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Doug's Mailbag: Higher-End Windows, SharePoint at Work

Last week, Doug wondered whether it actually benefited enterprises to use high-end versions of XP or Vista, or if the consumer versions did just as well. Here are some of your thoughts:

The only reason that I can see for using higher-end versions of Windows is for management. If you can't join a domain, you can't apply group policies.

The only real reason for Pro is the domain networking. Pro doesn't really open any other doors that I know of. As far as 50 version of Vista...why? Nickels and dimes.

Well, the biggest thing you get with the Pro version is the ability to join an Active Directory domain. So if you are not using Windows networking with AD, then you \ really could easily get by with the consumer version. I could see a shop of 30 to 100 users or one that still uses Novell NetWare being able to use the consumer-level OS. Of course, most large enterprises will have the corporate agreements where they get "free" upgrades as part of the money they pay for the agreement.

We recently bought a trio of very high-end workstations from Dell, but opted to have them ship with Vista Home. Why? We have a Volume License Select Agreement with Microsoft, so we don't need an OS shipped on our workstations. Dell, however, doesn't make it easy to purchase a workstation without an OS on it. Ordering the workstations with Home was actually cheaper than the Linux option they offered us at the time. When we received the workstations we imaged them using our Vista Business volume license.

We've run into similar experiences when ordering larger quantities (40-ish) of workstations. It costs us more to go with the "no-OS" version of the workstation than it does to just have them ship it with an OEM version of Windows.

First of all, change the upcoming version's name from Windows 7 to Windows Vista R2; this version is not a major Windows release but bug fix for Vista. Second, distribute it free-of-cost to all consumers who bought Vista and have gone through the all pain for the last two years.

And more readers chime in on just how "big" SharePoint actually is:

SharePoint is big in the same sense that air is big. You don't hear folks going on and on about air all the time, unless there's a problem. SharePoint is everywhere now -- or seems like it, anyway!

SharePoint is a big deal. SharePoint is a very decent, large toolbox and environment. Its codebase is consistent with many other Microsoft tools -- a big deal. It can do so much that you have to get a good cross section of folks up to speed with the depth of what SharePoint can do for them; they need to understand that it is not an application and it is not one-dimmensional. SharePoint, like any good product, forces some changes in thinking to get the most efficiency. With every new good way to possibly use SharePoint, we have found a handful of standardization questions, as well -- e.g., if SharePoint can do THIS, how might we change how we used to do THAT?

We keep on "unpeeling the onion" of SharePoint. We continue to learn more, and the more we learn, the more we understand what we can do. The more we understand what we can do, the more functional/standards/workflow/etc. issues arise that has us thinking deeper. The more we see and think about all the interconnectedness through SharePoint, the more we ponder what the larger and long-term ramifications are. Bottom line: SharePoint is a very large, very useful, customizable, configurable, integrated environment that I am sure will be foundational for many applications and data interchanges in the future.

I work with a couple of organisations that use SharePoint. Both started out super-enthusiastic, saying how cool it would be, blah, blah. They get all of the files loaded and then...that's about it. The few people who like it take and e-mail the files around like before and it never gets updated.

I think that is the key. It gets set up then abandoned, and if you've seen it once, you've pretty much seen it all. One of the groups I work with is fairly tech-savvy; the other has a broad mix. The savvy people are too busy to deal with it, while the others aren't interested.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we (Orange County Public Schools) jumped on the bandwagon to convert our Web sites to SharePoint. As the 11th largest school district in the nation, we dove full-steam ahead with a vision and a team of five people. We managed with the "help" of a consultant to roll out our Internet in six months while we learned the tool. Then during the next year, with four people and without the consultant, we rolled out our intranet. And finally, in the last year, with only three people and no consultant, we converted each of our 165-plus public-facing Internet sites to SharePoint. But did you notice that we have been losing staff? Management does not have the money to support everything we may want. It is not just us in education; I've seen a lot of the enthusiasm wane in the last year. Maybe it's the economy -- or maybe it is the SharePoint experts trying to make SharePoint sound harder to use than it really is.

Have you looked at the average SharePoint book at the bookstore? Almost all of these authors are out to show how smart they are and how much coding they can do to make SharePoint jump through hoops. Many people just getting started are overwhelmed. My team of three is overwhelmed and understaffed to change the direction of this battleship. I know of several other school districts with a similar plight, some better off, some worse off. However, I still firmly believe that until the average Office user learns how to integrate their daily activities in Office with SharePoint, SharePoint will not achieve its potential. We need to allow publishing of more articles and books on how to use SharePoint features out of the box in language that the average Office user can and will want to use.

I use SharePoint Services and I can tell you that I love it. It's very easy to set up a Web page and services. Microsoft has a bunch of templates that are extremely easy to run, including pages for HR, accounting, project management, help desk and so on. Backups are easily done by taking care of SQL. It integrates seamlessly with AD, so the users don't have to remember a different username/password. It's also very easy to secure through IIS and open it up to the world, although that's more firewall work than anything else.

Sharepoint is a huge product and I don't believe it can be rolled out overnight. Previously, as a director of IT for a mid-size construction company, we implemented SharePoint. We used it as an intranet and started to have good success with it. I brought in a part-time SharePoint expert to help with the project and this worked out well as SharePoint is overwhelming for a traditional, overworked IT staff and has a steep learning curve, especially for IT. Also, I made sure our training department was up to speed and providing training for SharePoint, as our typical users found it different enough that they had trouble using it even though you still use the familiar Office suite.

I tend to think of SharePoint as the glue that ties all the Microsoft products together. I wouldn't say that it is seamless or painless but I think it is the best approach and over time becomes a focal point of your business' technology. It was still very much a work in progress for us but it was providing real business value and would only get better.

More Windows 7 and SharePoint thoughts coming on Wednesday! Meanwhile, leave your own comment below or send an e-mail to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 07/06/2009 at 1:16 PM


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