SharePoint discussion board upgrade: which way to go?
The Macaw Discussion Board, a reworked version of the SharePoint discussion board, works quite well, but it is not really the way I would like to have a SharePoint discussion board to be implemented. I don’t like the technical implementation. It is built on top of the existing discussion board functionality. I converted all list views to data views and did extensive modifications to the XSLT code in the data views. Due to the restrictions of the XSLT in a data view web part there are absolutely no possibilities for code reuse or centralized localization. See the conclusion of my MSDN for more information on those restrictions. Although the usability of the discussion board is good, it is not the way it could look in the new era of Rich Internet Applications. I want it to be slick, smooth, single-page UI, maintainable, configurable, localizable…a rewrite is dawning.
And now my biggest issue! Technology! Which technology should I use. Should it be Atlas, Ajax.Net, Backbase, Flash 8, OpenLaszlo, or one of the other RIA technologies that are available?
One of the most important things is the availability of good controls (or widgets as some others call them). I don’t want to be stuck with the standard HTML controls. Those are so ‘90s. Modern controls are needed like at least a hood tree control and resize controls.
Flash and OpenLaszlo
In the .Net world everyone is talking about Ajax.Net and Atlas. Ajax.Net is a powerful ajax library written by Michael Schwarz that integrates ASP.NET development with client side ajax techniques. It is available today, it works with the .Net 1.1 framework. I must say that I don’t have any experience with the library yet, but as far as I can see right now is that the library focuses on the client-server communication, not on providing a full-fledged widget set. Development in that direction is on it’s way in the community.
Atlas is the code name for the ajax library Microsoft is working on. We are a Microsoft house, so although other systems might be better or may be further, we will finally end up doing Atlas development. For now however, Atlas does not seem to be the best approach for SharePoint development. With Service pack 2 for WSS there is the possibility to do ASP.NET 2.0 development within SharePoint context. Jan Thielens is working on hosting ASP.NET 2.0 web parts into the current version of SharePoint through “Son of SmartPart”. Problem will be that not many companies will move over to the .NET 2.0 framework on their SharePoint servers yet. The demands for the extra functionality will be too high. Another issue is that no information came out yet on the support of the .Net 2.0 framework for SharePoint Portal Server. I didn’t see a service pack for SPS yet.
Do I have a conclusion? Not yet actually! There are many possibilities to investigate and I hope to get feedback from you on what you think what would be the best direction to take. There are probably many things I overlooked. My guess on best approach in order of best bet are currently as follows:
1. OpenLaszlo (Flash as runtime)
2. Flash 8 (Flash as runtime)
3. Backbase (Standard browser support)
4. Ajax.Net (Standard browser support, use of ASP.NET 1.1 at server side)
5. Atlas (Standard browser support, use of ASP.NET 2.0 at server side)