[The always wise and profilic Gavin Clabaugh posted some terrific, detailed thoughts about SharePoint on NTEN's great "NTEN Discuss" discussion list - which he and NTEN were kind enough to let us edit and re-post here. This is the first of two posts - yes, from the same (amazing) discussion list post! You can read more of Gavin's wisdom at his blog, www.digitaldiner.org]
I’m going to talk about Microsoft SharePoint. And, straight off, I’m going to tell you I am biased. SharePoint rocks. We at Mott have used it since version 2001, and are rolling to MOSS as we speak.
It’s solid, and it will do some amazing things. Currently, ours holds some 100,000 documents – mostly PDFs – and we index many, many more. It’s responsive, and with a little creative thought, can be customized to do lots of stuff. For the price, it blows the competition (what little there is), out of the water. And that’s it’s problem. It does too much.
My MAIN critique of SharePoint is this -- it’s too much and too many things. Hence, it is daunting and confusing. It’s a development environment, it’s a document management system, it’s a workflow system, it’s a CMS, it has decent indexing and search; it’s too much. People get confused by its possibilities. The secret: start slow. Start with a simple “Intranet”…and then begin to add things. That, and don’t be confused by the templates and pre-designed “Intranet” sites that come with it. Nothing is sacrosanct: I usually blow away much of the default stuff and set up my own simple structures.
Now, into the meat of the matter. First off, there are three versions. Microsloth, in its strange inability to name things, calls them all SharePoint. All of the versions are pretty damn amazing. The versions are:Version 1: Windows SharePoint Services – AKA: WSS.
WSS is the heart and soul of SharePoint. It provides the basic development environment, document management and storage, and most of the part of SharePoint that you will use. Other versions of SharePoint are built on WSS. WSS is free – if you have Server 2003, you can download it and run it. WSS includes (out of the box) templates for a “team site”, shared document workspaces, Blogs, WIKI, and meeting workspaces.
Contrary to popular belief, it DOES include search – but it is a search that only works within a single WSS site. That means you can search all docs or pictures, or PDFs, or whatever, within a set of document repositories, but you can’t add other web sites, or fileshares, or other sites into that index. If your needs are modest – or if you design your repositories so that they are all within one site collection, search works just fine.Version 2: Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (Standard) – AKA: MOSS.
MOSS is the “Portal” version of SharePoint. It adds cross-site searching, and the ability to add anything into your search index (such as fileshares, or other websites, or just about anything you can point an HTTP at. MOSS also adds LOTs of pre-designed templates that will get you up and running in short order. In fact, in my experience, you can have a decent (non-customized) Intranet up in just a few minutes. Figuring out just what you have, and what it will do, can then take some time. Customizing – really customizing – takes some work. But it can be done, once you get the hang of it.
MOSS adds “social networking” components, including a public and private user profile, and personal sites that let your users set up their own Blogs, upload shared pictures, etc etc.
MOSS also adds RSS (to any list or document library), audience targeting (you can filter the display of just about anything based on membership in an audience), Mobile device support (automatically creates WAP versions of just about any standard page or library).
Finally, the MOSS versions directly integrate with Active Directory, automating profile import from AD, and directly tie into Exchange, updating the GAL for things like mail-enabled document libraries (these are very neat things).Version 3: Microsoft Office SharePoint Services (Enterprise) – Also AKA: MOSS.
Move to “Enterprise” and you get a couple of really neat things: Excel Services, InfoPath forms server, Single-Sign-On, and the Business Data Catalog. These are hard to explain. Excel services lets you publish live spreadsheets on a web page (including charts and graphs). It’s a quick way to build a dashboard, for example. The excel sheet can be connected to a back-end database, and update in real-time. InfoPath forms lets you serve InfoPath as a web form. InfoPath is the cat’s PJ’s anyway.
Finally, the Business Data Catalog is amazing. You can take ANY database (including MySQL, for example) and make MOSS treat it like a “List” in SharePoint. Once connected up, it becomes sharepoint data, that can be filtered, structured, and connected to other things. It can be set so you can edit it too. If you want to report or display dynamic data from any database within SharePoint, you can. Easily (one you get the hang of writing a BDC connection XML thing).