Recap of SharePoint Middle East Road Trip – Part 1

So, I left on my last day at Microsoft.  I left my sad Ford Explorer in the Microsoft parking lot of bldg 110.  Off to the airport in a taxi and didn’t even get a chance to print out my itinerary.

Patrick Beharry had done a great job of organizing the conference, but as most of you know I planned to tack on a few other events on to the beginning of the trip.

 

Day 1: I flew in to Amsterdam, hint up by the Business Lounge up stairs there is an area past the meditation area where you can sleep and watch some scenes to help you relax.  The business lounge is not too bad either 🙂  (Sorry to mention it Todd.)

 

Day 2: I landed in Dubai at 1am and got a few winks.  I realize that Muhammed Zayed the MS guy coordinating my Jordan trip had scheduled a few meetings on Sunday and my flight was going to be leaving at 7am, so it was assumed I’d turn around in 4-5 hrs and go back to the airport.  I also realize my laptop cord is not the right one.  Doh.

 

Day 3: I wake up after a few and with the mess up I realize I have 2 flights to Jordan the 7am one and one in the early afternoon.  I force myself to sleep till 7 and then since it’s Sunday I wanted to go to church.  I’d found a chapel in Jameira on the Internet on the mormon.org site.  I catch a taxi at 8:30am… No luck.  I couldn’t find it anywhere and even with me messing with his GPS we couldn’t find the building.  I’d later find out that it might have actually been happening on Saturday, but the numbers didn’t line up with any numbers in Jameira 1 and the address didn’t seem complete on the site.  We then do a quick tour of the palms and see some construction.  Dubai is very seriously under construction.  Beautiful place.  I can see there’s a lot of money going into it and it will be a major source of business now and in the future.  THE HUB to look to for working with the middle east.

Dubai

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It’s truly amazing what’s going on.  After not finding it anywhere we head to grab some lunch.  I eat at an Indian joint near the airport where only Indians were eating.  That was fun.  They thought it was wierd seeing this guy dressed up in church clothes eating at this obviously hole in the wall Indian place, which did have great food.  A couple of guys were IT guys and I had some fun talking with them about SharePoint.

So I caught my plane which flew through Kuwait to Amman Jordan on Kuwait Airways.  Yep, chalk up another one.  I spent 10 minutes in Kuwait… so exciting.

Kuwait Airways

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After arriving in Amman I met Muhammed Zayed and a consultant who was heading back to Lebanon.  We chatted for a while on an ITG project, then we headed to my hotel in Amman.  We were greeted by some army action.  There was at least one hummer with a big gun, and 5-7 army guys with big guns.  There was also a scanner like at the airport to X-ray all the bags going into the hotel and a metal detector to go through to get into the hotel.

Security Forces

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I was later told there was some military conference going on in town.  So there was extra "security" in place.  We later caught some dinner at a local Jordanian place with some MS and SharePoint community people.

 

Day 4, Monday March 31, I wake up and meet Mohammad Zayed my Microsoft contact who takes me to a partner invitation only conference where they will hear me speak.  In this special invitation partner session I chat with the partners and answer some questions.  I meet Muhannad Omar (Mo), and some other partners that I’d later see either in Dubai or Istanbul.  We got great feedback on the session and then headed to lunch with a special partner.  The picture to the right is the view from the restaurant.  The picture to the left is a hotel which is designed like the tower of Babel in the Bible.  Pretty funny 🙂

Tower of Babel and Amman Landscape

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After a some amazing customer visits of customers who were both passionate about SharePoint, Muhammed wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself outside of work as well, so he took me around to some local sites such as this Roman Amphitheater in Amman.  Also to the right some ruins on top of the hill a view from the top of the amphitheater.

Roman Ruins in Amman

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We had a good laugh at this ironic T-Shirt and I also got some shots of local more traditional dress.  "Don’t Tase me bro!"  Someone is going to make a killing on that one.  I wish I had picked up that shirt.  It still kills me.

Jordanian Garb at it’s best

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we went out in what would be the first official Jordan SharePoint User Group meeting.  A *very* informal gathering of SharePoint friends for fine local Jordanian cuisine.

