There are few people who have not heard of SharePoint, but understanding what SharePoint has to offer is another story.  The best way to understand SharePoint is to use it.  This series of posts will provide an overview of the product, and explains how a non techie can get started.

SharePoint is currently in its third incarnation (SharePoint 2007) and within 9 months Microsoft will be deploying the fourth version, “SharePoint 2010.”  There are three distinct SKUs:

  1. WSS (Windows SharePoint Server)
    – Comes with the Windows Server and is free.
  2. MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) Standard Edition
    – An extension of WSS, and is licensed per server as well as per user.
  3. MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) Enterprise Edition
    – An extension of the Standard Edition, and is licensed per server as well as per user.

It is also possible to buy a “Public Connector” for MOSS, which is a license  that allows SharePoint to be used as a publicly facing site with no limit on the number of users .

Although Microsoft is trying to showcase SharePoint as an excellent platform to build publicly facing sites, there is general agreement that SharePoint is best used in a closed community where users must login.  Microsoft touts SharePoint as a product that supports six pillars: (These pillars are about to be rebranded in SharePoint 2010, see SharePoint 2010 has new pillars.)  The six pillars are:

  1. Collaboration
    – Allowing members of a closed community to share documents, tasks, calendars, contacts, etc
  2. Portal
    – Providing a single web site that is the gateway to an organization’s web based functions.
  3. Enterprise Search
    – Competing with Google for the enterprise,
  4. Web & Enterprise Content Management
    – A publishing platform that allows for simple workflows among authors and editors.
  5. Forms Driven Business Process
    – Allows for easy development of electronic forms and associated automated workflows.
  6. Business Intelligence
    – Allows organization to build dashboards summarizing data that reside in disparate electronic repositories.

The original intent behind SharePoint was to empower business users to control their own destiny without being dependent on IT and Development staff.  In the author’s experience, SharePoint often requires much more planning and maintenance than business users can provide.  Thus one often finds that specially trained SharePoint IT and developer personnel are required to stand-up and support in-house SharePoint deployments.

Although still quite limited, it is now possible to lease robust versions of SharePoint that reside in the cloud and truly are managed without any hidden costs.  This series of articles will summarize three services that were tried by the author:

  1. SharePoint Online – Part of the Microsoft Business Online Productivity Suite.
  2. Apps4rent – A robust SharePoint and Exchange online implementation.
  3. WebHost4Life – Similar to  Apps4Rent’s SharePoint implementation with a non-Exchange email system.

The discussion will focus only on SharePoint.  In all cases, the environments are WSS (Not MOSS) and are hosted in a joint tenancy model, meaning that you are sharing computing resources with other SharePoint sites. Although people will tell you there could be a number of reasons why this may be problematic, the author never experienced any issues due to joint tenancy.  Microsoft does offer an expensive service in a dedicated environment.  This service requires that a minimum of 5,000 user licenses are being leased.

Both Apps4rent and WebHost4Life have a simple model that is easy for an end user to understand. In contrast, the Microsoft environment is quite confusing with poor documentation.  Both Apps4Rent and WebHost4Life offer immediate support with chat sessions, and the customer service staff was knowledgeable and helpful.  Again, in contrast to this, Microsoft’s support was poor.  Microsoft communicated via a secure email channel, responses took 4 to 6 hours, and the support personnel did not understand the product well…

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