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Collaborating Within an Exchange Environment Using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 : Understanding the History of SharePoint Technologies, Identifying the Need for MOSS 2007

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12/4/2012 6:24:44 PM

1. Understanding the History of SharePoint Technologies

SharePoint technologies have a somewhat complicated history. Multiple attempts at rebranding the applications and packaging them with other Microsoft programs has further confused administrators and users alike. Consequently, a greater understanding of what the SharePoint products are and how they were constructed is required.

WSS’s Predecessor: SharePoint Team Services

In late 1999, Microsoft announced the digital dashboard concept as the first step in its knowledge management strategy, releasing the Digital Dashboard Starter Kit, the Outlook 2000 Team Folder Wizard, and the Team Productivity Update for BackOffice 4.5. These tools leveraged existing Microsoft technologies, so customers and developers could build solutions without purchasing additional products. These tools, and the solutions developed using them, formed the basis for what became known as SharePoint Team Services (STS), the predecessor of Windows SharePoint Services (WSS).

With the launch of Office XP, SharePoint Team Services was propelled into the limelight as the wave of the future, providing a tool for non-IT personnel to easily create websites for team collaboration and information sharing. Team Services, included with Office XP, came into being through Office Server Extensions and FrontPage Server Extensions. The original server extensions were built around a web server and provide a blank default web page. The second generation of server extensions provided a web authoring tool, such as FrontPage, for designing web pages. Team Services was a third-generation server extension product, with which a website could be created directly out of the box.

Understanding the Original MOSS Application

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 is the enterprise-level entry of the SharePoint product, building on top of the base Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 functionality. MOSS 2007 further extends the capabilities of WSS, allowing for multiple WSS sites to be indexed and managed centrally.

In 2001, Microsoft released the predecessor to MOSS 2007, SharePoint Portal Server 2001. The intent was to provide a customizable portal environment focused on collaboration, document management, and knowledge sharing. The product carried the “Digital Dashboard” Web Part technology a step further to provide an out-of-the-box solution. SharePoint Portal Server was the product that could link together the team-based websites that were springing up.

Microsoft’s initial SharePoint Portal product included a document management system that provided document check-in/check-out capabilities, as well as version control and approval routing. These features were not available in SharePoint Team Services. SharePoint Portal also included the capability to search not only document libraries, but also external sources such as other websites and Exchange public folders.

Because the majority of the information accessed through the portal was unstructured, the Web Storage System was the means selected for storing the data, as opposed to a more structured database product such as Structured Query Language (SQL), which was being used for SharePoint Team Services. The Web Storage System, incidentally, is the same technology that is used by Microsoft Exchange. Further SharePoint implementations use the same SQL database as WSS does, however.

Differences Between the Two SharePoint Products

As SharePoint Team Services was available at no extra charge to Office XP/FrontPage users, many organizations took advantage of this “free” technology to experiment with portal usage. STS’s simplicity made it easy to install and put into operation. Although functionality was not as robust as a full SharePoint Portal Server solution, knowledge workers were seeing the benefits of being able to collaborate with team members.

Adaptation of SharePoint Portal Server progressed at a slower rate. In a tight economy, organizations were not yet ready to make a monetary commitment to a whole new way of collaborating, even if it provided efficiency in operations. In addition, the SharePoint Portal interface was not intuitive or consistent, which made it difficult to use.

Having two separate products with similar names confused many people. “SharePoint” was often discussed in a generic manner, and people weren’t sure whether the topic was SharePoint Portal or SharePoint Team Services, or the two technologies together. Even if the full application name was mentioned, there was confusion regarding the differences between the two products, and about when each was appropriate to use. People wondered why SharePoint Team Services used the SQL data engine for its information store, whereas SharePoint Portal Server used the Web Storage System. It appeared as though there was not a clear strategy for the product’s direction.

Examining Microsoft’s Next-Generation SharePoint Products: SPS 2003 and WSS 2.0

Microsoft took a close look at what was happening with regard to collaboration in the marketplace and used this information to drive its SharePoint technologies. Microsoft believed that in the world of online technology and collaboration, people need to think differently about how they work. The focus was to develop a suite of products to better handle this collaboration.

In addition to looking closer at how people collaborate, Microsoft also analyzed what had transpired with its SharePoint products. The end result was that Microsoft modified its knowledge management and collaboration strategy. Microsoft began talking about its “SharePoint technology,” with a key emphasis on building this technology into the .NET Framework, and, thus, natively supporting XML Web Services.

