Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spurious SMTP Errors in Logs

On a MOSS farm where you have SMTP running on one server, the rest of the servers want to run SMTP too, but they will complain over and over in the logs that they cannnot find the appropriate directory structure.

I suppose you could install and not configure SMTP on these servers, but it is eaier to just create a dummy of the structure they want.

Under the C:\INETPUB folder create a ..\MAILROOT folder and under that create a ..\DROP folder.

This will stop a whole bunch of bogus messages.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How to Change a MOSS Server to a Different Farm and Configuration Database

OK, big disclaimer on this one. I didn't RTFM. But this is what I did to reconfigure our large farms (6 web/query servers plus two indexers).

If you just went to a server and ran the Configuration Wizard, you would find that you cannot switch configuration databases. If you went into Central Admin (even if it is running on another server) there is a Remove Server link. If you click it, it tells you not to do it that way. Listen to what the box is saying - do not do that. Do what I say below!

The first thing to do is run Add/Remove Programs, select Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server 2007, Change, Repair. At the end of the repair it needs a reboot.

Then you rerun the Configuration Wizard and it may know you were trying to "repair." If not (I have seen inconsistency on this), go back to Central admin and remove the server (this time answer yes). If it was still connected to a config database, exit and restart the wizard after removing the server from the farm at the ../_admin/FarmServers.aspx page. Back in the Configuration Wizard, it will now bark that it can't tell if the server is in a farm (although it seems to know that it once was). This is actually a good sign. OK that BIG message box, and then you have no choice except to disconnect from the farm. This seems to clear out any remaining settings regarding the farm. Good stuff.

Then (I think you can guess this), you rerun the Configuration Wizard. Now it is like the first time you ran it on a freshly installed server. You can connect to another config database and it will run the full range of tasks (this whole process is one of the cooler administrative things I have ever seen - I wish the rest of the software was as cool!). It syncs up all your installed features and stuff. You are done, and ready to give this server a role in your farm.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SharePoint Book Reviews

People often ask me if there is a particular SharePoint book that I recommend. Sometimes they want basics, sometimes developer stuff. I have had a hard time finding SharePoint related books that I liked. I know I should have spent more time in the book store at Tech Ed last year, but it was a very busy conference (networking 7/24, don't ya know). Visiting the computer section of the local Barnes and Noble's, Borders, etc. can also be a very unfulfilling experience if SharePoint is what you are after. The local library (even in this lovely major metropolis) is only somewhat more fulfilling. Visiting Amazon, there seem to be a number of potentially good ones out there. I will give the scoop as I see it on the few that I know pretty well.

Since we consumers in the U.S. see these books on the shelf and recognize their publishers' branding, I will identify these by publisher. No slight to the authors intended! There is more method to this madness - I think that Wrox is on to something, and they actually have a useful, coherent layout of books.

Wrox - SharePoint 2007 and Office Development

This book turned out to be very good. They have a "tree" of related books, and this is at the top (the bottom being the "beginning" books). It explains a lot of stuff in fairly good detail. Best I've seen. It doesn't have a ton of code in it, but it has some, and it explains how things fit together.

Wrox - Beginning Sharepoint Administration

Beginning Sharepoint Administration was the best "basics" book I have seen. It had twice the detail in half the space of the "Administrator's Companion" book I have.

Apress - Workflow in the Microsoft Office 2007 System - It seems to go a long way towards explaining how things work, and it has some decent examples. Unfortunately it can't make the product function better than it is!

Microsoft - Office Sharepoint Server 2007 Administrators Companion - I can't say much nice about it. Maybe I dislike it because it was free. It never seems to have the answer to any questions.

Be sure to avoid older SharePoint books! There is little about WSS 2.0 or SPS2003 or anything earlier that would still be relevant.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Publishing Site - Create Page - Permissions on Master Page and Page Layout Gallery

When I had this little problem yesterday, I fairly quickly (almost instinctively - that's getting scary) knew what it was. The title of this post may be all the hint anyone would need to fixing such a problem.

I set up a power user as a full control of a publishing site. Yet he could not create a page. To make a (medium) story short, the permissions on the master page / page layouts gallery were very restricted. I don't know how they got that way - either one of us admins/owners/developers screwed it up or the upgrade process did (this was once an SPS 2003 site, up since January 2006, converted to MOSS last June). Once everyone was allowed to read the gallery, the problem was fixed.