Jordan SharePoint User Group

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You can see me here with my Share (point not dot) shirt.  Also to my right is Mo.  You’ll hear more about him as this post progresses.

Later that night a few of us would go out to find some Amman excitement.  We ended up driving around going through some exciting areas… former scary areas that I guess are still scary, but we didn’t see much.  We also went up on top of some hills, but it was dark. We did stop and get some desert and drinks.

Mmmmm

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Day 5, March 1, Tuesday, We get up and head straight to ITG.  They’ve got some amazing plans to update their product and base it on SharePoint.  Exiting stuff.  After getting a run down of their existing product line and how it works, I was then presented with their current challenges.  I offered them some suggestions for how to address my sites for 2 million users (suggested using profiles not my sites), and made some suggestions on overcoming FBA client challenges with ISA and IAG.  (Yes, you can use delegated auth in ISA or IAG to overcome some of the rich client integration challenges.)  After a good meeting with those folks and running them out of questions we stopped by the Microsoft Office in Amman and pulled together our plans on getting from Amman to Israel a major effort between Muhammed and Avi.  There was some serious negotiation going on.  I was purposely going to miss my flight and my Jordanian friends would take me to the border at the King Hussien bridge where Avi would pick me up on the other side.  We’d meet up at 1PM, 2PM at the latest.

(Picture to the left is the MS office, picture to the right… see the US Flag?  That’s the US embassy.  I almost got shot taking this photo.  No actually I had to delete this picture, it doesn’t exist.)

Microsoft Jordan Amman Office

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After stopping by Mo’s place to get some clothes, we finally headed out on our trek to Petra with a stop over at the Dead Sea.

On our way, we’d see a sign for the Jordan River (Jesus Baptismal place), where I had to stop and saw some Berbers.  I enjoyed the seeing this camel casually hooked up to the lamp post on this major road.

Jordan River and Camel on Lamp Post

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Next we went to the Dead Sea.  I’d been hearing from Jordanians that the TOP two things to do were Dead Sea and Petra.  The Spas at the Dead Sea were hyped up as well.  They all lived up to their reputation including the Dead Sea mud and it’s therapeutic properties.  It was amazing.

Dead Sea

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Most people don’t put the mud on their heads, but I was enjoying getting into it and Mo and Mohammad were egging me on which helped a bit as well.

My Compadres

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After the mud, a serious shower, relaxing in the pool and watching the sunset we grabbed some food and headed to Petra.

Mo’s Beemer had seen better days.  To all you BMW folks here’s a lesson learned.  We’re headed out there on this road following the side of the Dead Sea and we have a blow out and we couldn’t get the tire off.  We all tried for over an hour.  Even the army stopped and they couldn’t get the tire off.  They then secretly slinked off in their hummer with their gunner.  It wasn’t until Jordan’s version of a couple of farmers stopped by that we made some progress.  He jacked it back down to put pressure on the tire which finally loosened it.  Then one of the guys got under the car and was kicking it from underneath.  I thought he was going to die, so I stopped him and make him kick from the outside.  After getting it back on we got back on the road and got within 40KM to find out it was a crazy dirt road, not the place for a beemer with a donut.  So we turned around and went half way back to Amman to take a different route up near mount Nebo with Moses, and arrived between 4-5am.  We had quite the lengthy conversations about the purpose of life, spirits, genies, and the end of the world.  Deep stuff.   We rolled in to Marriott and took a 10 minute break on a couch, tiddied up in the bathroom and got some food and headed to Petra!!!

All Nighter to Petra

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Petra was very inviting.  At 6am we thought we’d be the first in, but we weren’t.  There were a couple people a head of us, but it was very easy to get open shots with no one in them.

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Walking through the Canyon we found some amazing stone carvings in the rock and got some great shots.  The best was walking through the canyon where it’s very narrow where water had carved it out, kind of like Southern Utah’s Goblin Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zions, or the Grand Canyon.

