The services that drive some of the capabilities of Microsoft Corp.s SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (see review) also make possible the full exploitation of a variety of Microsoft applications—most notably, Office 2003. In fact, the full function of Offices capabilities relies on Windows SharePoint Services, a software component thats available as a free add-on for Windows Server 2003.
In eWEEK Labs tests of Office 2003 with WSS (Windows SharePoint Services), served from our lab and through a hosted account, we found WSS a capable, easy-to-use resource for collaborating on document-centered tasks.
Whats more, while Office 2003 may be best suited for interfacing with WSS, the fact that files stored at SharePoint sites are accessible through WebDAV means that SharePoint can also interact—albeit much more modestly—with earlier versions of Office, as well as with Sun Microsystems Inc.s StarOffice 7 and OpenOffice. orgs OpenOffice 1.1.
In addition, while the Web interfaces to WSS sites worked better on Internet Explorer, we could get a lot out of them using Mozilla as well.
We recommend that sites running Windows Server 2003 try WSS. After a simple initial setup, users may create and manage their own SharePoint sites without additional help from the IT department.
In addition to document-centered sites, these include sites focused on meetings, decision-making processes and informational team sites. Power users can extend and customize their SharePoint sites using FrontPage 2003.
IT departments can manage SharePoint users with Active Directory, which will eliminate the need for these users to keep track of separate user names and passwords for their collaboration sites.
Because WSS is an add-on for Windows Server 2003, its licensing costs are included in those for Windows Server. The hosted version we tested costs $40 per month and includes 100MB of storage and 20 user accounts. Additional storage costs $9.95 per month for 25MB; accounts for five additional users cost $5 per month.
However, although WSS is heavily integrated with Windows Server 2003, it ships as a separate download. During tests in which we installed WSS on a primary domain controller, this led to some setup problems related to misconfigured directory permissions. Wed like to see future versions of Windows Server ship with WSS by default, with setup integrated into Windows Servers nice Add Server Roles utility.
Once we had WSS up and running properly, we needed to add our SharePoint site to our list of trusted sites in Internet Explorer, thereby disabling IEs security measures for that site. Most users arent accustomed to adding trusted sites in IE (nor should IT administrators feel comfortable having their users modify their security settings), so this step may require IT staffers to touch each SharePoint client.
Once setup was complete, we could create document work spaces from within Office 2003 and use IE to launch Office applications such as Word for editing documents.
In our tests with Word, we could turn to the Shared Workspace task pane to monitor the presence of other team members associated with the work space and send them instant messages through MSN Messenger. We could also add task items, links and other documents to our work space.
We could open these SharePoint documents with OpenOffice by typing the URL of our SharePoint site into the applications "file open" dialog. These files are stored in a directory called Shared Documents, and we had to replace the space between those words with "%20" to open them this way.
We could save changes to the documents we opened in OpenOffice only if the files werent open elsewhere. However, we could fetch changes made to the document we were using by hitting the Reload button in OpenOffices file menu.
That said, the discussion capabilities in WSS, which enabled us to add threaded comments either attached to the documents we created or within them, required IE and Office 2003.
One of the biggest advantages WSS enjoys over open-source products such as Plone is the ease with which WSS sites may be customized. For example, we could use FrontPage 2003 to change the theme and layout of our SharePoint sites and could extend their functionality by adding Web parts such as photo galleries through FrontPage.
Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.