Interactive demo: charting in SharePoint

Last month I published a first demo based on the SPELL mini-BI solution, showcasing the ability to build multi-level drill-down charts.

Today we are taking a look at the edit mode, thanks to an interactive demo. I think the best way to understand what this is about is to simply follow the link, read the instructions on the page, and start playing with the charts. Then you’re welcome to post feedback and questions here, and I’ll try my best to respond.

The previous demo used the Google GeoChart API. This time, the pie and column charts rely on the Dojo Toolkit. Dojo offers a wide range of charts, as well as multiple themes (I only picked a handful for the live demo). It also comes with plugins like animations and tooltips (also featured in the demo).

The Matrix View is homemade, and part of SPELL.

Here again, the data comes from grouped views (3 to choose from for the demo). This time I have only set up a two level drill-down, and clicking on a chart element will directly open the SharePoint list.

I made a recent addition to the demo that I find interesting, I call it “client side calculated column”. It allows you to enter directly in the form a formula, similar to what can be done with calculated columns in SharePoint lists, just much simpler (currently only simple operations). In the demo, the “Value” field plays the role of the calculated column (see the context help for an example).

I won’t describe this advanced customization in detail on my blog, but I’ll be happy to elaborate on specific points. If you think it could address your business needs, you’re welcome to subscribe to the SPELL interest list and you’ll receive in a couple weeks a sample to test on your own site. And if you are looking for a free, entry-level charting tool, remember to check out the SharePoint User Toolkit!

My slides from the March 2011 San Diego SharePoint User Group meeting

No, there’s no typo in the title, I am posting today the slides I presented 18 months ago in San Diego. My main purpose is to use them as reference in future articles, as it turns out that their content is very consistent with what I’ve been doing since then, and also with the way SharePoint has been evolving from the 2007 version to the 2013 version.

The slides feature in particular the Matrix View, a simplified form of pivot table. I’ll talk about it in future posts, but you can already visit this page for a live demo (click on a state).

Some of the other tools can be downloaded from the SharePoint User Toolkit.

For some reason the embedded slides below are distorted. They are better rendered in the original location on Slideshare.

Introducing SPELL, a framework to speed up SharePoint customizations

Spell (paranormal), the claimed art of altering things either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult natural laws unknown to science.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For 8 years, I have been writing solutions for SharePoint from the user’s side – I mean with only the SharePoint UI or tools like SharePoint Designer (originally FrontPage) as entry points, without direct access to the server.

When I started, in 2004, these were mainly patches to enhance the SharePoint interface, like menus or tabs. Then in the following years, the evolution of JavaScript and AJAX, and key enhancements in SharePoint 2007, like workflows, allowed me to build more and more sophisticated solutions, evolving from enhanced Web pages to the status of small applications.

In 2008, I started publishing some solutions on my blog. Others did the same, and today SharePoint users can find online a large choice of tools that allow them to quickly enhance a basic SharePoint team site.

However, this organic growth comes at a price. When users start relying heavily on these solutions, their pages become cluttered. Sites become much slower because of redundancies. Maintenance quickly becomes an issue, especially when these users start adding libraries like jQuery. Sometimes, there will be conflicts between the tools, because they were not built with modularity and scalability in mind.

I have been witnessing these issues in the past couple years, and also facing them myself, as I was duplicating the same snippets over and over across different modules. To address this, some time ago I started grouping all my scattered solutions under a single umbrella, called SPELL.

What can SPELL do?

The goal is to offer a consistent, easy-to-maintain-and-upgrade package that covers all the customizations that can be done from the user’s side: client side scripting, CSS, XSL views, SharePoint Designer workflows, calculated columns, etc.

For now, SPELL is mainly a JavaScript library (abbreviated $P) that allows to:

  • enhance the look of SharePoint pages, with tabs, slideshows, menus, etc.
  • build dashboards, including color coded indicators and charts
  • enhance the out of the box forms (New, Display, Edit)
  • connect with plugins offered by JavaScript libraries (jQuery or other) for additional functionalities
  • etc.

The free SharePoint User Toolkit gives you an idea of the kind of questions SPELL can address, although on a completely different scale.

SPELL includes utilities such as for example:

  • functions to facilitate the use of Web services, REST services, RSS, owssvr, etc.
  • functions to interact with the content of SharePoint pages
  • data format manipulations (xml, JSON, datatables)
  • a templating engine

Who could be interested in SPELL?

SPELL is for anybody who need to customize SharePoint, beyond out of the box list views and page layouts. It works with SharePoint 2007, SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint Online (Office 365), An important difference with traditional libraries is that SPELL is meant to be end user friendly, in the same spirit as the SharePoint User Toolkit. The idea is to offer a Lego-like set, so that even users with limited technical knowledge can safely assemble solutions.

