Introducing Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services

Introducing Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services

he much-anticipated release of Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services is not far away. This is the successor to SharePoint Team Services, and the changes go beyond small enhancements. In the new release, Microsoft has unified the way the technologies work. This article introduces Windows SharePoint Services and shows how it truly responds to the need for highly productive and collaborative desktop tools. Additionally, you’ll explore how Windows SharePoint Services work with Office 2003 applications to bring information to users when they need it, and also making it easier for people to work together around common objectives.

As a consultant for several years, I spent a lot of time behind the firewall in many dozens of companies. I observed how organizations do things, from maintaining security, to database management, to document management, and even end-user training. After spending thousands of hours this way, it is not surprising that intriguing patterns began to emerge about how things are generally done and not done.

One of the most consistent and compelling observations I have made is this: documents are one of the most overlooked assets in nearly every organization. Here, the word “documents” is used as a general term for spreadsheets, presentations, letters, memos, maps, images, and so forth. Although it is daunting to think of how to empirically measure the value of these assets within an organization, basic common sense suggests that a great deal of organizational knowledge, power, insight, learning potential, and innovation is contained within them. Yet all too often, they are treated rather casually.

A product such as Windows SharePoint Services is precisely what is needed by many companies and individuals to extract more value out of documents and the way people work with them. Simply put, Windows SharePoint Services let you create Web sites for information sharing and document collaboration, sites that are fully integrated with Microsoft Office 2003 Editions. In this article, you will explore the basic features of SharePoint Portal Services 2003 and discover ways that it can increase personal and team productivity.

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Windows SharePoint Services’ Main Features

The truth of the matter is that most people have a tendency to store documents in too many places. And storing them in a central location does not equal collaboration.

First, let’s get a general sense of what Windows SharePoint Services do. You already know that the product’s focus is on information sharing and document collaboration. One of the key things Windows SharePoint Services does is to provide Web sites where users can share documents. But few documents are meaningful all on their own. They are usually part of a process, a workflow, a project, or some other purposeful context. Windows SharePoint Services sites are ASP.NET-based sites that, while providing file storage, also provide a way for team collaboration on documents, tasks, contacts, events, surveys, and other sorts of information.

In Figure 1, you can see what a team site might look like. This page is the main entry point for those who work for an entirely fictitious and thoroughly narcissistic magazine called JRDMag.

Choosing Views by Metadata Properties
Normal directories are limited in what kind of metadata they can provide, not serving up much more than file name, file size, creation date, read-only attributes, and so on. In contrast, Windows SharePoint Services puts you in control of what information is stored about items in the document libraries. This allows you to do more effective searches and view content in ways that help you do your work.

Figure 2 shows a view of articles that are going to be published in the magazine, their volume and issue numbers, and their current status in the publishing cycle. What this means is that you can create views that let you target the most relevant items in the document library. For example, you can create a view for just one volume number, for one issue, or for a specific status value, such as Acquired. In Figure 3, the view shows only those items with the Acquired status. You can see that in a library with potentially thousands of items, views become increasingly important.

Figure 10: Event calendars can be linked with Outlook 2003 so that the same team events and appointments can be seen in the same application as your personal calendar.

Sharing a Calendar
Microsoft Office Word 2003, Microsoft Office Excel 2003, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2003, and other applications are great for composing documents, one of the primary benefits of collaboration. But, true collaboration is really about communicating, a great portion of which is done in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. With the release of Outlook 2003, integration with Windows SharePoint Services are quite complete and awfully addictive. For example, take a look at Figure 9, which shows a calendar for a team Web site. The calendar contains various appointments and events, all of them relating to a team.

It is not terribly convenient to go to a Web site to see calendar content when most scheduling is done within Outlook 2003 itself. With the release of Outlook 2003, a user need not choose between working with a calendar in Outlook 2003 or one on the Windows SharePoint Services site. There is an option in a site event calendar to link to Outlook 2003 so that the calendar appears within the application, as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 9: SharePoint sites can feature calendars for group activities and other events that concern the team.

Creative Discussion Boards
Although there are many other ways that Office 2003 integrates with Windows SharePoint Services to make collaboration easier, and although there are many more features that have not been discussed, another tool bears mentioning: discussions.

As already stated, collaboration is about communicating with others, making it easy to get together, to make a point, to record information, to affect the course of action. One of the ways people can converge is through discussions. Built right into the supporting services of Windows SharePoint Services is the ability to have discussions about documents, or discussions can take place right in documents. These discussions differ from normal comments inserted into a document in that discussions are more of a threaded way of conversing in the context of the document.

Figure 11 shows a document with both an embedded comment and a discussion. In this case, the discussion is not actually embedded within the document, but other users who wish to discuss the document can see the discussion thread, either in Word 2003 or Internet Explorer, and they can weigh in on any interesting topic.

Technical Considerations
Finally, it is good idea to discuss briefly a few technical considerations. Windows SharePoint Services, which runs only on Windows Server 2003 in conjunction with ASP.NET and SQL Server 7, provides the basic Web site functionality, the ability to use Web Parts, a fully programmable server-side object model, document storage, page personalization, and the general underpinnings for small team, departmental, and enterprise-wide deployments.

Windows SharePoint Server is an enterprise portal application, but it relies heavily on Windows SharePoint Services for much of its core functionality. It takes things a step further by providing for enterprise indexing and searching, audience targeting, creating and managing individual sites for each user, BizTalk integration, and a number features that target a larger deployment scenario.

Figure 11: Discussions make it easier for users to quickly comment on and exchange ideas about documents in the portal.

In the end, Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services are about what is really going on the workplace today. The fact is that few people author documents in isolation. They work together to produce timely and accurate reports, presentations, letters, memos, diagrams, notes, announcements, and other artifacts. These are produced and maintained within the currents that flow through an organization, and Windows SharePoint Services makes it possible to channel those currents, to remove obstacles to their flow, and to build a larger reservoir of institutionally shared knowledge. Look for articles in coming months that go deeper into the inner workings of both Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and how to programmatically enhance their power and functionality.

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