OpenOffice. IBM did try to sell the office suite it got from its Lotus acquisition. Word Pro was based on Ami Pro, which Lotus had got from acquiring Samna back in 1990. In 2007, IBM introduced Lotus Symphony, which included a word processor, a spreadsheet, and a presentation program. Version 3 came out in October last year.

Google Apps free offers Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Sites (to create Web sites and group wikis), and Google Docs (for online documents, presentations, and spreadsheets). Google Apps for Business offers Google Apps Marketplace, Google Cloud Connect for Microsoft Office, and more.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is moving ahead with a cloud version of its Office software. You can join the beta program for Office 365 at

The Office 365 beta is a subscription service providing Office Web apps and online communications and collaboration services. So you get Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, plus e-mail and calendar facilities, team sites (like SharePoint), and instant messaging and online meetings. Look out for Microsoft Lync 2010, which replaces Office Communications Online and Office Live Meeting.

And remember, to sound like you know about cloud computing, say things like Software as a Service (SaaS) and Windows Azure, which is Microsoft’s cloud storage and processing platform.

If you’re tempted, Office 365 Small Business costs $6 per user per month. Google Apps for Business cost is cheaper at $60 per year or there’s a free version. On the other hand, it can be argued that the Microsoft offering is more complete and Google’s lacks Outlook integration. It all depends on how dedicated a Microsoft site you’re at or how keen you’ve been to embrace Google’s products.

Now, what am I going to put on that tablet?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Mainframe chatter

Mark Lillycrop, Director of Arcati Ltd, and I were asked to take part in CA’s May Mainframe Madness. We were part of a ‘Scheduled Chat’ in their ‘House of Mainframe’ section on 5 May. It was enjoyable chatting to other mainframe professionals and it was very interesting the direction the conversation took.

Clearly, there were two main strands to the conversation. One was the difficulty of convincing (converting?) non-mainframers of the potential of the mainframe. The second was the success of z/Linux at installations.

Looking at z/Linux success first, Murray Theriault told us: “I think what sold it for me was the idea that I could put up 100 z/Linux machines on the same box and have a very small footprint, not to mention no power costs”. Similarly, Marie Kennard added: “Same here – the app we’re putting onto zLinux currently runs on dozens of boxes, most of which are reaching EOL and needed replacing”.  Someone else reminded the group about Aliantz in Australia, saying that they’d “flipped their whole farm to z/Linux in a weekend with little to no outtage”. This led CA’s Reg Harbeck to comment: “zLinux seems to be taking over a decade to become an overnight sucess...”

So it appears that z/Linux is making headway in those sites that already have a mainframe and Linux servers. And it’s definitely the case that the arguments for doing so are irrefutable. Moving some of the applications or even all of them from other Linux platforms is a positive step and the sites doing so are going to see huge benefits in terms of performance, reliability, and, of course, cost savings both in man-power and outages.

But even the success stories seem to be the result of a battle between mainframers and management whose model of computing and whose expectations are the result of using Microsoft Windows. A lot of the hour long discussion was spent on how to get managers in organizations that have mainframes to appreciate what they have, and to understand how to exploit the mainframes potential. The truth is that there’s an even bigger battle to be fought and that’s to get IT people and IT managers at non-mainframe sites to appreciate the opportunities that a mainframe brings.

During the discussion it was said that ‘good news’ mainframe stories don’t make much of an appearance in the IT press. If they did, that would be one way that people would get to hear about mainframes. Mark suggested that many people view mainframes as: “Old, expensive, and your dad’s technology”. And yet, anyone who takes money out of an ATM (hole-in-the-wall) machine is probably linking to IMS on a mainframe. They just don’t know it. The press were not only blamed for sins of omission, but also sins of commission – for printing the same old stories containing the same old wrong assumptions about mainframes.

