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The launch of Microsoft SharePoint 2007 certainly seems to have generated some interest – I would say the majority of intranet managers that I’ve spoken to are considering it as a potential platform to migrate to. However, SharePoint is not a single product or even a suite (like Office) but, in Microsoft’s own words, a "Set of Products and Technologies". This can make it hard to work out exactly what you’re looking at when you see a demonstration. Its even more of a concern if you only plan to buy one component without a clear answer as to what else this may be committing you to further down the line.
Mary Jo Foley on ZDNet recently blogged on "SharePoint: The next big ‘operating system’ from Microsoft?". Viewing Sharepoint as an Operating System brings a useful perspective to what deployment might entail. Microsoft sees it as a middle-tier, "It is the ‘missing link’ between personal productivity and line-of-business applications" says Foley (paraphrasing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer).
It helps to bear in mind that there are two main elements:
- Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) – this primarily gives the team collaboration element for sharing documents, discussions, team Wikis etc. This is what most people know SharePoint as because it was part of the Windows Server 2003 installation.
- Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) – this is the glue that joins it all together and is closes to the idea of a portal with associated services like search and content management.
You can use WSS without MOSS, but what you create will feel like little islands of information. As soon as people complain that they can’t keep track of all their WSS team spaces then you’ll need something to glue them all together – and I bet you can guess what the answer is!
The third thing to consider when looking into SharePoint is what degree of functionality you’ll get when interacting with your legacy systems. This includes things that only become fully functional with the latest versions of Office 2007, Exchange, SQL Server etc. I was involved in one comparison of SharePoint against an existing Portal installation. On paper SharePoint appeared to offer many exciting features compared to what was installed, but in reality the existing Portal could do almost as much on paper too – the issue was that neither system could deliver everything when confronted with the practical reality of a typical corporate IT landscape, legacy systems and all.
Just like buying a ready meal in the supermarket, remember that the appetizing picture on the front is only a "serving suggestion", you may not find all the ingredients in the packet.
Further reading: An informal history of SharePoint gives some insight into how Microsoft has ended up where it has, and the anomailes of e.g. Groove not quite fitting in yet.