The first questions people ask themselves when they hear the SharePoint Buzz for the first time is What the heck is SharePoint? I will explain in a friendly and simplistic way what SharePoint is, and how it has fold out to be one of the most powerful and fast growing software solutions in the history. Coming up:

  • What is SharePoint?
  • How exactly is SharePoint different from any regular web site?
  • How can SharePoint help you in your bottom line?
  • Conclusions

What is SharePoint?

From the technical-friendly point of view SharePoint is a software ecosystem formed by many different Microsoft software products. Microsoft indifferently refers to it as Microsoft SharePoint Products and Technologies. SharePoint (aka SP) targets the space of web collaboration functions, content and document management, search and social networking in one centralized solution that offers a plethora of very powerful business applications that are deeply tight to the already popular Microsoft Office applications.

From the end users perspective SharePoint is a web site (web application) that allows users to collaborate and share information, documents, photos and other media rich content directly from the web browser without needed to have any technical skill. Simply by using tools they already know like Microsoft Word, Excel, Power Point, InfoPath and such, users can create very rich documents and have them broadcast to a large audience with the click of a button.

Another important notation to make is that SharePoint is a cross platform product. That means SharePoint, being a browser based tool, can be experienced from many different operating systems like Windows, Mac OS-X and Linux systems. Although SP is a cross platform tool, as of today's official product (MOSS 2007) there are a few rendering abnormalities with some specific content in browsers different from Internet Explorer. Users accessing SharePoint sites with the popular Firefox browser, Safari, Opera and Chrome to name a few may experience that some controls and parts of certain pages will be rendered incorrectly in the page. This issue is not very common and will not affect the functionality and power SharePoint brings to its users. SharePoint 2010 is in beta stage as of the writing if this article and the SP Team announced most of the browser compatibility problems from previous versions will disappear in the upcoming release.

Browsers in SharePoint

If you are interested in diving a bit more into the browser war, SharePoint official compatibility and the Microsoft recommendations for browser support you can explore this TechNet article that is dedicated to such topic.

Ok, so how exactly is SharePoint different from any regular web site again?

As we mentioned before, SharePoint is a collection of software applications. These applications are Server products, meaning they were made to be run in a Windows Server OS. The combination of these products (Search, Forms Server, Excel Services, SSO, etc) provide SharePoint with many built in functionality that does not need to be implemented and can still be customized to a very granular level with very little IT support.

To better understand the difference between the SharePoint offerings and building and maintaining your own web site, we must first see what goes into creating and maintaining a web site. The following table shows some (I said SOME) of pros and cons of the most popular methods to build a web site and their pros and cons (Click to enlarge).

The "Web Site" in the title of the table is quoted, because the reality is that SharePoint offers a lot more than just a Web Site, it offers collaboration, networking and business tools to make any SP install a catch-all experience. Also is worth noting that technically SharePoint does not offers a Web Site, instead (from IIS perspective) it builds a set of IIS Web Applications that are linked and can exchange information via the SharePoint ecosystem. Hold on to your hats, more on that and the SharePoint terminology later.

As you can see there is plenty to eat in the SharePoint family. But how does it directly affect you?

How can SharePoint help me as an organization or as an individual?

Honestly, even if I try I don't think I can come up with a better sentence than this one from the official Microsoft SharePoint site:

"… Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides a single, integrated location where employees can efficiently collaborate with team members, find organizational resources, search for experts and corporate information, manage content and workflow, and leverage business insight to make better-informed decisions."

--- Pasted from <http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/product/details/Pages/default.aspx>---

SharePoint is an extension to the cloud (Internet) of all of the Office Family of products. In fact SharePoint is part of the Microsoft Office Group. If you or your organization are using any of the Microsoft Office products (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc) then you are half the way into becoming a great SharePoint user and take full advantage of its offerings. Although SharePoint clearly targets more businesses than individuals, the fact that most of us work for some corporation means that we're very likely to at one point or another face the SharePoint solution of your workplace. And trust me, I'll make your live so much pleasant… SharePoint will be there when:

  • You want to cut dramatically the use of paper and ink in your organization.
  • You want to improve the performance of your employees and make them work better and more organized between them.
  • You need to collaborate with a team member in writing on the same document simultaneously.
  • You want to request a day off without having to confront the boss.
  • You want people to request a day off without coming to your office or spending a fortune in paper and ink. Also want to be able to notify the requestor of your decision about his request.
  • You are a manager and you want your team to work under your schedule and not the other way around.
  • You want to expose your professional profile in the company's SharePoint to find opportunities in other departments and move up within the organization. Get discovered.
  • You want to make a small correction to a published document and will be able to make the change and make it available immediately online with one click. No downloading and re-uploading, no emailing required.
  • You want to see how a particular spread sheet or document looked like last month without disturbing the IT department to pull it off the archive.
  • You want to broadcast the meetings calendar to all the Outlook account in your department with a click of a button.
  • You want to automatically get notified when somebody completes a sale, or gets a new bid, or renews a contract and want to see at a glance the ongoing financial health of your company with real-time data.
  • You want to have a fun home page with your favorite color and alternating pictures of your family.
  • You want to access all corporate data securely from the internet.
  • You want to monitor each department of your organization and ensure they are meeting the new goals with key performance indicators.
  • You want to collect and automate the employee contact info by having forms your employees can fill in and submit from any web browser.
  • And much, much more… :)

Conclusion

I hope you after reading this article you have a better understanding about what SharePoint is, how it differs and stands out over traditional web site design as well as the immediate benefits that SharePoint brings to organizations and individuals and a general feel for some of the coolest features SharePoint offers. I think in general SharePoint is a great solution, ever evolving (SharePoint 2010 is Beta already). I'll try to cover more on SharePoint in future posts.

Thanks for reading!

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