I reminded the chat room about William Data Systems ZEN product family and how users can control their network from the latest iPad gizmo, or get reports on their smartphones about what’s going on on their network. And, obviously, there was a lot of talk about cloud computing and mainframes – and how they go together like “peas and carrots” (well Forest Gump would have said that if he’d been logged in!). The point is that mainframes aren’t “your dad’s technology”, they very much embrace the very latest technologies and do it in a way that is secure and comes with all the benefits of years of successful operation in banks and airlines, etc.

I did think to run a competition, at this point but I don’t have a prize to give out. However, I would be interested in hearing people’s ideas of how managers and staff at mainframe sites and the rest of the IT world who aren’t mainframers can be convinced of the importance and proven-reliability of mainframes. You can e-mail me at with your comments and I’ll put them together in a future blog.

Other topics that we discussed during our hour included the importance of virtual meetings with the current financial constraints when organizations are less-and-less keen to fund travel/hotels/food etc for people to attend. We looked at green computing and how this issue will most-likely grow in importance with future regulation. The fact that the word ‘legacy’ is actually a compliment. (How many of you have printers that don’t work with Vista or Windows 7, and just have to live with it?) And we suggested names for the next version of z/OS including z/2020 and z/Cloud.

All-in-all it was an enjoyable ‘Scheduled Chat’ in the ‘House of Mainframe’. Good luck CA for the rest of the month of mainframe madness.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Installing and removing solutions from SharePoint

I said a couple of weeks ago that I have been working with iTech-Ed Associate Darren Pritchard at a site that was fairly new to SharePoint 2007. Darren has written some beginner's guides for them and we thought other sites new to SharePoint might benefit from the information.

Here are Darren's instructions for installing a new SharePoint solution.

First locate the .wsp file that you want to install into SharePoint 2007 (SP2007), then place it (the .wsp file) into the c:\temp folder on the SP2007 server.
You'll need to create a batch (Install Solution.bat) file the first time, and then afterwards you can just edit it. The batch file looks like:

SET STSADM="c:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\12\bin\STSADM.EXE"
%STSADM% -o addsolution -filename <WEBPART NAME>.wsp

Replace the tag '<WEBPART NAME>' with the name of your solution and save to c:\temp on the SP2007 server. Then, on the SP2007 server, run the Install Solution.bat file from within the c:\temp folder. You should then see that the solution has successfully been installed.

Next you need to deploy the solution to your Web applications. To do this, open SharePoint Central Admin and click 'Operations' and 'Solution Management'. From there you'll see your new solution, click on the solution name to enter the properties.

Click 'Deploy Solution'. Then change 'Deploy To?' to your Web application and set the 'Deploy When?' to when you wish to deploy the solution. Finally, click 'OK'. This will deploy the solution to your Web application.

Don't forget that you have to activate the solution in your Web application. To do this, click Site Actions/Site Settings/Modify All Site Settings. Then under 'Site Collection Administration' click 'Site Collection Features'. Locate your new solution and click 'Activate'.

You can now use this solution within your Web application.

In terms of house-keeping, backup the .wsp and .bat file from c:\temp and the job's done.

If you need to remove (or retract) the solution then use the following instructions.

From SharePoint Central Admin click 'Operations' then 'Solution Management'. Click on the name of the solution that you want to remove to enter the solution properties.

Click Retract solution. Make sure that 'Retract From?' is set to 'All content Web Applications'. Set the 'Retract When?' setting and click 'OK'. This will remove the solution from all the Web applications.

Create the following batch file (Remove Solution.bat):

cd c:\program files\common files\microsoft shared\web server extensions\12\bin
stsadm -o deletesolution -name <SOLUTIONNAME >.wsp

Replace the tag '<SOLUTIONNAME>' with the name of your solution and save to c:\temp on the SharePoint2007 (SP2007) server. Then run the Remove Solution.bat file from within the c:\temp folder. This will remove the solution from your SP2007 farm.

Delete the .bat file that you just saved in c:\temp on the SP2007 server.

The solution is now removed.

There'll be more of Darren's SharePoint hints and tips in future blogs.