Petra Treasury

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Petra is actually the city, this city made of Rock.  The picture of the building out of rock is the Treasury.  It’s the one seen in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade movie. (in the valley of the crescent moon)

We didn’t have much time, but I really wanted to see the Monastery (a building similar to the Treasury except even bigger with a bit less detail.)  So we bartered with this boy for his donkeys.  As you can see in the pictures, after much haggling we agreed on a price (it wasn’t cheap or quick to arrive at a price, but it was the way to see the monastery and to get up the 1000 or so steps and steep climb).  The donkeys were very impressive.

Donkey ride

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Mohammed was kind enough to let us go, and he’s stay back and either rest or something.  Donkeys riding up stairs and cliffs with huge drop offs on either side really challenges your faith, but the little animal gave it all and took itself and us bruisers.

So we arrived at the Monastery.  Wow it was huge!  You can see Mo at the bottom.

Monastery

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After we got back the scene had changed.  There were now mean Camels, and a ton more people.  You can see how hard it would be to grab single shots now.

Crazy Camel and Crowds

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So we had to race off to get back and get to the border.   My taxi flew, I’ve never had a taxi driver needing convinced that if he got a ticket I’d have to pay for it.  He was taking directions from me, which was scary enough, but trying to get from Petra at 11am to the King Hussein bridge by 1PM was pushing it.  At 2:02PM we arrived.  Through a miracle I was able to get through and on the last bus through the border.  Avi, my guardian angel met me and drove me through the West Bank.  I’d later find out just how scary that was.  At that point I was use to seeing checkpoints and lots of guys with guns, so I didn’t really notice that it was really beefed up with military on every corner at every stoplight.  (Border on left, Avi and I on Right)

Border Crossing in the West Bank

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So Avi after meeting me for the first time in person, took me to the Office System User Group meeting in Tel Aviv.  They had heard I was coming straight from the hills and hiking around, so they tracked down a towel for me and had sent someone to the store to pick one up.  I arrived with about 30-45 minutes to spare.  So I got the borrowed towel and took a quick shower before it would start. 

Israeli Office System User Group

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The best part was seeing Avi (MOSS is my Middle Name) on his guitar, doing a funny western song about me taking on the big challenges.  I have a framed copy of the song, which will be hanging on the wall in my office when and where ever I get settled.  My ramblings on Governance and Infrastructure fundamentals were nothing compared to the sheer entertainment we all got from Avi.  I wish all SharePoint user group meetings everywhere could have benefited from his amazing skills and poetry.

More later…

If you enjoyed this recap, you’ll really enjoy Muhannad Omar’s version.

Browse Strategies and Site Directory

Now that I’m not at MS I can be a bit more candid about things I like and don’t like, I hope some of that came through in my previous blogs anyway, but want to let you know I have been honest, but maybe not brutally honest unless you were in my Good Bad Ugly sessions at TechReady5 and TechReady6 (internal technical readiness conferences).
 
The site directory out of the box is cute.  It fits the really small environments out of the box, but for even some medium environments a company needs to really think about a browse strategy for getting people to their sites.
 
What doesn’t work with Site Directory
 
I. All sites are added automatically generating at least a few problems.
1. Sites that are empty are added
2. Users that add their own descriptions can put some sites over the top in terms of scope.  Data may not be relevant.  
3. If you click on a site you more than half the time will not have access.  How many times does it take to make you not want to use the site directory?  Sites are not security trimmed.
4. Sites may no longer exist (some features in MOSS 2007 can help you take care of this one at least.)
 
What you need…
1. Sites that are useful and interesting… not old, not crusty, not empty, not shallow…
2. Sites that are security trimmed or are open
3. Categorizations need to be useful and easy to navigate and not empty nodes (not too deep)
 
MSWeb is one example of an interesting evolution of a site directory and browse strategy for the Intranet. 
 
1. First before it was even SharePoint there was a list of sites that was very groomed and managed.  People were able to find the sites that were approved, but you couldn’t find data that wasn’t exposed.  Even search was only of the known universe. 
 
Result… a site directory of the known sites that was easy to use, but was not automatic and was managed.
 
