Microsoft on Wednesday delivered Windows SharePoint Services, a part of Windows Server 2003 that allows end users to set up Web sites for collaboration and information sharing.
The release of Windows SharePoint Services follows five months after Windows Server 2003. It ships later because of tight integration with Microsoft's Office System products, said Mike Fitzmaurice, technical product manager at Microsoft. Office 2003 is shipping to some customers, but will be officially launched on Oct. 21.
"The Office System makes heavy use of Windows SharePoint Services. Shipping early could have messed up a lot of the Office cross-application compatibility," he said.
Enabling SharePoint Services on a Windows Server 2003 system will allow end users to easily set up Web sites either on the Internet or a closed intranet. These sites offer a number of collaboration tools, including file version management and check-in and check-out, discussion groups, task lists and calendaring, according to Microsoft.
The SharePoint Web sites are to become what file shares were before on a company network, Fitzmaurice said. "Users usually created a subdirectory on a file server somewhere. That is great for storing files, but not a great place for working together on files. SharePoint is file sharing taken to a new level," he said.
Furthermore, SharePoint sites will be much less of a headache for IT managers than file shares because of increased manageability, according to Fitzmaurice. It is easy to set quotas, assign permissions and see what sites have been created, who the owners are, what is on them and when they were last used, he said.
"A server farm full of SharePoint sites is much easier to manage then a bunch of file shares on file servers," he said. "There are a lot of companies that maintain (file shares) for months or years after they were last used, just because they don't know if they are used by anyone."
Microsoft has worked hard on SharePoint Services, to the point even where storing files on a server works better than storing locally, according to Chris Le Tocq, principal analyst at Guernsey Research. It is attractive because files are now also accessible remotely, although businesses, especially large ones, should think twice before installing and enabling SharePoint, he said.
"This is not something that you go and implement without a substantial amount of testing and looking at what it does for you. For a lot of IT departments there are pluses and minuses to letting end users set up Web sites," he said.
In small businesses with between five and 20 people and a controlled IT environment, SharePoint is a good way for the IT department to provide a way for groups to work together, Le Tocq said. Large businesses need to take extra care and make sure that company servers don't become a place where employees host family photo albums or digital music collections. "Unmanaged, that can use a fair amount of company resources," he said.
Windows SharePoint Services is part of Windows Server 2003. Microsoft also sells SharePoint Portal Server 2003, which is part of Office. That product works as a portal to all of all of the individual SharePoint sites, adding an index and search, among a host of other features.
Other Microsoft products, including the forthcoming Project Server 2003, also work with Windows SharePoint Services. Other software vendors can also tie their products to SharePoint. Microsoft has been working with over 40 interested third parties. Announcements could be made next week at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, Microsoft has indicated.
Windows Server 2003 users can download SharePoint Services directly from Microsoft or order a CD that will be shipped at cost, Fitzmaurice said. The update is about 45M bytes in size, he said.
Microsoft's Windows SharePoint Services Web page is at: http://www.microsoft.com/WindowsServer2003/technologies/sharepoint/default.mspx