SharePoint Portal Server 2003
Microsofts new portal server is generations ahead of the previous version. SharePoint Portal Server 2003 has added key Web services and integration features while improving existing strengths.
When we began preparing for our big July EIP comparison, we didnt even consider Microsofts SharePoint Portal Server 2001. That particular version of SharePoint Portal Server, the only one available at the time, was a good collaborative and document management portal. However, it didnt have the high-end integration, programmatic and Web services features that would put it into the EIP class.
Had SharePoint Portal Server 2003 been available, however, we would have included it in the review without hesitation: By leveraging .Net, BizTalk, improved portal application integration and Windows Server 2003, SharePoint Portal Server 2003 should be on the short list of any company evaluating EIPs, especially if that company is already invested in a Microsoft-centric infrastructure.
Its important to note that SharePoint Portal Server has not improved its high-end capabilities at the expense of the platforms strong collaboration and document management features. In fact, Microsoft has greatly improved these capabilities in the 2003 version. In addition, the new releases end-user interface and personalization options are by far the best of any available EIP.
One of our favorite features in this area is the new My Site capability. With this feature, portal users can create personalized pages on the portal that have public and private sides. This allowed us to post information to be shared with others while maintaining the same portal organization capabilities for access to private information, documents and applications.
It is also possible to offer end users a wide variety of personalization options in SharePoint Portal Server 2003. In tests, users could completely control the look and feel of the portal so that it looked and worked differently for each. We were glad to see, however, it is also possible to turn off this kind of advanced personalization for companies that want greater control over the system.
Most of SharePoint Portal Server 2003s strongest collaboration features, such as discussion groups and meeting work spaces, come as a result of the portals integration with Windows SharePoint Services.
However, while all the capabilities of Windows SharePoint Services are enabled within the portal, SharePoint Portal Server 2003 does include some collaboration features that are not available within Services.
Probably the best of these are the new Audience capabilities, which make it possible to direct personalized portal content to specific types of portal users. Using this capability, we could define an audience based on a variety of properties and rules. This allowed us, for example, to direct content to users at a specific location under a specific manager.
The portals My Site feature can be extended to collaborative groups through the new Team Sites feature, which works in the same way as My Sites but makes it possible to add users and manage Team Sites almost as a unique collaborative portal site.
Management of the portal has been enhanced in this version, especially in areas such as topic creation and management, portal analysis, and multiserver environments. We also appreciated the new single-sign-on feature that let us pass portal authentication information to third-party integrated portal applications.
In some ways, however, user management was a mixed bag in tests. We liked the new profile information in the portal, especially the ability to integrate this information with Active Directory. On the other hand, when setting up the portal and SharePoint Services, we had to choose between using standard Windows domain accounts for portal users or Active Directory—and this cannot be changed later.
In addition, to allow outside or temporary users to access the portal sites, we had to choose the Active Directory mode. This may force many companies to maintain separate portal infrastructures for internal users and external and temporary users.
Probably the biggest weakness in SharePoint Portal Server, as is the case with many Microsoft products, is the way it locks companies into using only Microsoft products—and mainly new Microsoft products—to support and interact with the portal. However, when it comes to straight portlets, almost any application can be integrated into the portal.
Search capabilities in this version of SharePoint Portal Server have been upgraded significantly. In addition to improvements in the categorization, ranking and indexing capabilities in the server, the portal now offers increased sorting options for search results and the ability for site administrators to offer certain documents to specific queries.
Pricing for SharePoint Portal Server 2003 starts at $3,999 per server and $71 per user, with volume pricing available. An external connector license, which enables an unlimited number of external, nonemployee user-access connections, is priced at $30,000 per server.
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