Microsoft’s new free intranet server

Microsoft's new free intranet server

Microsoft has released Sharepoint Service 3.0 as a free product so you can now quickly set up a collaborative web site for your team without having to know the intricacies of open-source packages.

SharePoint comes in two flavours; Windows SharePoint Services which is a free download and Office SharePoint Server (formerly known as SharePoint Portal Server) a paid enterprise version.

SharePoint is a pre-made template-based intranet site system with strong collaboration features.

A team web site can be set up in a few minutes documents can be uploaded for easy access and work can begin.

 

Creating a new team site

 

Version 3 brings several new features; the most requested is the “recycle bin”. In previous version the entire database (SQL Server / MSDE) had to be restored from backup to recover a single document deleted by mistake. In hindsight not the best software design! Microsoft has remedied this and now users can simply retrieve their deleted documents themselves.

There are actually two recycle bins one that users can access on their own and another that contains documents once their retention period has expired and accessible to the administrator only.

 

100% recycled: now Microsoft recycles digital documents too

 

Web Parts are ASP.NET server controls that display different types of content. The navigation to add these in SharePoint has been much improved in version 3 with the links directly on the page.

 

Editing web parts

 

‘Wiki’ and ‘blog’ are two new templates that add to the functionality of SharePoint sites. RSS feeds arealso built in so that IE 7 and Outlook 2007 (and other RSS readers) can easily retrieve information.

 

Wikipedia: now you can set up your own collaboratively-edited corporate encyclopedia on sharepoint

 

One of the best features of SharePoint is support for document versions something that ordinary file shares don’t offer. Navigation in version 3 is also easier with a Vista-like breadcrumb bar showing each subfolder in the path. Tree views are also a new feature for Explorer like folder navigation trees.

 

Default site layout

 

As expected SharePoint v3 integrates tightly with Microsoft Office particularly the 2007 version. Documents can be opened from a SharePoint document library within Word 2007 for example without having to start a web browser.

The strongest integration however is in Outlook 2007 which has read/write access to calendars tasks contacts discussions and documents. Microsoft is moving away from the little-used public folder functionality in Exchange 2007 (though they’re still supported) and towards using SharePoint for collaboration.

This move is further strengthened by Offline document library access in Office 2007. This is handy for people with laptops that aren’t always connected to the corporate intranet.

 

Administrative user interface

 

The user interface in SharePoint is now permissions aware so if you aren’t allowed to do something the button / link won’t be available. In earlier versions all options were visible and it wasn’t until trying that you discovered that you didn’t have the right permissions.

Permissions can now be set right down to individual documents and items while earlier versions of Share point only allowed permissions per document library.

 

Permission control down to individual documents

 

The replacement for Frontpage

Everyone’s heard of the infamous FrontPage which despite many many new versions could never shake the appalling reputation the earlier versions earned for generating incomprehensible and bloated code.

Microsoft has finally put it out to pasture and parts of it have been incorporated into the new Office SharePoint Designer 2007. This is the new tool for doing any serious work on SharePoint sites.

Naturally IE is the preferred browser to use with SharePoint. Firefox is supported but due to the lack of ActiveX support will only deliver basic functionality.

For intranets that support specific needs Microsoft has promised about 40 templates that will be available in early 2007 including vacation calendars with leave-request functionality and classroom management. There’s also help desk dashboard IT developer team site sports league and timecard management templates. More information on the templates can be found here.