As the volume of intranet content grows, administrators and users are increasingly looking for ways to manage the volume of information.
Just as Netscape aggregated the then-growing internet content into a manageable framework (called a portal), application vendors have created many packages that allow their customers to aggregate their intranet content into corporate portals.
This series of articles will discuss Microsoft’s portal product — SharePoint Portal Server.
I hope to provide some value to the readers of Intranet Journal regarding the capabilities (and limitations) of SharePoint. Your feedback is encouraged, and will help me to cover topics that you find relevant.
Like most portal products, SharePoint allows visitors to create custom views of the Web site.
This customization can be very simple or very complex, depending on the type and version of the product that is installed.
In addition, SharePoint has a powerful collaboration model that is tightly integrated with the Office 2003 suite.
The current version of SharePoint is its third (despite its name). Like most Microsoft software, (Windows in particular) version 3 is gaining rapid adoption.
A recent article in The Register indicated that SharePoint Portal Server is Microsoft’s fastest growing product, with 30 million licenses.
Microsoft’s first portal application was called Digital Dashboard. This product introduced the concept of Web parts — boxes of information on a page that represented a summary or overview of information.
(Other vendors referred to these items as “portlets.”) By assembling multiple parts on a page, each user could customize his view of the portal to contain the information that pertained to them.
In theory, every visitor of the site could have different content at the same URL. However, the technology behind the Digital Dashboard was not up to the task, and it never made it out of the beta stage.
At the same time, Microsoft’s Office group was working toward a collaboration solution. The need for many people to contribute to a single document or worksheet was growing.
And, these people were not necessarily working at the same location. The result was SharePoint Team Services (STS), a Web-based solution that allowed shared access to information and documents.
STS also allowed end-users to make changes to the site via a Web browser instead of requiring a development-oriented application.
The merging of the collaboration and aggregation functions lead to SharePoint Portal Server 2001.
Portal Server has been upgraded to run on the .Net framework and is now referred to as SharePoint Products and Technologies.
The “Product” is SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (SPS) and the “Technologies” are Windows SharePoint Services (WSS).
A significant point about these two is that WSS is included with the Windows Server 2003 license. Any organization that is licensed for Windows Server 2003 can also host Websites that are based on WSS.
In general, SharePoint contains all of the features you would expect from a portal or collaboration tool:
- Browser-based customization of page
- Browser-based content administration
- Aggregation capabilities
- Document Repository
- Message board
- Ad-hoc data storage
- E-mail notifications
- Announcements, event calendar and contact list.
A complete feature matrix that also indicates whether the feature is part of WSS or SPS can be found in the whitepaper Implementing Rich Collaboration Infrastructure Using Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 on Microsoft’s Web site (microsoft.com/sharepoint/evaluationoverview.asp).
In addition to being the default intranet portal, there are many additional uses for SharePoint.
Microsoft has included pre-defined templates for Web sites to facilitate meetings, manage projects and create documents.
Combined with the “self-service” site creating feature, teams can create and use a Web site with minimal assistance from the Information Technology department.
The Document Workspace template will allow a group to work on a document. The template combines a document repository with a task list and a links list.
While using Word 2003, a user can have the document open and at the same time view the task or links list.
Changes made to the task list are immediately visible to site visitors. And the document library allows versioning, so edits are not lost.
The Meeting Workspace template combines the agenda, attendee list and Outlook’s calendar function.
When sending a meeting request in Outlook 2003, a user can create a workspace on the server.
The URL of the workspace is automatically included in the message and the attendees are added to the site.
The materials required for the meeting can be centrally located, which is preferable for attendees who travel frequently.
The browser-based customization feature, combined with the ability to create ad-hoc lists allows an advanced user to create a site for almost any purpose.
A user group could host its meeting schedule, complete handouts. A youth sport organization can post its schedule and roster. An individual can host a blog. The possibilities are endless.
About This Series
This series of articles on SharePoint is intended to help you understand the capabilities of the product, as well as provide tips and tricks, development ideas, information from Microsoft, information from the community, and perhaps some samples.
Like many other series on IntranetJournal.com, I plan to include how-to articles that can help you with your deployments — ways to customize a page; deployment scenarios; content management; etc. With such a diverse product, there is no lack of topics for this series of articles. What would you like to read?