In-Depth

MOSS Gathers Momentum

Readers rave about the new and improved Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007.

When Microsoft updated SharePoint Portal Server, it dropped the "Portal" from its name but added a slew of collaboration capabilities that have made most readers quite happy. Now called Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, Microsoft's collaboration platform offers tighter Office integration, more powerful search, support for Web 2.0-style features like blogs and wikis, and improved workflows.

Readers say MOSS 2007, together with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0, is perfect for building a comprehensive collaborative platform. "With SharePoint, we've shown the management people that yes, you can really keep a project on track with team members dispersed all over the country and all over the world," says TJ Doherty, owner of Chariot Enterprises, an information management consultancy in Navarre, Fla. Doherty implemented MOSS 2007 for a couple of his clients to improve collaboration for remote workers. "It has helped us prove the concept of dispersed collaboration throughout the company."

Frameworks Are Fundamental
Doherty says organization is essential to succeeding with MOSS 2007. For his clients, he establishes a clear structure for how the SharePoint sites are built and connected. "I put out a conceptual paper describing how we were going to build our sites, the sites below us and the linkages to them and the site above us," he says. "We passed that around the department so everybody got an idea of the general template."

For Doherty's group, all employees have their own personal MySite Web site. The next level up is the group site, and then the department site. Each time a document is created, it begins life in a personal MySite and moves up the levels for feedback, comments and approval. "With MySites, it's a new paradigm that everybody in the company gets to have their own Web site that they tailor to their own features," he says. Because the individual sites are linked to the team sites, the whole group is better able to work on and view the status of any projects they may have.

TJ Doherty, Owner, Chariot Enterprises

"When you come to the main team page, whatever tasks or issues that belong to you are instantly displayed right there," he says. "So you don't have to go into a general task list, which may have 40 or 50 tasks on it. Instead, when a user signs in, out of those 50 tasks they only see the 10 that belong to them."

It also puts management at ease. "It's great for the employee because it saves them time, but it's also good for management," Doherty says. "If the manager wants to get the overall picture, he can look at the full task list or issues list and know what's going on right away."

Doherty says his group also uses MOSS 2007's workflows to keep projects on track. Even the out-of-box workflows help with document approvals and feedback. "It gives you a nice process for getting coordination on documents," he says. Doherty also uses SharePoint Designer 2007 and Visual Studio to create customized, extensive workflows.

"For example, you can start a new project and have an automatic workflow that starts sequencing things and creating tasks, and then have those tasks automatically dispersed to the people working on it," he says.

Jonathan O'Brien, Systems Engineer and Owner, Active IT Design LLC

Safe and Secure
Since Doherty's users are all remote, security was a concern. Users enter the MOSS site via a VPN. Once logged in, Doherty says the security in 2007 is phenomenal. "It's very granular," he says. "You can set privileges at the library level, at the folder level or at the document level, and you can also do it by individuals or groups."

Jonathan O'Brien, systems engineer and owner of Active IT Design LLC, a two-person consulting firm in Fort Mill, S.C., agrees that security has been improved in 2007. "One of the best features of WSS 3.0 and SharePoint 2007 is the new 'security trimmed' interface, where users only see what they have permissions to see," O'Brien says.

"For example, in the past, with WSS 2.0 and SharePoint 2003, if a Web page had edit buttons on it for certain items, all users would see these buttons," O'Brien says. "Even if the user had read-only access, they could still click these edit buttons and were then taken to an error page stating they didn't have security clearance."

With WSS 3.0 and SharePoint 2007, he says, that doesn't happen. "On that same Web page, users with read-only permissions wouldn't even see the edit buttons. Only users with modify access would see them. It makes for a much cleaner interface and removes confusion for the end user."

The search functions in MOSS 2007 are greatly improved, says Doherty. "With SharePoint, when you check the document in, it forces you to fill out all the metadata information or it won't let you check the document in," he says. "Once you have all this metadata associated with every document, you're able to search through and find things easily."

The search functions are helpful for finding sites and documents -- and people with certain skills as well, he says. Since each employee lists his or her skill sets on their personal Web page, SharePoint makes finding and collaborating with people much easier. "If you search on 'SharePoint,' it goes through the company directory and comes back and tells you who knows about SharePoint," he says. "It's a way to find out quickly who the experts are in a particular area. You do a search and boom -- you get the list and find out the guy sitting next to you knows more than he's been letting on."

Office Integration
MOSS 2007 is also far more integrated with Office and other Microsoft applications. For example, Doherty says the integration with SQL Server 2005 is vastly improved. "With WSS 2.0, you used to have to use the report viewer to view SQL Server-based reports," he says. "Now with MOSS 2007, there's a report section that lets you tap directly into SQL Server. So instead of just using a viewer, you have a dashboard that lets you bring various elements into a more customized report."

MOSS 2007 also sports far greater integration with the Office 2007 applications, especially Outlook. "You can integrate directly with your calendar and your address book now -- you have total integration," he says.

A key feature here is integration with Office's new presence indications. "With MOSS 2007, you can add a Web part where you assign people on your team to the Web site and then you can see a little dot there that shows whether they're online or not," he says. "Then you can IM them or whatever. It's great for productivity."

Web 2.0 Compatibility
Another big change for MOSS 2007 is its Web 2.0 support for things like blogs and wikis. "Blogs and wikis in WSS 3.0 -- I love them," Doherty says. "I think it's going to be a while for these things to catch on in the corporate environment, but I think they're an excellent way to disseminate information. If it's done correctly, it can really reduce the number of meetings."

For Mike Swofford, systems administrator at RelayHealth Corp. in Tulsa, Okla., the improved recycle bin is the best feature in MOSS 2007. In the past, it was difficult for SharePoint users to recover deleted sites or files. Now, in the 2007 version, there's a two-stage recycle bin, so when a user deletes a page from their personal site it's automatically put in the group site's recycle bin. Similarly, when a group document or site is deleted, it goes to the overall recycle bin, where an administrator can recover it later if need be.

Although Swofford says his firm is just testing the latest version of SharePoint, the recycle bin is the feature he's most looking forward to implementing. "I like the recovery bin best," he says. "Recovering files and sites that have been deleted is big."

On the Other Hand
Readers cite very few downsides to MOSS 2007. Perhaps the biggest shortcoming is the lack of an easy upgrade path from earlier versions of SharePoint. "Upgrading from the previous version stinks," Swofford says, noting that there's no good way to do it right now. "You can't install and just upgrade the old SharePoint 2003. Moving sites over one by one is a hassle."

Doherty says his firm did a clean install of MOSS 2007 and built it up from scratch. "It would've been nice to have an upgrade option," he says. Doherty also bemoans the lack of intermediate-level tutorials for MOSS 2007. "Training is either very basic or at the developer level -- there's nothing in between," he says.

That has been a struggle for him, especially when it comes to using the variety of Web Parts that come with MOSS 2007. "It comes with 30 or 40 Web Parts, but I have yet to go somewhere that shows me what each of them can do and how I can use them," he says. "In the Web Part Gallery they have little descriptions for each one, but it's hard to tell exactly what each will do. That's the biggest shortfall I've seen."

Still, the complaints about MOSS 2007 are few and far between and readers say that overall, they're pleased with its new features and capabilities. "I'm a real SharePoint believer," Doherty says. "It's a great collaboration tool."

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