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I work for a fortune 500 company in IT and we have developed many systems/applications to do a variety of things. We are in need of some commonality of these applications and a better portal/dashboard/landing page for these applications. So, our customers and employees would log into this portal and see all the "things" that they can do which then link to their own application. This could maybe just iframe in each application inside of this portal to keep brand and navigation consistency.

We are trying to decide whether to use SharePoint 2007 or 2010 for this or develop a portal/dashboard of sorts in house. We would like this portal to look and feel very branded to our needs and really not even feel like its using SharePoint (if needed). An example is to provide our own Menu control that drives the navigation if needed.

Does anyone have any pros/cons for using SharePoint in such a way? Any advice on implementation (e.g. use 2010, much easier to customize design than 2007, etc)?

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I guess I find myself wondering: SharePoint compared to what? –  Samuel Yates Mar 29 '10 at 21:43
    
SharePoint in compared to a home brew or some other enterprise solution that someone may know of –  Rob Mar 30 '10 at 20:44
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7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

SharePoint can absolutely do this for you. You should take a look at the MS documentation on the Portal capability: http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/product/capabilities/portals/Pages/default.aspx.

I've seen a lot of talk within enterprise sized organizations about platform commonality and streamlining the system management end. When you've got a bunch of legacy platforms sitting around, SharePoint often can become that single platform that replaces all of them, both from a customer perspective and a systematic one.

Investing in one robust SharePoint environment is going to give you a stable platform to build on as opposed to the constant maintenance and upkeep of the old legacy environments--not to mention that most large businesses have storage and SQL clusters already rolled out, so implementation work is usually fairly minimal from an architecture end.

From a similar background as you, my advice would be to wait for the 2010 rollout and go that route. If your upgrade processes are anywhere near as complex as I'm familiar with it'll do you some good to be on the newest platform you can be to launch, as opposed to building an environment you're going to want to upgrade next year.

I don't want to say customization is easy, but the capabilities are there. Things like the custom navigation you mentioned can absolutely be implemented. It may take you/your developers a little time to get your head around SharePoint from an application end, but once you understand how it's built and how it works you won't go back and you'll be able to roll out those types of customizations with a minimal level of effort.

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You can definitely use SharePoint for this purpose. In fact, you can set up permission groups so that users will only see those applications they are allowed to use.

As for 2007 v. 2010: considering this is a new implementation, I recommend you go with SharePoint 2010. SP2010 uses more table-based layouts than Microsoft lets on, mostly in page layouts and some web parts. Understand that the use of tables in SharePoint page layouts is to allow for flexibility by the site owner to use or not use a table row or column simply by including or not including a web part inside that row/column--SharePoint collapses it.

I disagree with MrChrister that SP2010 is "much easier to customize." I customized the UI look-and-feel for many SP2007 sites and just wrapped up my first SP2010 (to be launched after the production version of SP2010 is released). I found that my process for SP2010 was the same as 2007, just that there are new classes in 2010 and the markup has improved a bit semantically. It's still a step through process of finding the class(es) you need to override in order to achieve the desired look-and-feel. Now, if you just want to slap a new theme on the site, yes, I would say that is easier in SP2010 since there are now a built in color palettes to choose from and you can create a new theme simply using PowerPoint master slides.

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To add another point to what MrChrister and SPUIGuy brought up about the styling and customization end of things. Yes, it's generally considered to be less efficient markup and less standards compliant to use tables as heavily as SP2007 does, and from that perspective SP2010 makes a huge leap, but at the end of the day both solutions work.

As SPUIGuy mentioned, the process for customization is basically the same, and as someone who's coming into a new platform you're going to have to learn it from scratch anyway, so you won't really see the 2007 vs 2010 side of things.

I will add that the DOM differences between 2007 and 2010 make migration to 2010 later a bit more of a headache. Your custom styling that you build for 2007 isn't going to just magically port over to 2010 if you decide to upgrade, yet another good reason to go to 2010 from the start.

The last point that I'll bring up (that I didn't in my first post) is that you should take a look at the technology road map for your company. If you're a large company (which I'm guessing you are if you're in the Fortune 500 list), then there's probably some sort of road map that the company has identified as an IT strategy. SharePoint is probably on it somewhere (should be if it isn't), and you should consult your collaboration department (or equivalent), someone in the CIO's office, or even the CIO to find out what that strategy is. Corporate America these days is all about funding, and when you go forward to pitch your solution you're going to want to be able to say that it aligns with the strategy of the business, and show that platform migration and synergistic environment that SharePoint enables.

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My answer to your basic question is an unequivocal "yes", but as in all the points that the smart folks ahead of me have posted, there are many variables to all of this. Nothing is ever "easy" until you know how to do it.

The corporate roadmap point from webdes03 is especially important. Understanding how SharePoint would fit into the overall corporate information architecture, and even more importantly, the overall corporate strategy will be crucial to understand more so than whether the bits and bytes will work. SharePoint succeeds or fails as a platform due to how it is implemented from a process and incentive basis at least as much as it does due to its technological capabilities.

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One of the advantages SharePoint has is its extensibility. You can add pages, lists, document libraries, and whole sites very easily through a web admin interface.

Menu controls are easily handled through Custom Action items, and there is a provider pattern design implemented to allow complete replacement of menus.

Applications can be ported to the SharePoint model under the SharePoint root and modified to use SharePoint master pages so that the branding and functionality are the same. This way you may also use the SharePoint library to take advantage of features such as the built-in authentication and authorization.

SharePoint 2010 offers an extensive range of improvements over 2007 in both the 2010 Server product as well as the Foundation 2010 product (free). Recommendations are to build with SharePoint 2010.

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In just a few minutes, you can easily create a page for each of your existing applications that contains the Page Viewer web part in which you provide the url to the existing apps. if you have existing asp.net master pages, they can be adapted for use in SharePoint so that you have total control over the look and feel. see www.wssdemo.com for a great list of public sites built on sharepoint.

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2010 is going to be much easier to customize. Get the beta now and see about how to customize the masterpage to you needs. The 2007 still uses more tables than I like for layouts, which makes a pretty inflexible masterpage. 2010 should be lots easier to customize.

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