They say that nothing's new under the sun, and ordinarily, I agree with that sentiment. But in this line of work, one is occasionally treated to a surprise, and Microsoft's SharePoint Server 2010 qualifies as one of the more pleasant surprises of this year.
The surprise isn't a matter of features or functionality, although SharePoint Server offers many improvements on the previous release. What grabbed my attention first is the way the platform has evolved to match the way people actually work, and second, how well Microsoft has thought out the needs of customers who want to upgrade existing installations.
I'll just point to the cream of SharePoint's new features, starting with the services model. This does away with the Shared Services Provider of the 2007 release, in favor of a more granular approach that lets SharePoint administrators decide whether services are run against a central farm or live on a local server. Farm administrators can delegate administrators for specific applications and define permissions at an application feature level.
Then there's the updated data connectivity service that allow users to create, rename, update and delete data on external sources such as Oracle and SAP installations. This can be configured as a number of instances, each individually managed by separate administrators.
Search has been rethought in SharePoint 2010, with flexibility, redundancy and scalability as the top priorities; perhaps the most notable enhancement is the ability to run multiple indexers, to increase crawl frequency, performance and volume while distributing the load among crawlers.
Security has also received attention in this release, with a new authentication model that builds on standard protocols, including SAML, WS-Federation and WS-Trust, to work with the widest possible range of identity systems. SharePoint 2010 borrows the concept of managed accounts from Windows Server 2008, which puts the farm administrator in charge of the service accounts that SharePoint uses, and allows the SharePoint administrators to change passwords automatically or manually, according to policy.
A new health analyzer component builds on the best practices analyzer of SharePoint 2007.Tthis runs as part of the browser-based administration GUI, and allows the development of custom rules to meet one's needs and supplement the predefined health rules.
All of these features are centrally administered from a browser-based dashboard; many functions can be scripted to run in PowerShell for consistent behavior and use.
Perhaps the most noticeable change on the front end for both administrators and users is the adoption of the Office ribbon interface, which is meant to provide the proper context for any task. As one would expect, the ribbon UI can be customized as needed.
On top of that, SharePoint 2010 is now more like a wiki than ever, with sites being presented as pages, rather than a grab bag of lists. Editing is now a matter of clicking on a tab and typing.
Workers who go offline frequently will benefit from the ability to use SharePoint Workspace, which caches changes and synchronizes them when the user reconnects to the SharePoint site.
SharePoint Server 2010 requires (as a minimum) a 64-bit installation of Windows Server 2008 with Service Pack 2; its database can run on 64-bit versions of Microsoft SQL Server 2005 with SP3 and Cumulative Update 3, or SQL Server 2008 with SP1 and Cumulative Update 1, or SQL Server 2008 R2.
From the user perspective, SharePoint 2010 works best with 32-bit versions of IE7 or IE8; other browsers are supported with limitations, including 64-bit IE7 and IE8 and 32-bit Firefox on Windows. For those running an OS other than Windows, Firefox 3.6 and Safari 4.04 are acceptable.