In 2003, Microsoft released the 2.0 generation of SharePoint Products. SharePoint Team Services was rebranded as Windows SharePoint Services 2.0, the engine for the team-collaboration environment. Windows SharePoint Services included many new and enhanced features, some of which were previously part of SharePoint Portal Server. Windows SharePoint Services was also included as an optional component to the Windows Server 2003 operating system at the same time.

SharePoint Portal Server 2001 was released as Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003. It built on the Windows SharePoint Services technology and continued to be the enterprise solution for connecting internal and external sources of information. SharePoint Portal Server allowed for searching across sites, and enabled the integration of business applications into the portal.

Unveiling the Current Generation of SharePoint: MOSS 2007 and WSS 3.0

As adoption of SharePoint technologies increased, Microsoft put more and more emphasis on the product line as collaboration functionality became increasingly important for organizations. Organizations were increasingly excited about the 2003 product line, but there were some functional disadvantages to the platform, which held many organizations back from a full deployment of the product or forced them to purchase third-party add-ons to the suite. Workflow, navigation components, and administration were all weaker than many organizations needed, and Microsoft began work on the 3.0 generation of SharePoint Products.

Along with the new generation came another rebranding of the product. SharePoint Portal Server became Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007. Windows SharePoint Services retained the same name and simply incremented the version number to 3.0.

MOSS 2007 and WSS 3.0 introduced several functional enhancements to SharePoint, including the following:

  • Integrated business process and Business Intelligence— A significant portion of the development time for SharePoint was spent focused on improving the business workflow functionality of SharePoint. MOSS 2007 introduces a multitude of business process and Business Intelligence improvements that allow organizations to increase the efficiencies in their tasks.

  • Consolidated administrative tools— Previous versions of SharePoint proved to be a headache to administer, as administrative tools and interfaces were scattered throughout the product. MOSS 2007 consolidates these admin interfaces into a single location, and provides for additional administrative tools as well.

  • Improved Office integration— MOSS 2007 has further improved the tight integration between Office and SharePoint by allowing for advanced functionality, such as direct editing from Microsoft Excel, and offline capabilities in Microsoft Outlook and Groove.

  • Extranet and single sign on enhancements— SharePoint 2007 allows for more secure and functional extranet deployment scenarios, so that internal MOSS sites can be utilized from the Internet without compromising safety or violating governmental regulations.

2. Identifying the Need for MOSS 2007

SharePoint is one of those services that is greatly misunderstood. Much of the confusion over the previous branding of the product has contributed to this, but a fundamental shift in thinking is required to effectively utilize the platform. An understanding of what SharePoint is and how it can be fully utilized is an important step toward realizing the efficiency the system can bring.

Changing Methodology from File Servers to a MOSS Document Management Platform

MOSS expands beyond its origins as a web team site application into a full-fledged documentation platform with the new functionalities introduced. These capabilities, previously only available with the full-functioned SharePoint Portal Server product, allow MOSS to store and manage documents efficiently in a transaction-oriented Microsoft SQL Server 2000 environment. What this means to organizations is that the traditional file server is less important, and effectively replaced, for document storage. Items such as Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and the like are stored in the MOSS database.

Along with these document management capabilities comes the realization by users that their standard operating practice of storing multiple versions of files on a file server is no longer feasible or efficient. Using MOSS effectively subsequently requires a shift in thinking from traditional approaches.

Enabling Team Collaboration with MOSS

MOSS 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services have demonstrated how web-based team sites can be effectively used to encourage collaboration among members of a team or an organization. Content relevant to a group of people or a project can be efficiently directed to the individuals who need to see it most, negating the need to have them hunt and peck across a network to find what they need.

After being deployed, the efficiency and collaboration realized is actually quite amazing. A good analogy to SharePoint can be found with email. Before using email, it’s hard to understand how valuable it can be. After you’ve used it, however, it’s hard to imagine not having it. The same holds true for SharePoint functionality. Organizations that have deployed WSS or the full-functioned MOSS 2007 product have a hard time imagining working without it.

Customizing SharePoint to Suit Organizational Needs

If the default functionality in SharePoint is not enough, or does not satisfy the specific web requirements of an organization, SharePoint can easily be customized. Easily customizable or downloadable Web Parts can be instantly “snapped-in” to a site, without the need to understand Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) code. More advanced developers can use ASP.NET or other programming tools to produce custom code to work with MOSS. Further enhancement of MOSS sites can be accomplished using SharePoint Designer 2007, which allows for a great deal of customization with relative ease. In general, if it can be programmed to work with Web Services, it can interface with SharePoint.

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