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Should you care about SharePoint?

Microsoft has big plans for SharePoint, touting it as the key component in its future vision of collaboration and information-sharing technology on the Windows and Exchange platforms. In this column, I explain what SharePoint is all about and discuss its future role for Microsoft's business customers.

What is SharePoint?

SharePoint comes in two flavors:

  • Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) is a group of services for Windows Server 2003 that provides document collaboration, information-sharing, list creation, Web page creation and related services. It is intended primarily for workgroups, departments and other small groups of users to collaborate on a set of documents, share information and otherwise collaborate.

  • SharePoint Portal Server 2003 is a superset of WSS that allows an enterprise to create a portal for aggregating information from various sources and share applications. It also provides single sign-on capabilities, as well as indexing and search functionality, across a wide variety of servers and applications. It is designed for larger enterprises at which there might be several WSS sites that need to exchange information, and where users are part of different workgroups.

WSS is available at no cost for users of Windows Server 2003; a license for SharePoint Portal Server 2003 with five client access licenses (CALs) is $5,619 at retail. In volume, the server license is $3,999 per server plus $71 per CAL. A connector license designed for an unlimited number of non-employees is $30,000 per server. However, Microsoft is known to heavily discount, so these prices should be regarded as the high end of what you'd have to pay.

In a nutshell, SharePoint is Microsoft's vision for how users should share documents, maintain version control for these documents, receive customized and relevant information specific to individual users' needs, publish Web-based documents and access a variety of intranet- and extranet-based resources.

Should you care about information-sharing and collaboration?

Many companies can benefit from the ability for users to collaborate electronically and share information more effectively.

Traditional information-sharing processes are becoming more expensive and problematic. Maintaining version control for documents, a perennial problem, is also becoming more difficult to manage. And having access to the right information at the right time is increasingly critical.

Collaboration technologies that allow users to share information and documents, maintain version control for these documents, and create information sources for teams and workgroups, are extremely valuable and critical to business function. Adding presence -- the ability to collaborate and share information in real time -- is also a major benefit.

For example, let's say a marketing team is working on a product launch. That marketing team would need to work with:

  • A production department to discuss product's features and details on the timing of its completion
  • A public relations company to plan press briefings and other launch details
  • Advertisers from a variety of media outlets.

    It would also need to share information with a variety of internal users to obtain information, coordinate schedules and perform other tasks. To complicate matters further, most of the people involved in the process are likely at multiple locations, often in different time zones.

    The case for SharePoint

    Microsoft views SharePoint as an integral component of the company's information-sharing and collaboration strategy -- so much so that WSS will be integrated into a future version of Windows. Microsoft also plans to integrate SharePoint more closely with SQL Server, Active Server Pages, digital rights management, content management, workflow and other Microsoft offerings in the future.

    Whether or not you should care about SharePoint really hinges on whether or not you care about adhering to Microsoft's roadmap for the future. If you do want to remain with the Microsoft vision for computing, I think you should be thinking about SharePoint within the next couple years. It will be an integral component of just about everything Microsoft does moving forward from servers and clients to e-mail and document management systems.

    About the author: Michael D. Osterman is president, founder and principal of Osterman Research, Inc.He has more than 20 years experience in the market research industry, conducting research for a wide variety of technology-based clients, including Microsoft, Lotus, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Nokia, USinternetworking and Qwest, among many others. Mr. Osterman has written numerous articles for a variety of trade publications and is a panelist and speaker at various industry- and vendor-sponsored events.

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