When a product attempts to combine the functionality of many applications into one overarching platform, its inevitable that clichés about kitchen sinks and Swiss Army knives will pop up. And youll usually hear that these products can do many things but no one thing well.
With Microsofts Office SharePoint Server 2007, many of the Swiss Army knife clichés do apply. Microsoft has combined a wide variety of enterprise Web application functionality into this single platform. Whether your business needs a portal, Web content management, document management, team collaboration, forms-based BPM (business process management), or records and rights management application, SharePoint Server 2007 is Microsofts offered solution.
But while Microsoft may be putting all of its eggs in one basket (there go those clichés again), its not the case that SharePoint Server doesnt do any one thing particularly well.
Yes, when it comes to high-level enterprise functionality, some areas of SharePoint Server 2007 come up short when compared to dedicated enterprise products. This is especially true when it comes to functions like document management, Web content management and BPM.
But SharePoint Server 2007 does many things very well, particularly where usability, manageability and interactive collaboration are concerned.
Most importantly—and the reason for which eWEEK Labs has given the platform an Analysts Choice award—SharePoint Server 2007 is the best product weve seen for getting a capable and feature-rich enterprise Web platform up and running quickly.
With this release of SharePoint Server, a standard server license starts at $4,347, a standard client access license starts at $93, and an enterprise client access license starts at $76. Pricing will vary based on licensing type and volume. These prices do not include Microsoft Software Assurance.
Like many products that combine lots of different functionality, SharePoint Server 2007—which runs only on Windows Server 2003—is modular in nature. Businesses that deploy the platform can pick and choose among the functionality they desire.
One of the core areas of SharePoint Server—and one of its strong points—is collaboration. A great deal of collaboration capability can be gained for free by using SharePoint Services on Windows Server 2003, but the full SharePoint Server system adds more team- and project-oriented features.
SharePoint Server 2007 also integrates with Office 2007 applications such as Outlook, Word and Excel for a deep level of presence-based and real-time collaboration.
However, a business need not use the latest version of Office to get some very strong collaboration capabilities out of SharePoint Server 2007. Even from a strictly Web-based interface, SharePoint Server continues to impress with its strong team-based collaboration options. (And this version of the platform, were happy to report, works as well with the Firefox browser as it does with Internet Explorer.)
Many of the new collaboration features in SharePoint Server fit neatly into the Web 2.0 basket, including integrated blogs and wikis, as well as deep RSS integration throughout the product. While SharePoint Servers blogs and wikis arent as capable as dedicated products, such as the WordPress blogging platform, they will work fine for most internal corporate use.
Improved Content Management
We were interested to find that we could create Project Tasks in team-based sites using Sharepoint Server 2007. While most tasks in SharePoint tend to be fairly basic, Project Tasks offer more robust project management capabilities, included a Gantt chart built right into the task list. We see this as yet another sign that SharePoint Server is replacing Project as Microsofts preferred project management solution.
SharePoint Server also is shaping up as a viable content management platform. You could use previous versions of SharePoint Server for content management, but the system wasnt really a good fit for the task. SharePoint Server 2007 adds publishing sites that make it a much more capable option for managing a corporate Web site (if not a threat to vendors such as Vignette).
Most helpful is the ability to lock down portions of a site template so that users can change only the content areas of a site that designers want them to. SharePoint Server 2007 also adds some nice built-in WYSIWYG editor capabilities and good, if somewhat standard, features for adding content to Web pages.
In general, we were impressed with SharePoint Server 2007s workflow capabilities, which can be used for everything from Web and document management to team projects to forms routing. The workflows are easy to create, will address most enterprise business needs, and are well integrated with Office applications.
SharePoint Servers document management features are basic, especially when compared to products like EMCs Documentum, but they will meet the needs of a wide number of companies. And with SharePoint Servers improved workflow and integration with Microsoft rights management and records management features, companies will find it easier to control how documents are routed and to track usage and access for compliance needs.
Much of the business intelligence in SharePoint Server 2007 boils down to better online integration with Excel spreadsheets, including the ability to have live spreadsheets running on a SharePoint Server system. SharePoint Server 2007 also does a good job of searching across various data services, making it possible to build much more powerful reporting and information portlets (or Web Parts, as theyre called in SharePoint Server parlance).
For site administrators, some of the most welcome new features in SharePoint Server 2007 are on the management side. In general, we found the new administration interfaces to be much more intuitive and friendly, with much less menu digging necessary than in previous versions. High-level administration tasks now have their own interface that smartly splits into areas such as operations and Web applications.
It also is now much easier to manage large farms of SharePoint Servers, to port content or replicate servers, and to connect across different content areas.
A small but very welcome addition is a Web-based interface for backing up SharePoint Servers. Those who like the command-line backup options can still go there, but we were happy to have the Web-based interface for this task.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]
Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.