Product Reviews

Share and SharePoint Alike

Managing and sharing documents the Microsoft way.

SharePoint Portal Server 2003 is now a Microsoft Office 2003 product and shares the spotlight with a sister technology (more like a Siamese twin)—Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), included with Windows Server 2003.

I installed SPS 2003 on a Windows 2003 system running SQL 2000 SP3a. You have the option of installing MSDE as the database engine instead of SQL Server. The installation took a little time as it had to create the databases and the initial portal site, but otherwise it was straightforward and flawless.

I launched my browser, typed in the server name where SPS was installed, and was able to access the default site (in essence my organization site) where sub sites and workspaces could be created. I made a site for my department called Engineering, where I’d do the bulk of the work.

If SharePoint is installed with default Web settings, the software is set up in the root of that Web, so that you type the server name to get to the main site. It’s possible to change this behavior by creating a new site and installing SharePoint there.

Administrative tasks can be doled out at the site level or rolled up to the main site in the hierarchy. Having the ability to consolidate, index and manage multiple SharePoint sites—say for engineering, sales and development that may be on separate systems—is one of the benefits SPS offers over Windows SharePoint Services.

SPS creates centralized document storage areas that makes finding information easier. With that in mind I wanted to try out the indexing and search features first. I could either index content sources that existed outside my engineering site, such as file shares, or import documents directly into the site. I chose to import to see how easy it would be to load multiple files, and because I could be selective about which files to move. As the figure shows, I was able to move in five files at a time. I did this in the Shared Documents location, though I could have just as easily made another document area. One problem is importing multiple files; you can only import multiple files from a single folder. There are external portal tools that let you move many files in programmatically.

After a working set of files is created or uploaded to the site, members have many options for collaborating. Custom “workspaces” can be created when the document is opened, say, in Word or Excel, where team members can meet to discuss and work on the document. Using Windows Messenger adds real-time collaboration, and the online status of other team members is also available inside Office 2003 applications.

Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server
A departmental SharePoint site with a custom theme applied. Shared Documents and Tasks can be added anywhere to the site. (Click image to view larger version.)

One great feature is the ability to set alerts when the document changes. These can be set to send mail immediately or on a schedule.

For all that SharePoint offers in making document management and collaboration much more efficient, it does require a change in thinking. Many people are accustomed to searching for files in a hierarchical folder structure imposed by the file system. With SharePoint, users will work from within the portal, searching for and managing content at their department level or personal workspace. I had to overcome several obstacles when using SharePoint, but these obstacles were more in changing the way I work. Sending a link to a document from the portal is not as simple as a click of the mouse, and the link to the documents became rather large and unwieldy, using “%20” for space character substitution. In addition, when large amounts of content are added to document libraries, they can easily become just as difficult to sift through when looking for a particular document. All in all, SharePoint is a great collaborative foundation for companies, and I recommend utilizing its many features with Office 2003 applications.

About the Author

Rodney Landrum is an MCSE working as a data analyst and systems engineer for a software development company in Pensacola, Florida.  He has a new book from Apress entitled ProSQL Server Reporting Services.


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