SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows – First Look

Update!
If you want to learn about SharePoint Designer 2010, you should check out http://www.sharepointdesigner2010workflow.com/.

It’s time to start preparing for the third issue of the SharePoint 2010 Beta series of Understanding SharePoint Journal. This time, I’m going to post some rather unique info, namely a walkthrough of creating your first SharePoint Designer 2010 workflow.

Long story short, here’s a first look at SharePoint Designer 2010 workflow authoring. Keep in mind, as always, that anything SharePoint 2010 related is highly speculative at this point, and the entire software package may turn out to be a new version of Notepad.

Ribbon Interface

First, begin getting used to working with the ribbon in SharePoint Designer as well. No more menus, at least not the drop-down thing we know from the 2007 version.

Figure 1

Note some missing icons and the two different types of workflow buttons available. As I mentioned in my previous post on SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflow features, you can now create both list or library bound workflows and reusable workflows that work on generic data. Once you have chosen either, as for other Office apps, the ribbon changes to show you the context menu for your current task, in this case, what you can do with workflows.

Figure 4

Do you see the Association Columns button? This is one of those things that can make SharePoint Designer workflow authoring a lot more powerful. Basically, Association Columns are columns, or fields if you like, that SharePoint will add to the list or library when you associate a workflow with a list. So, for example, if you need a new column to store workflow related data such as a custom status column, you can use this feature to accomplish that.

Workflow Designer Window

I’m sure you’re all aching to see this as well, to see what the new workflow authoring experience is really like. Well, here it is.

Figure 6

Neat? Gone is the popup workflow designer wizard and the horrible add-on feeling. Now, authoring workflows is an integrated part of the rest of the application rather than an external window.

Well, I know you don’t really see all the goodness from just this window, but let me show you a few cool things.

First, notice the orange line under the first step. That’s actually a cursor that you can control with your keyboard. You can now control a lot more of the workflow authoring without using the mouse.

Notice also that in the first step it says Start typing or use the Insert group in the Ribbon. The location of the workflow cursor decides what you get when you start typing. If the cursor is between steps, you can type Step (or S) and hit Enter to get a list of available insert options for steps:

Figure 7

When the cursor is inside any step, you get a list of all the available actions when you type something and hit enter, or if you have typed a specific enough phrase, the action itself:

 Figure 8

Figure 9

This feature is somewhat similar to what Visual Studio users know as IntelliSense, but it’s not quite the same. For example, you still need to hit Enter to get a list of results, whereas Visual Studio will give you the drop-down of available options while you type.

Figure 10

Configuring Actions

I absolutely love the new way of configuring actions; much easier than those dreadful wizards. Now, everything is in a neat little box, like the properties window from Visual Studio:

Figure 11

The Edit property button will still launch the familiar dialog boxes to configure each property, however, and if you do prefer the SharePoint Designer 2007 way of configuring the actions, you can still click the underlines links in the actions, just like before.

One particularly nice thing is that the email action now allows you to build dynamic subjects so you don’t need a separate Build Dynamic String action to create a subject:

Figure 12

Speaking of actions and strings, there are now some nice, new utility actions that will make it easier to create more complex strings, substrings, or other variables as well:

Figure 13

SharePoint Designer Workflow Settings

The final thing I want to show you before leaving you hanging and wanting to buy the series subscription is the workflow settings page.

Figure 14

Note that the content type association is not editable. Once you hook a workflow, reusable or not, to a content type or list, the workflow is stuck with that content type or list. This does make perfect sense, since you are using content type or list specific columns.

Also note the twist in start options. Rather than saying when or how you want to launch the workflow, you now have to say when or how you do not want to start the workflow.

The last tidbit is the easy access to the forms used in the workflow. However, I’m going to leave the screenshots of that out, as there apparently still are some issues with this beta.

My Thoughts So Far

I’m going to sum this up as such: Wow.

You’ll get the full story and a lot more detail in the next SharePoint 2010 Beta issue, so grab a series subscription today. ‘Nuff commercial stuff, either you want to be in the loop or you don’t.

It is very apparent that Microsoft has listened to its users and made improvements that will be massively useful for workflow authors. The whole feel of the authoring experience is much smoother and more efficient. The use of keyboard navigation inside the workflow designer is excellent.

I’m not going to cover any negative impressions I have gotten so far. Many of the issues I have found are likely related to the beta status of SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010. As such,

Oh yeah, and I’m still working under the assumption that Microsoft meant what it said about openly discussing the clients of the Office 2010 beta program, of which I am a participant. Oh, and yes, I do have legal and non-NDA SharePoint 2010 access.

.b

Update!
If you want to learn about SharePoint Designer 2010, you should check out http://www.sharepointdesigner2010workflow.com/.

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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

6 thoughts on “SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows – First Look”

  1. Hmm…I like this idea a lot, but I still think MSFT has missed the boat with regard to ALM. From the amount of playing around with workflows in 2010 I do not see a good way to package up SPDesigner workflows into a deployable solution. This is especially problematic when it comes to “Association Columns”. So really, they are just about to release another hack instead of a maintainable solution.

    Tell me I'm wrong and I haven't done enough investigating.

  2. Marc,

    I'll admit, I haven't checked too much underneath the hood, so to speak, but I don't see how Microsoft could have done this any different. I also happen to think that SPD workflows, the way they have been doing them and continue to do them, is a very good way of ensuring strong typing and maintainable workflows.

    I'm not sure I see your problem with association columns either. You use the columns to ensure that you have a minimum of columns required to perform the workflow. For example, you may want to implement custom state management to track which items have been affected by a workflow already, similar to what I showed in the EndUserSharePoint.com series. Rather than having to manually add those columns prior to design-time, I can now assume that those columns will be added to the list to which my workflow attaches. I think this is a much better way.

    I may misunderstand your grievance, though, so please, feel free to elaborate 🙂

    .b

  3. Fanboy drooling evident here. What are the upgrade options like for the following:

    2007 workflows to 2010?
    Custom WebParts to 2010 Custom WebParts?

    Does the upgrade from 2007 actually work?

    It's important that it looks pretty but that importance is insignificant compared to the importance of whether the upgrade is easy or even works.

    Monkeysoft have been guilty in the past of breaking things with Service Packs … I doubt this upgrade will be easy for Enterprises.

  4. Haha, Fanboy? Geez, I've got half the SharePoint community cursing my name and the other half cheering the first half on.

    People make movies about how anti-Microsoft I am (Well, at least one person made a web cast. In his car. While he, apparently, had nothing else to do.).

    And you call me fanboy? You really crack me up…

    .b

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