The VRE Framework project aims to extend the standard functionalities of MS SharePoint 2010 , through the development of a number of toolkits in the field of research project management, workflow capabilities, data curation and data visualization. The project is lead by Microsoft Research and the British Library. The project grew out of the Research Information Centre project, which ran from 2008 to 2009. The VRE Toolkits are also referred to collectively as the RIC 2.0.
To make use of the VRE toolkits, an installation of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010 is needed. The VRE toolkits function on all varieties of SharePoint: Foundation, Standard and Enterprise. Nevertheless, the Foundation edition has the disadvantage that no “Personal Spaces” can be created. The recommended SharePoint licence is Enterprise. The first seven toolkits have been made available in July 2006 as .wsp files (Windows SharePoint Solution Packages) via CodePlex, a platform for open source software:
- RSS Feeds: http://vrerss.codeplex.com/
- Login: http://vreadmin.codeplex.com/
- Site Projects: http://vretemplates.codeplex.com/
- MetaSearch: http://vresearch.codeplex.com/
- Collaborator Search: http://vrecollab.codeplex.com/
- Download Content: http://vrearchive.codeplex.com/
- Review Documents: http://vrereview.codeplex.com/
The solutions need to be installed at the level of the web application. Since there is only one web application for all user sites, the functionalities will be available in all user sites. Once the solutions have been installed, the new features can be activated on a site collection. The new functionalities can generally be added via WebParts. Each toolkit adds at least one new WebPart. Institutions which can develop Web Parts, SharePoint templates or SharePoint themes are encouraged to share these with the VRE toolkits community through the CodePlex platform.
Leiden University Library was part of the Community Testing Programme in 2011. This document discusses the main findings of this evaluation of the new VRE toolkits.The installation process was fairly easy, even though certain solutions have not yet been fully documented.
Functional tests of toolkits
RSS Feeds: http://vrerss.codeplex.com/
The RIC2 RSS Feeds viewer presents the RSS feeds from the RSS feeds list in the form. Users can view individual news items by clicking on the feed.
The functionality of this toolkit is very similar to the standard RSS Viewer of SharePoint 2010. An important difference is that the standard RSS viewer can only display one feed, whereas the RIC RSS viewer presents all the feeds which are recorded in the RSS Feeds list.
An advantage of having a separated RSS Feeds list is that users can easily add and update the feeds, without having to edit the WebPart.
- The RIC2 RSS viewer cannot display feeds in the ATOM format.
- Unlike the standard SharePoint 2010 RSS viewer, it is not possible to specify a limit to the number of feeds.
The MetaSearch toolkit enables users to search different information systems simultaneously. The webpart offers two search engines by default: Bing and UK PubMed Central. A user can search in these sources by checking the respective boxes before clicking on the Search button. The results are displayed in their respective tabs.
The results of a search action can be stored and can be retrieved at a later stage from the Saved Query list. Selected search results can also be saved as bookmarks. The bookmarks or saved queries are normally shown in chronological order. The MetaSearch can be made available in both a project site and in a personal site. The search engines are hardcoded , and it seems that additional sources can only be added by making changes to the source code of the WebPart. The WebPart has been given the title “Search Literature”, but, at present, this WebPart still seems too limited for actual literature searches.
Download Content: http://vrearchive.codeplex.com/
The Webpart creates a zipfile with all the documents that need to be archived. The download content make two Webparts available. Firstly, in the Admin Download Library, a site collection administrator can select the libraries and list that users are allowed to download. The download content webpart results in a button which can be used by researchers to store contents off-line:
This webpart does not yet work correctly. Libraries and lists can be activated in the admin tool, bhut the zip file which is created is always empty.
User Admin Toolkit: http://vreadmin.codeplex.com/
This solution adds 6 webparts. Four of these are aimed at the user and two need to be used by the administrator.
- In the User Registration webpart, a new user can register as a RIC user. The request needs to be approved by the RIC administrator.
- In the Change Password webpart, a user can change a password. The old password kan een gebruiker zijn password wijzigen. The old password needs to be provided before it can acyually be changed.
- The Reset Password needs to be used if the user cannot remember the current password. In this case, a question needs to be answered.
- In the Forgot Password webpart, a user can request an email containing the correct password.
- In the Add Users webpart, RIC user scan be added. Users who are added in this webpart will be approved automatically.
- In the approve users webpart, requests for RIC membership may be approved or rejected.
These various webparts function correctly, but only for accounts which have been created using Forms Based Authentication (FBA). Passwords from domain accounts cannot be edited in this way.
Search for Collaborators: http://vrecollab.codeplex.com/
The Search for Collaborators webpart can be used to search for RIC users with the same expertise as the current user. This expertise needs to be recorded in the SharePoint profile of RIC users. This webpart will only be interesting if there is a certain critical mass of registered users. This functionality makes use of the Experience field in all user profiles, but for reasons which are as yet unclear, this field cannot be used. The values which are entered are not added to the profile.
Document Review: http://vrereview.codeplex.com/
The Document Review webpart can be used in a project site. Firstly, a Project Documents library needs to be created. Such a library has fields for a review deadline, reviewers, editors, comments en the percentage that is completed. The deployment document for the RIC module offers guidelines for the creation of such a library. When a document is added to this library, all reviewers and editors will receive an alert via email. At the moment, this functionality does not work. This probably has to do with the fact that a timer job needs to be configured, but we were unable to locate this job.
The MySite and Projects Solution adds 5 webparts, which can be used in MySites and in ProjectSites. MyProjects and MyTasks are intended for use in a MySite. They offer a list of all projects a user is involved in, or the tasks which have been assigned to a user in a certain project. The Request Project webpart can be used in a MySite to request a new project. When this webpart is used, an e-mail will be sent to the RIC administrator, who needs to create the project manually. The Project Users webpart and the Request Additional Project User webparts need to be used within a Project site. Project Users compiles a list of all members of a project. Request Additional Project User can be used to send a mail to the RIC administrator with the request to add a new project member.
An important disadvantage of the current RIC toolkits is that users need to log in with an e-mail adres. Windows accounts are only used for the RIC administration. La Trobe University in Sydney, Australia and Softedge Systems have extended and modified the forms-based version into a version in which identity provisioning can take place via the Active Directory. Nevertheless, all the templates and WSPs are still under active development and have not yet been tested.
At present, the VRE Toolkits project has added only a very limited number of additional functionalities. The most important additions to the standard SharePoint 2010 functionalities are the possibility to list multiple RSS feeds in a single webpart and the possibility to download content. The webparts that focus on the creation of projects and new users are useful, but they do not add significant value in comparison to what is possible already in SharePoint 2010.
During a meeting organised by SURFfoundation in February 2011, a number of Universities in the Netherlands have discussed the main painpoints of working with SharePoint-based VREs. The following issues have been mentioned:
- At present, it is still difficult to curate large quantities of research data in SharePoint. As there is a limit to the storage capacity of SharePoint document libraries, the results of data-intensive research projects will often need to be archived in external data repositories. To make sure that researchers do not have to access two different environments, it would be useful if the contents of an external data archive can be presented and edited within SharePoint as if it were an internal document library.
- Many researchers make use of reference management systems such as Zotero and Mendeley, but these data cannot be made visible within SharePoint.
- When researchers need to access licenced content on external sites, they frequently need to log in. This issue can be addressed if authentication in SharePoint can take place via the SURFfederation.
None of these issues are currently addressed in the VRE toolkits.