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What's coming in SharePoint Server 2010

Migrating to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010 will be less demanding than previous upgrades. So far, the release touts better browser compatibility and search.

For IT managers who lived through the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2003 to 2007 overhaul, the thought of migrating to the software's next iteration might be daunting. But one expert says they shouldn't worry so much.

SharePoint Server 2010 undoubtedly will involve some technical changes -- Microsoft has said that it will be 64-bit only and require 64-bit Windows Server and SQL Server versions, for example – but it won't come with the architectural upheaval that 2007 did, said Susan Hanley, an independent consultant and author of Essential SharePoint 2007.

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"That's great news for users who have invested a lot of time into 2007 because moving to 2010 will be focused on how to get value out of new features rather than on the IT needed to make the conversion," she said.

As far as new features go, Microsoft hasn't revealed much beyond the fact that SharePoint 2010 will be compatible with Firefox 3.x browsers running on Windows systems as well as its own Internet Explorer 7 and IE8 (but not IE6), and will work more closely with Firefox and Safari browsers running on Macs. This isn't to be downplayed, Hanley said.

"The fact that end users will be able to choose their own browser and still get all the SharePoint functionality is pretty cool … and it gets rid of the immediate barrier to SharePoint use that came with having to tell users, 'Oh, by the way, you have to do something funky with your browser in order to use [the portal],'" Hanley said. "To be able to engage users in collaboration from their comfort zone provides a huge value for organizations."

SharePoint faceted search

Beyond browsers, Microsoft also has acknowledged that SharePoint 2010 will include enterprise search technology gained in last year's acquisition of Fast Search & Transfer. To Hanley, this means support for faceted search, a new feature that will allow users to extract concepts from and drill down into search results more effectively. Faceted search allows objects to be classified in multiple ways, breaking away from more traditional search taxonomies.

"This is about giving the result set more meaning. It says, 'Don't force me, but guide me. Give me options without hiding any information,'" Hanley said.

Here's one possible use for faceted search in the context of using SharePoint 2010. A user might be trying to determine if anyone in his or her company has had experience with a particular target client. In SharePoint 2010, facets extracted when a user explores the employee directory might be skills, interests or previous employers.

The user might see that a colleague once worked for the potential client. The user didn't have to know that the employee directory contained that information, she said. "The facet got pulled out, exposed visually and gave the user a richer experience."

Increased social media capabilities would go hand in hand with a richer search experience. Microsoft hasn't said anything about its social media intentions for this release, but it is likely to be fielding requests for improvements there, she said.

"Anyone within this community who goes into a client gets a question that sounds like, 'How do I get Facebook for the enterprise?'" she said. "You know Microsoft hears the same … and there are clearly benefits to making it easier for users to participate in SharePoint."

Toward that end, Hanley said she would expect SharePoint 2010 to have an easy way for users to rate content -- something many 2007 enterprise users have already done through customization. "Letting people comment on, tag and rate content that may have been controlled by the enterprise is hugely important," she said.

Beth Schultz is a freelance writer based in Chicago.

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