Despite an ambitious scope, SPELL doesn’t aim at replacing server side solutions on large scale deployments. Its purpose is rather to fill the gaps, at the team level, or serve as an intermediary step while waiting for final solutions that have longer development cycles.

Timeline and availability

I have been working on this project, on and off, since 2010. The main component of the framework, the JavaScript library, just reached version 0.3, and is the first version to be put in production. In the weeks and months to come, it’ll be deployed for my current users, going from DJ30 companies to small businesses (and even one man shops). I also plan to build a special edition with tabs, slideshow and charting connectors as part of a hosting service. Later on, SPELL will be the core of a SharePoint coaching program that will start this Fall. The objective is to reach version 1.0 by October.

An important step this year will be to assess SPELL against the new version of SharePoint, and confirm if the upgrade process is as easy as advertised…

For more details…

I am currently building an interest list for the SPELL coaching program. Feel free to send me an e-mail, and I’ll include you in a distribution list to receive progress updates and code samples. You’re also welcome to provide specific information about your environment and your needs, to discuss how SPELL could help on your projects.

Pie and Bar Charts (Google connector)


I already mentioned it briefly in an earlier post: the SharePoint User Toolkit now includes a tool that allows you to add simple pie or bar charts to your SharePoint pages.

The code is actually a connector that points to the powerful Google Visualization interface. For this reason, Internet access is required.

A common concern with online tools is data security. In this case, we are safe, Google’s privacy policy explicitly states that no data is sent to the server. The charts are directly rendered in your browser. This is a major difference with the Google Image Chart API, where data is sent in clear to the server, which uses it to build and return an image.

Under the hood, the code works the same way as the Image Rotator: it retrieves data from a specific view of your SharePoint list.

No Easy Tabs v6 in 2012

This is not the most exciting post ever, but I had to write it for the sake of transparency.

In the past 6 months, I have been working on a new version of the Easy Tabs. I have also tried my best to answer the many requests I received in this blog or by e-mail.

In parallel, I have been working on the SharePoint User Toolkit, to clarify its purpose.

My conclusion is that the new version of the Tabs is becoming too complicated for the Toolkit.

I am not keeping the new version of the Tabs secret. It has actually been running on my site in the past few months, under various forms. I also shared an alpha version on LinkedIn some time ago. But the new features introduce several edge cases that I cannot afford to support for free, and that I believe cannot be left in the hands of users without detailed instructions.

Instead of publishing more complicated versions, my choice this year is to expand the scope of the Toolkit to provide more discovery options. This is the sense of the recent addition, Pie and Bar charts (Google connector). Expect a couple more in the coming months, like a RSS reader and a simple poll.

At the same time, I hope to open my services to a larger audience. I am currently working on a subscription service, an ambitious project that should offer better value than the current workshops and one-on-one sessions.

There will be a next version of the Easy Tabs, just not this year. The plan is now to release v6 for SharePoint vnext – just like v5 was released for SharePoint 2010. For now, the current version is robust and works well on both SP 2007 and SP 2010.

A new location for the SharePoint User Toolkit

This week, the SharePoint User Toolkit has officially moved to its new home:

It is now located in my company site. The site is still under construction, but you’re welcome to visit the home page to read about our upcoming offering: solutions, coaching, Web design and SharePoint hosting. As you would expect, the home page right hand menu is a variation of the Easy Tabs.

In a future post, I’ll explain how I redirected the pages from my old SP 2007 to the new place in a snap!

Back to Blogging

User Managed Solutions Logo I’m back!

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of recent updates. Moving three times in less than six months takes its toll. But now I have settled down in San Diego and I have no intention to move anymore!

My first action item was to post a hundred replies to the readers’ comments. Again, sorry for the delay, I hope they were still helpful. What I have yet to do is reply to people who contacted me by e-mail, and a computer crash last week didn’t help. Thanks for your patience…

Even without me, the blog remained active, and passed two milestones this month: two million pageviews and 5000 comments since I started in August 2008.

So, what’s coming next?

First, Trudy Hutzler is going to continue her school site series. Her articles were very well received, the readers are asking for more! Note that if you are not interested in education, everything Trudy describes can easily be translated to another context, for example team management or project management.

On my side, my priority will be to release the Easy Tabs v6. It should be more convenient than the previous versions, with several new features. The alpha version has been on display for a couple months on this page:

I’ll also release updates for other solutions, like the image rotator.

Based on the experience of the past three years, the blog format is not well adapted for sharing code. People who land on my blog after a Google or Bing search won’t necessarily find the last, up-to-date version. For this reason, I have moved most of my free solutions to the SharePoint User Toolkit. The blog will be more focused on news, tutorials, examples and demos. Occasionally, I’ll also use it to communicate on the activities of my company: SharePoint hosting, workshops, new solutions (all related to SharePoint of course).

Besides the blog, I also intend to stay active on the StackExchange SharePoint forum, twitterLinkedIn, Codeplex, and the San Diego SharePoint User Group.