I’ve been blogging a fair bit lately about Page Layouts – how they affect styles to hide bits of the page, how they are used to replace breadcrumbs and the like – but you can do a heck of a lot with them.
Quite a lot of your default master page is in ContentPlaceHolder controls. Those ContentPlaceHolder controls have default content – but your page layout can define Content controls which place content into those placeholders, overriding them. Of course, you still need to have all of the appropriate controls on a page – just removing the ‘Site Actions’ menu for everyone isn’t a good idea – but you can do a lot.
This sort of came up at the last SharePoint User Group meeting – Colin Byrne was demonstrating Silverlight in SharePoint (which apparently doesn’t work all that well yet, but shows promise). One of the demos he has showed replacing the left navigation with a Silverlight control, but used a neww Master Page do to that. I thought of a demo I’d done recently where I’d done similar – but with a Page Layout. I used this to replace the left navigation menu with a Web Part Zone:
Believe it or not, this is actually the default master with a particular Page Layout that I made, and the ‘Simple’ theme applied. Actually, there are lots of bits of the page modified by the Page Layout. The ‘Site Actions’ menu and Top Navigation Bar have been moved up, for example. The Left navigation has been replaced by a Web Part Zone, and I’ve dropped a Content Query Web Part in there for a giggle. And the Search box has been moved down the page too.
You could do all of this with a Master Page of course – and in real life, you’d probably want to for most of those modifications. For some things, though, like replacing certain navigation controls (which is what some of the out-of-box page layouts do with title breadcrumbs) then I think that a page layout might be exactly what you want – so that you can have different forms of navigation for different pages using the same Master Page.
Anyway, I was surprised by how easy it was to do this. Given that the Master Page defines default content, much of what I did was just copy that default content into the Content control for the location that I wanted to put the control into – and voila!