I am fairly certain this is only for a publishing site (or at least for a publishing site but not a team site). I think with team sites the (fewer) page layouts that are available are contained within the content types for that template (or something like that). I hope this helps!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

WSS 3.0/MOSS 2007 SP1 First Impressions

Impression 1 - the Databases

I don't know what I was thinking. I guess I didn't think about it enough. What should one expect in SharePoint (WSS and MOSS) SP1? I could think of a few insidious bugs and things - simple stuff like site templates that don't hold chrome state. But I hadn't thought about how it would be delivered and implemented.

If you think about it a little, you come to the realization that a small portion of fixes might be in software that goes on the file system, but the majority of the stuff will be in the databases. That should make you go - o, oh. Danger Will Robinson. So that's what you should expect, an upgrade, similar to what you went through from WSS 2.0 / SPS 2003 to 2007, but maybe ratcheted down by several degrees of difficulty. But still a very serious undertaking.

Impression 2 - the Documentation

I AM impressed. This right here is a great read if you are at all enthusiastic about SharePoint: This is highly recommended reading. One more time - READ IT. It has what they are calling "updated guidance." There are some new ways to categorize your installation (how to determine if you are small, medium or large). Then there are some hard core recommendations (almost warnings) about how to set up your system and thing to avoid. Much of this is important to know and doesn't necessarily have anything to do with SP1. You will find numerous other links from this document and elsewhere, but start here - trust me, it's interesting.

In some ways, it is an admission of not readiness for prime time. Let's not forget the obvious - SharePoint is sitting on top of SQL Server. As long as this is the case, it is a poor substitute for a file system (and it cannot be an industrial strength document management system). Until the future versions are built on Bitlocker, it has serious limitations. That version should be out in a couple years (my SWAG).

Impression 3 - Fixes and New Features

Here is where I really have not finished my homework. Uh, I think the fixed a lot of stuff - I read about some. And uh, I saw one cool feature (necessitated by the documentation they released that said to keep content databases under 100GB) a new switch in stsadm to move a site collection to another database. I'm sure there are more cool features, but I haven't gotten to them or the bugs in any detail.

So I'm stuck on the process for now, and I probably won't have time to dig in further for a month. Don't expect a trivial or simple upgrade to SP1. I didn't expect that, but I still was somewhat surprised by the scope.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

SharePoint Branding (if you must)

I am resistant to SharePoint branding. Back in 2006 we branded an SPS 2003 portal, partly for fun, partly to learn and partly because we hoped it would be a positive thing. Besides being pretty ugly, it had so many issues we never attempted to fix them. When we upgraded that portal to MOSS 2007, we left the branding behind. Other than that bad experience, the other reason I am resistant is because screwing with the branding has a huge potential downside - there is a lot you can break, and little you can enhance.

You could completely change the appearance of Microsoft Word (not just functionality, appearance). But why would you? How is this different? Expectations, that's how.

We have had to brand a couple 2007 systems at the firm. For the first one, we hired an extremely well known SharePoint Branding person. She was great to work with and fixed all the issues we fed back at her. It is important to note, that even if you are pretty expert at the process, it is replete with pitfalls. We went through numerous iterations to get things right with that first branded 2007 site. For our branded second site, we decided to try our hand at it.

Modify a Default or Start Minimalist?

I think it depends. Maybe if you were staying fairly close to out of the box, modifying what was already there might be OK, but it won't take you long to realize that you have poked a hornets nest with a stick.

We had some interesting design directives. I don't think they add anything from a usability or content standpoint, but they made for an interesting project. We were to make it look like a newspaper or a newspaper web site. Mostly black and white. A few balanced columns. Masthead look. Times family fonts. Since none of this is anything like out of the box, we started with a Heather Solomon style minimalist page (

Near the bottom of this page (but not all the way down), we stuck a layout table that looked like what we needed. Then we started moving some things in there, and other things into a hidden section. We liberally cut and pasted code around the master page and from the default master page.

So Many Styles

Creating styles and sticking them in a custom CSS is simple, but there are a LOT of styles that need attention. We had to change colors on all the little border pieces and stuff. This can take a while to find. We used the IE Developer toolbar and similar tools in FireFox to find and test these components.

I would estimate that so far we have around 40 hours in this process - maybe 16 for me and 24 for my co-worker - and so far we have a good demo. But we have a long way to go. We figure we will need to fix up a theme to take care of pages originating from ../_layouts/. We also have a number of loose ends and I am sure that we will get a bunch of further requests (fonts, graphics, and we have not yet done the home page layout). Based on that, I have to estimate that we have at least another 80 hours of work before we can go to a QA phase.

I know that some of the content we will end up presenting in this site will get a lot of use, but I am of the opinion that the branding will neither make nor break this project. Content is much more critical. I would rather work in an out of the box environment than a branded one. What we are creating doesn't look like Sharepoint. So what?