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.
"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
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.
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."
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
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
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
Joanne Cummings is principal writer and editor for Cummings Ltd., a freelance editorial firm based in North Andover, Mass.