I am often caught working on SharePoint and doing SharePoint development. This is an interesting task. There are a lot of options when working with SharePoint and doing development. None are really easy.
Some elements of development can be done with a little tool called SharePoint Designer 2007. Designer is really just an updated version of Frontpage. In this tool you can change elements on a masterpage, check in, update styles, and create basic workflow. If you have to do more than this or if you have some higher technical skills you will quickly leave Designer and use Visual Studio.
Using visual studio causes a few issues. First if you have XP or Vista for you development machine you are already at a disadvantage. Since you need SharePoint to develop for Sharepoint and XP and vista will not run vista you need to setup either a server or a vpc to develop. This was very frustrating for me. To get around this I have found a few tools to help.
1st there is an article and blog that claims you can run sharepoint on your vista box. I have heard of people trying this but it seemed too involved for me.
2nd – the option I like. Use a program called wsp builder. http://www.codeplex.com/wspbuilder/ This program allows you to create webparts or wsp files from your local machine (as long as you include the sharepoint.dll in the solution). So you can make a wepart locally and then deploy it to your sharepoint box.
Why would you do this. Well often you just have a few min to develop something and don’t really want to fire up a VPC to start coding. using wsp builder you can make the code base and then deploy the WSP to the server to test. Also, for deployment solutions from DEV -> QA -> production the WSP builder allows you to bundle all required files. This method is much cleaner than the xcopy / GAC method.
I have also found this very useful when doing design for SharePoint. In your solution you can create a directory structure the same way as the “HIVE” and the elements you ahve in your solution will be added to the WSP and then deployed to the server. So you can create a CSS directory and Image directory for your SharePoint design on the file system say in the _layouts folder. You can then deploy this through the wsp package.
There are a lot more features to the WSP builder, but I will leave it up to you to view the documentation. I use the Visual Studio Addin so I can deploy locally if I’m developing on the SharePoint server.