The recent announcement that SharePoint Designer (SPD) will be offered for free makes me very excited. Being a SharePoint consultant not long ago, I can truly appreciate how the free SPD & WSS will revolutionize the content management space. When the announcement came out that this change was effective from April 1st, I had every reason to suspect the legitimacy of it but looks like it was all real!
SPD allows you to build a variety of things starting from designing simple websites (remember FrontPage!) to wonderful dashboards that revolutionize enterprise solutions.
While working on the “Dynamicss Duo” CRM 4.0 demo, we made heavy use of SPD and the results truly speak to the power this tool has.
In the above screenshot, one can see a heavily customized SharePoint page Iframed into CRM. Using SPD we built this Intranet style dashboard pages with connected webparts and also using a set of pre-built 3rd party webparts.
If you had seen the CRM demo that was shown at the Day1 Keynote of PDC2008, you can see the below attractive customer portal that doesn’t look anything like SharePoint but it actually runs on SharePoint Online and was built using SPD.
SPD allows customizing such SaaS SharePoint extranet sites even when you don’t have physical access to the server. In the above screenshot, the gauge display is actually a Silverlight control running in SharePoint, and the webpart to the right is called a dataview webpart that connects to CRM web services. Dataview webparts are a very powerful feature of SharePoint as you can easily build data bound webparts and SPD allows you to build it without writing any code.
This is just a tip of the iceberg and developers are free to deliver a variety of custom portal solutions, extranets, intranets, internet-facing sites, collaboration solutions, social networking sites, and internal applications on top of the extensive capabilities of SharePoint. Integrating these with Dynamics CRM makes it even more compelling and presents a good business opportunity for providing value-added solutions to your customers.