To sift through all this data, Microsoft offers two search options, SharePoint's refreshed standard search engine and the optional FAST Search for SharePoint. Both offer very good navigation based on taxonomies, spell checking and wild card searches. My testing returned the results I expected on the first page of results. However, many larger organizations will opt for FAST because it adds functionality such as previews of PowerPoint presentations and lets you feature content in results.
Additionally, people search appears to be much improved. I found colleagues based on information in their social network feeds and expertise they entered in their profiles. There's also a very accurate phonetic search for times you don't know the spelling of a person's name.
Connecting the data
Some of the more interesting features involve new Representational State Transfer (REST) support along with improved Excel and Visio Services. Imagine creating an Excel spreadsheet and publishing the data as a chart within a SharePoint site. Then, as you update the spreadsheet, the published chart almost instantly reflects the changes. There's also new technology called SQL Server PowerPivot for Excel and SharePoint, which Microsoft claims will quickly render millions of rows of data in a browser.
I successfully tested Visio services creating complicated diagrams in Visio, rendering them within a SharePoint site, and having edits appear without additional publishing steps.
InfoPath Forms Service is also enhanced. It was much easier to build interactive forms (requiring little or no code) and publish them on the Web. Finally, there's something for Microsoft Access users. Access Services let me create a database application (with forms and views) and publish it to a site; accessing and updating the data was very quick through a browser.
These data features empower business users to publish information from Office Applications. The expanded Business Connectivity Services do much the same for Line-of-Business information. In the past (with the old Business Data Catalog), you could read data from, say, SAP applications. Now, it's possible to read, update, delete and search repositories.
In a simple test, I connected directly to a SQL database and was able to update tables from a SharePoint site. Creating this test scenario was very straightforward using the improved SharePoint Designer 2010 (which will continue to be free). For instance, the Office Ribbon and a simple form for connecting to the SQL database enabled me to build the required functionality in about five minutes.
IT managers may cringe at allowing business users this type of power. Recognizing this concern, Microsoft includes a number of "safe" out-of-the-box customizations within SharePoint Designer, so sites can be tailored with little risk. Administrators can further lock down the type of site changes users can make with SharePoint Designer.
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