2. Then there was SharePoint 2003, I was anxious to see a site directory of all the sites at Microsoft.  An all inclusive directory of all sites allowing it to expose all those hidden gems of data across the company.  Search as well, was looking at true enterprise search or search of data across the company in all web based repositories including some limited file shares and public folders.  A site creation UI was designed to dump all sites into the site directory and search would be based on a dump of all of these sites and the site directory. 
 
Result:  A huge site directory that would make you proud, except in SPS 2003 we had all sorts of empty sites, deleted sites, and irrelevant sites.  Really you couldn’t find anything you were looking for, but the categories looked very impressive.
 
3. The next generation site directory would be scrubbed the hundreds of thousands of sites would be seen as irrelevant for the average person.  If they needed something out of an obscure site, then they would either know the URL or they could search for it.  This new directory would go back to the roots and start with the known universe.  If you’re looking for the SharePoint Team, there’s one public facing SharePoint site for that team and so on.  This more static, but managed list would be the stategy.  No more would it be a full list of all sites.  It would be open and official sites… not really a lot of collab sites, but more portal or WCM type sites.
 
Result: People started returning to using the site directory, but search really took over as the standard for finding data.  Browse took a back seat.  Browse still isn’t very big at MS, but there is some promise that these issues of manually managing such a list could provide promise for the future.
 
 

Public Folders and SharePoint Revisited

I expect most of you have seen the Exchange and SharePoint Team blogs both referring to Exchanges updated details.
 
I put my PF thoughts after the first set of guidance in a post titled "What about Public Folders vs. email enabled Lists in WSS?"
 
The most important detail is this new information from the Exchange team:
 
1) The Exchange team is going to support PF in the next version
2) Support is now going to be based on the 10 year support for the next version of Exchange
 
The table that was put together (which is most easily viewed on the SharePoint Team blog) is some decent guidance.  What is unfortunate is I see a few comments that say they are no longer planning on migrating their PFs as a result.  This is a bit confusing to me.  Sure the Exchange team isn’t pushing to kill PFs as fast as it had hoped, but it sure seems clear that the demise is still imminent and that they hope to transition these scenarios to SharePoint as customers can.  Notice that the table clearly has all new scenarios being built on SharePoint rather than saying use PFs on certain scenarios.  It’s true you really can find some strong reasons to use PFs today, but no one is encouraging you to buy Exchange for the PFs and to build custom solutions on them.  I think that’s quite clear. 
 
Migration is tough, I do encourage if you can do it successfully and have the budget, otherwise if you can at least stop the obvious file sharing that happens on PFs and limit the usage to archiving of distribution lists or other such scenarios that limit the scenarios where PFs shine.
 
If you were to ask me, I’d say the guidance hasn’t really changed, the mercy of the Exchange team has simply been extended to help the large enterprise customers who haven’t been able to map their scenarios to SharePoint.  Most of them now do have SharePoint, and whether the migration happens in WSS 3.0 and MOSS 2007 or in SharePoint 14 is yet to be seen for some customers.
 
It’s culture and adoption that will drive it, but by having two solutions for the same scenarios can add confusion.  Some overlap is understandable, but my guidance would be to limit the scenarios so you can be clear with your users what PFs are for and what the SharePoint platform is for.  Today I personally wouldn’t be encouraging more proliferation of PFs, I’d be limiting the scenarios and seriously considering charge back and business justification so I knew how they are being used, so I could track the scenarios with SharePoint 14 and making sure MS knew exactly what my PFs were being used for.

SharePoint brings peace to the Middle East

SharePoint Brings Peace in 5 Ways
 
1. It promotes collaboration and social networking.  Collaboration brings us closer to each other and can help us work out our differences.  Having a single truth can help with BI, but it’s also important to recognize that one answer from another in different views can come from the same source.
 
2.   It promotes peace through self expression promoting understanding.  The platform itself provides creative ways of expressing ourselves though blogging, profiles, targeting and my sites.
 
3. It promotes peace through order and process through workflows.  The workflows built into the platform and easily extended are great ways of manging order and recognizing the order of things.
 
