I typically don't make a big deal out of the software I use on a daily basis because I figure that people have their own unique needs and we all get bludgeoned nearly to death by constant bombardment with new tools, techniques, and processes that are going to save the world.
However, I've been spending a fair amount of time with CorasWorks lately and there were a few observations I wanted to make about the product suite that I don't think is being well portrayed in the market. To be clear, I've already shared the essence of this post with them in a candid conversation at CorasWorks University last week.
What I've found with SharePoint is that it's really about getting together a set of very flexible and very fundamental tools and building creative things with them. So much has been made of the content editor web part – and what it does is so simple … it emits HTML code. How sophisticated do you have to be to write a web part that emits the HTML that is provided to it.
Some of my clients view CorasWorks in a similar way … how hard is it to roll up a few lists? Frankly, not that hard. However, that's focusing on the tactical problem without taking a step back. Rolling up a few lists is trivially simple. Creating a framework for managing that rolled up data, providing a complete set of views, providing support, etc. is where it gets hard.
The navigational components that are provided with CorasWork's suite are fundamental and perhaps even some what trivial – however, they are – for the most part – a good set of tools that do provide great flexibility and most of the fundamentals that you need.
In fact, the biggest complaint I have about the navigational components is that the current released version doesn't support relative paths. This is eating me alive at my current client as we try desperately not to bind in any environment specific configuration into out site definitions and other files. Although it's an up-hill challenge, I'm hoping that they will add relative path support to their Special Site Navigation component. (I'd love to hear your comments if you're struggling with the same issue.)
Their other navigation tools, Workplace View Advanced, and the SPS cousin are more sophisticated but are limited to the two dimensional movement through a site or area hierarchy. It's useful for site-to-site navigation but doesn't help when you need to link applications within a portal together.
I mentioned that they are fundamental building blocks. What I have been most impressed about as I'm installing CorasWorks into my third large scale implementation is it's ability to grow with the environment. Through the use of some undocumented properties (that I'll likely blog about soon) it's possible to gain very fine-level control of how things appear. This means that tools that may originally fill a specific niche around roll ups may grow up into a set of tools that continue to drive the core of the portal for years to come.
So if you're researching CorasWorks and wonder if it will get a few users or many users – think along the side of many users. When you learn all of the advanced tricks it's really amazing what you can do with the tool – including very customized menus and spectacular roll ups. I'll start posting on how to do a few of these things in the coming weeks. For now, just know that there are plenty of undocumented or under-documented features just waiting to be unleashed. Know that these features aren't being discussed much in the market -- they're seen as an entry level tool which is useful to get started, however, the amount of “runway” that you have with CorasWorks is pretty substantial.