Last summer I had a lot of work (and a few posts) related to SharePoint ribbon. At that time I wished to have a tool that enables developers to design their ribbon extensions in a more graphical way than editing raw XML files. Unfortunately, I found no such tool so had to do the job the hard way.
A few month ago the solution came from a web site that was a bit unexpected for me in this context. Although I used the product Add-in Express for Internet Explorer to create some IE add-in (like this or this) from managed code, it was a positive surprise that the same company offers a RAD (rapid application development) solution for designing SharePoint ribbons as well.
With installing the Ribbon Designer for SharePoint and Office 365 you get a Visual Studio project and item template to extend and boost your SharePoint solutions.
In the past months I spent several hours playing with this tool and found its features can help the everyday life of a SharePoint designer / developer.
There are a lot of technical stuff on the company website, so this time I would like only to share my experience based on the tests and work I did in the past months with the tool. As in the case of any judgments, this one might be subjective as well, so if you would like to have a first-hand experience with the product, you should download a free trial and evaluate it based on your own point of view.
- Straightforward installation.
- Easy to create new (even context-sensitive) ribbon tabs and ribbon groups, existing ones can be extended.
- Full support of ribbon controls.
- Support for “global” (like SharePoint list item is selected in list view) and “local” (like your Ribbon button is clicked) events.
- Visual editing (and preview) of ribbons, including images deployed through resource files.
- Existing ribbon customization XMLs can be imported and improved.
- Office 365 solutions are supported.
- Integrates with the standard SharePoint solutions framework and with the standard Visual Studio tools.
- Great support from the company (Developer’s guide, Forum, Learning Center with technical articles, sample projects and videos, etc.). I really needed this help to make the first steps with the tool.
- Users of other Add-in Express products will find the design surface familiar.
- Development is in-progress and the company seems to be quite flexible, that means if you think there might be a bug in the product or you miss a specific feature you have good chances to get what you need in a limited timeframe.
- Source code is available (only in Professional Edition!).
- If you are already familiar with “traditional” SharePoint ribbon customization method, you have to learn a new approach. After a lot of work I did formerly with XMLs I found it is not always trivial to adapt my mind to the graphical interface.
- Lack of community support. If you have a common customization problem it is more likely that you find a solution on the web for the “traditional” way.
- Custom assembly (AddinExpress.SharePoint.Ribbon.dll) must be deployed to the server. Most of the time it is a no-issue, but might be a show-stopper at some companies.
- Although specific XML-based solutions may be imported, it does not cover 100% of the existing solutions. Migration to the other direction (for example, if you start with the designer, but later decide to choose the “classical” approach) might be problematic as well.
I can’t provide you any ROI or TCO numbers here. Whether a product is expensive or not depends on several factors, but I feel the standard edition is quite affordable, and for the double price of the standard edition one can achieve even the source code in the professional edition.
If you consider to do significant amount of SharePoint ribbon customization, or you are a newcomer on this field of development, and would like to do the job quickly without understanding first all the bells and whistles of the ribbon customization features, you should definitely consider this tool as an option.
In a forthcoming post I plan to provide a more technical overview through a real-world ribbon customization example solved in parallel with the classical XML approach and the RAD tool.