4. It promotes peace through discovery and search.  Insight and knowledge help us be enlightened by finding the things we are looking for and often the things that we might not have been looking for, but provide insight and come closer to a more perfect understanding.
 
5. It promotes peace through usage of a flexible platform.  A rigid system would be contrary to promoting mercy and understanding.  The flexibility of master pages and solutions make a systematic way of supporting change without impacting the core system.  Solutions can bring insight to the administrator and increase the ease of use and at the same time enhance the overall system.
 
 
Joel Oleson in Petra
 
I’ve spent the last week half in Jordan and half in Israel.  I’ve had some of the best experiences of my life this last week with some incredible people who are Arabs, Muslims, Jews, Palestineans and Israelis.  The thing they all had in common was a passion for SharePoint.
 
The SharePoint User Group meeting in Jordan was super relaxed.  Those guys know how to make a guy feel like a Shiek.  Mohammed Zayed and Muhanad Omar are both rock stars in their own right.  Young rising super stars in the  SharePoint world.  I had a blast staying up all night sharing stories and pondering about the mysteries of life and beyond and then going to Petra and almost getting eaten by a camel, or falling off a cliff by an overworked little donkey… Petra  is clearly near the top of the list of the 7 wonders of the world and our tour and the company made it the top.
 
I’ll let you know when I get the videos of me at the dead sea with the dead sea mud all over me properly edited. 🙂
 
The Jordanians are passionate about SharePoint and what it can do for them.  They really are realizing it’s potential.
 
The Israeli Office System User Group (made up of at least 90% SharePoint people) was a huge treat.  Avi (MOSS is his middle name) stole the show with his guitar playing of a western with me and my SharePoint skills.  It was extremely flattering.  He’s really THE Man.  (If you didn’t see this, ask him about it at TechEd Israel.  I’d be there if it wasn’t in conflict with the SharePoint Conference in Dubai.)    I have to say he went out of his way to really show me the way not just Israelis live, but to help me understand Jewish traditions and ways of life.  I have a huge respect for him.  Shabat Shalom and a HUGE Thank You (תודה, תודה לך!).  You and your family did more for me than anyone could ask.
 
Meron, thanks for the tour of Jerusalem.  Your persistence paid off with the mount of Olives, and going through the muslim quarter right after the call to prayer was an incredible experience physically and mentally.  The spirit was strong that day.
 
In a successful secret operation titled "migration of Joel." Which started from Plane, to Bus, to Car, to finally a mix of Taxi and border bus.  I witnessed a first hand miracle with a lot of praying as I was flying across Jordan, Mt. Nebo, Palestine and the occupied territories to then land in the Microsoft office in Tel Aviv in the heart of the promised land from the desert rock city of Petra some 5 hours earlier an impossible feat for even Moses.  (Well, if it weren’t for that stick and water incident with Moses, I’m sure he could have reached there, albiet 40 years instead of 5.)
 
Tomorrow I fly to Dubai and then mid week to Istanbul.  What other lessons will I learn?
 
One thing I do know from being in the Middle east… I’ve found that SharePoint can help assist in bringing peace…
 
Jerusalem and Joel
 

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Wow I’m in Dubai and I’m not at MS

My last day at work was pretty short.  My first appointment of the day was with HR to give them my AMEX, Blue Badge, and Prime Card.  They also wanted my parking pass, but I haven’t updated mine in over a year.  It feels like I’m naked to not have my blue badge.  I feel free, but also it feels a bit strange, like I’m missing something.
 
It was raining when I went into the appointment and snowing when I got out!  I got a taxi and headed to the airport to catch a Northwest flight to Amsterdam on my way to Dubai. We had to wait for 30 minutes while they de-Iced the plane.
 
So now 25 hours later I’m in my hotel in Dubai and I’m getting ready to start the day.  I’m headed to the LDS ward here in Dubai this morning before heading to Jordan via Kuwait to meet up with the MS folks there for 3 days packed full of customer meetings, Petra, and the Jordan SharePoint User Group dinner which is sure to please.
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