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An in-depth look at Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007

An in-depth look at Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007

Microsoft's five new Office Servers give Office 2007 users a wealth of new features and capabilities. We examine how in this four-part series, starting with SharePoint 2007

2005. A good year made more pleasant because we were still living under certain illusions. For one, we thought Paris Hilton headlines were in a decline. I was still 39 and therefore didn't have to worry about not being married. And Microsoft leaked that Office 2007 was going to have "a server component." Foolish technology journalists that we are, we assumed this meant 'a' server. As in one. As in single. As in my Friday night.

But Microsoft wasn't building a lonely-heart wallflower of an Office server. They were building a swinging frat party of servers; the Alpha Beta RTM fraternity complete with hazing ritual and a kegger on release day. Five Office servers is the final tally -- almost as many servers as there are front-facing productivity apps. We were tempted to have Dean Yager simply close down this Animal House with some light-hearted comments on fixing things that aren't broken, or vast complexity designed mainly to squeeze ever more revenue out of an already starving customer base.

But then I realized it was a great excuse to go back to Hawaii.

I told Brian Chee he'd hardly know I was there, and then suckered him into doing all the hard work of setting up server hardware and managing product engineer visitors at the Advanced Network Computing Lab at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. The result, however, was too much for one review. So we're going to turn this venture into a four-part series covering all the new Office Servers in four categories, beginning with MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007) because it's not only feature rich, it also acts as the central hub for the others.

We'll start by looking at MOSS on its own, enough for a solid summary of its purpose in life. In the next three articles, we'll look at the other servers in the Office Server family, examining how they work with their Office client counterparts and what advantages they gain when paired with SharePoint on the back end. We'll start with Groove and Groove Server, hit InfoPath and Forms Server, and last we'll look at Project and Visio and how they work with Project Server.

As far as SharePoint goes on its own, this article can give only a skeleton outline of what can be accomplished with this platform; a complete accounting would turn this into one of those musty tomes a librarian can't move without a handcart. For now, let's just say that calling MOSS a collaboration tool with an Office front end is the new definition of oversimplification. MOSS is at once a collaboration platform, an application development platform, a homegrown workflow engine, and a business intelligence tool. We'll cover all these points in detail in this piece and the following three.

Installation

MOSS comes in Standard and Enterprise versions. In a slightly nasty pricing move, these two platforms aren't separate, they're cumulative. To buy Enterprise CALs (client access licenses), you'll first need a Standard CAL for every user. That may be some serious milking of the revenue cow on Microsoft's part, but the two platforms are different enough that most customers will take Enterprise seriously. Whereas Standard carries the basic SharePoint security, collaboration, and content management tools, only Enterprise has the advanced Business Data Catalog search extensions, the business workflow tools, and the electronic forms processing extensions.

You can download a MOSS eval license at Microsoft's Web site.

We, on the other hand, mentioned our Honolulu test lab and 24 hours later a couple of SharePoint product team members were knocking on the door wearing big grins and suntan lotion on their shockingly pale noses and clutching a set of MOSS Enterprise install disks. (We heard later that one of the Microsoft corporate jets temporarily went missing around this time, but so far authorities have been unable to establish a connection.)

Brian watched the SharePoint install process like a hawk, but it turns out he didn't need to. SharePoint's complexity is in the depth of its feature set, not in the install process. There are only a couple of things to watch out for. First, make sure the server has the .Net Framework 3.0 pre-installed, accent on "pre-." We tried it the other way here in New Jersey because we're slow learners on the east coast -- frustration is the operative word for this mistake.

The next issue is the SharePoint user account process and it'll continue to rear its ugly head as we go along. During the install process, Microsoft recommends logging into the Windows Server using a dedicated SharePoint account; one that's part of the Administrative user group, but not the actual administrator's account for the server. This initial account will be the "owner" account for all SharePoint sites on this box. Other users will still be able to own their particular site(s), but think of this initial account as a master account for the whole site collection.

Once the initial software load is done, SharePoint will run its Product and Technologies Wizard, which does different things depending on whether you initiated a Basic or Advanced MOSS installation. For example, for testing purposes, you're fine with Basic, but Microsoft was careful to point out that only by using an Advanced install can a MOSS server join a multiserver farm. This was not a big deal for a test server, but it is something most organizations will certainly want to plan for in a production environment. After this wizard casts its spell, you'll be able to play with the server's default top-level site (quite boring on its own) and begin organizing the business sites below it.


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