Let’s face it: SharePoint has some functionality gaps. Because of that, managing SharePoint can sometimes be a challenge. To fill those gaps, many SharePoint administrators end up purchasing third-party tools to assist them in managing their implementations.
There are lots of terrific commercial tools and utilities available for SharePoint. But for organizations that either don’t have the budget or can’t justify the license costs for third-party SharePoint products, there are quite a few high-quality free tools. Produced and made available by the same commercial firms that market for-fee products, the free tools are often used to encourage customers to license other products. There are also quite a few open source or semi-open source tools from places like the Microsoft-sponsored CodePlex site.
To help you identify devices that might help you, check out the list below for 10 free or nearly free tools, utilities and add-on products for SharePoint. Inclusion on this list is not an implicit endorsement; it is simply a list of products I’ve either used personally or know others who have used them successfully. In every case, you should test the product in your environment to ensure it meets your needs.
1. Business Data Catalog (BDC) Application Definition Editor
This is a free utility provided by Microsoft in the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Software Development Kit (SDK). Because Microsoft periodically releases updated versions of the SDK, be sure you have at least the update from late 2008. From experience, the tool is somewhat challenging to use, but it is useful in that it helps you configure a BDC application definition and it’s a good, free alternative to Lightning Tools Ltd.’s BDC Meta Man.
2. SharePoint Solution Installer
This utility was created by Lars Fastrup to ease the task of installing SharePoint Solution files, which use the extension WSP, in a SharePoint environment. You would use this tool primarily to install custom solutions, and it operates very similarly to any standard installation process. The only real requirement is that you need the Solution ID, which is a GUID to identify the solution. The Solution ID should be available from the developer who constructed the WSP file. Many commercial companies have begun to use this utility because it works so well.
3. SharePoint Work Acceleration Toolkit (SWAT)
This toolkit was developed by iDevFactory of Universal SharePoint Manager fame. It allows you to interrogate your SharePoint farm and do all sorts of things, such as see site definitions that are installed, generate test data within a list, execute a CAML query against one or more lists, see which sites have been provisioned, review security settings, construct a hierarchy model—sites within a Site Collection—and a good deal more. SWAT was previously a licensable tool, but iDevFactory changed its policy on the tool and has decided to offer it for free. You are still required to get a license, but there’s no cost.
4. Discovery Wizard for SharePoint
Quest Software Inc. has made some tentative steps forward into the SharePoint market. The company has released its free discovery tool that tells operations folks how many SharePoint sites exist on the network.
5. Remote stsadm Tool
Stsadm is a necessity for managing SharePoint. But you can’t always be “on the box” to execute administration commands with the tool. This CodePlex project aims to give you access to run stsadm commands remotely.
This open source tool created by the consulting company Ascentium has primarily developer-centric functionality, but it is also useful for operations. SPDeploy enables remote deployment of code packages to SharePoint environments.
7. SharePoint Features
Microsoft MVP Scot Hillier leads a project on CodePlex that provides some valuable add-ons for SharePoint in the form of various features you can install and activate within your SharePoint farm. Features include a SharePoint log viewer add-in and other developer-, administrator- and user-oriented elements. One feature adds the required Web.Config entries for Ajax. Whether you download and install them one by one or download the entire project at once, you still have to install them individually. Those with developer leanings can even get feature source codes.
8. SharePoint Administration Toolkit
Microsoft has released a toolkit to assist SharePoint administrators with common tasks that are, strangely, not included with the out-of-the-box administrative interfaces. The toolkit is a combination of command-line based stsadm updates and additions to Central Administration. It includes several useful functions, such as a batch site manager and a way to synchronize your profile store in SharePoint between Shared Services providers.
9. Best Practices Analyzer for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0
Microsoft released this tool back in 2007 with an update in 2008 to help organizations ensure that they are adhering to security and installation best practices. The utility produces a report that details areas where administrators can improve their environments.
10. World Clock and Weather Web Part
Bamboo Solutions released this free Web part that displays the date, time and weather within your SharePoint environment. Although it’s not exactly a business-critical function, it is handy.
Because of the sheer installed base, there are many cool commercial tools, add-ons and utilities available for the SharePoint platform. In all, the freebies listed here represent a mere fraction of the available components you can add to your SharePoint environment.
Take them for a test-drive, but know that you may be on your own if a problem arises. In these times, though, SharePoint administrators need all the help they can get. These tools certainly help fill in functionality gaps.
About the Author
Shawn Shell is the founder of Consejo Inc., a consultancy based in Chicago that specializes in Web-based applications, employees and partner portals, as well as enterprise content management. He has spent more than 19 years in IT, with the last 10 focused on content technologies. Shell is a co-author of Microsoft Content Management Server 2002: A Complete Guide, published by Addison-Wesley, and the lead analyst/author on the CMS Watch SharePoint Report 2009.