What exactly is SharePoint?

For several years now, I have used used Microsoft’s SharePoint product, but predominantly as a fileshare on steroids and as a *very* basic workflow tool. Yet, Microsoft markets SharePoint Services as a full document management solution, an intranet, a collaboration tool, and enterprise CMS (content management system) and more. Recently, my organization began looking at SharePoint to automate the back office for a new product line, and I have had to really dig into what its components are and understand what the offering is.

According to SharePoint’s “founding father” Microsoft VP Joe Teper, its origin dates to around March 1998, and was born from several products and ideas in the early 90s, particularly Front Page, Office 97 and Office 2000 Server Extensions, which when installed on web servers allowed users to edit websites and to a degree, post, manipulate and collaborate on Office documents. There were other similar products in various states of development, such as Site Server, Team Pages, and Digital Dashboard. Notes has introduced the groupware / intranet product category and Microsoft was looking for their entry into the space. Microsoft eventually integrated these efforts during the XP development cycle, creating two products code-named Office Server and Tahoe. The products stayed separate SKUs and in 2001 were launched as “SharePoint Team Services” (STS) and “SharePoint Portal Server” (PS), which was a superset of Team Services.

In 2003, Microsoft replaced Team Services with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 2.0, which became a free, downloadable component of the Windows 2003 Server operating system. They released SharePoint Portal Server 2003 again as a separate server-based product. As with its predecessor, it used the other Sharepoint product as its foundation, and was intended as an enterprise solution for integrating internal and external data stores and business applications. This version of SharePoint was “omptimized” for the Office 2003 suite.

The next release of the product, SharePoint 2007, came as three products: Windows SharePoint services bundled with Windows Server 2008, SharePoint Server 2007 (sans “Portal” moniker), and a new entry, SharePoint Server 2007 for Search. These versions were “optimized” for use with the Office 2007 suite and included some enterprise features such as Excel Services, Business Data Catalog, and Web Based InfoPath forms. That tight integration brought a new acronymn – MOSS, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server. The change in product names also brought a change in some of the 2003 technology, adding some confusion and frustration.

And a consultant buddy of mine has recently returned from Microsoft’s big SharePoint conference talking about how wonderful SharePoint 2010 is.

While Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS) is technically not free of charge since it requires Windows Server and SQL Server, it requires no extra licensing to use its functionality, including no requirement for CALs. So what justifies the cost of the $4000 SharePoint Server and the $75 CAL for each user?

A Google search took me to the website of Miles Consulting where they have a detailed feature-by-feature comparison “MOSS 2007 Versus WSS“.

In general, WSS 3.0 provides integration with Office 2003 and 2007, document management for up to half-million items, email enabled content, basic search, RSS, wikis, blogs, and alerting. MOSS provides workflow support, unlimited document management, additional search capabilities, more authentication options, more editing tools, more widgets, more web controls, more site templates, the MySite personal site capability. An incremental enterprise CAL provides more BI features (data mining, reporting).