Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003: Open to Improvement

Microsoft has made necessary upgrades to its SharePoint Portal Server.

November 7, 2003

5 Min Read
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Up and Running ... Sort Of

Microsoft sent the SharePoint Portal Server to our Green Bay, Wis., business applications lab. I installed it on a single processor Intel white box with 1 GB of memory running Windows 2003. I had to choose to make my machine an application server, which instigated an odd conflict. When Windows 2003 installs the Application Server components, it turns on SharePoint Windows 2003 Services and Front Page Extensions by default. Unfortunately, SharePoint 2003 will not install until you deactivate them. This is a minor annoyance, but it is indicative of the problems Microsoft has with deep integration of its products.

Once I got everything configured to SharePoint's satisfaction, I set up the default portal to use for my fictional corporation. Within the portal are "subareas"--consider them individual sites for divisions such as HR, support, sales and marketing. The divisions start out with nothing much in them--you build them from such choices as generic Excel-like lists, discussions, document libraries, news lists and lists of scheduled events. As admin, you can also decide at this point to allow some or all users to create personal sites.

Despite the ease of creating sites, I was overwhelmed by the ways and places pages could be created on SharePoint. Some items, such as personal page parameters and disk-space allotment, can be controlled through the management console, but strong and thorough user policies and rights need to be administered and monitored.

Browsing and SearchingIf your users are simply going to view the Web pages and documents, they can use just about any W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) compatible browser. To participate in discussions and administration, receive alerts, edit pages and perform lookups, your users will need to be in Internet Explorer, but I was able to navigate the portal from Galeon, Mozilla and Opera. I could even get documents to open correctly on a Linux machine running Galeon.

SharePoint's indexing and searching are excellent. The indexing function not only indexes properties, titles and other meta data, it also indexes the contents of documents it recognizes--all Microsoft Office documents, XML, TIFF image files and discussions. As a bonus, Adobe offers a PDF index plug-in for SharePoint. The OCR in the TIFF indexing is some of the best I've seen.

Upgrade News

The bad news about upgrading from SharePoint 2001 is you'll find the latest version's document profiles--the default list of data associated with a document--less accessible and more difficult to use. This is not a big deal, as profiles and document categories overlapped in SharePoint 2001, but you will have to make certain your documents are mapped into the new system intelligently. The bigger issue is that Microsoft has provided no upgrade or compatibility tool for code you wrote for SharePoint 2001. Expect to rewrite virtually all of it in the new system.

The good news about upgrading is that SharePoint no longer uses the Exchange data store; rather it stores data in SQL Server, making the user database more accessible and easier to write custom code for. The programming API in SharePoint 2003 makes a lot more sense than it did in the 2001 version, and if you're going to bulk-upload documents, you'll need it--Microsoft only supports bulk uploading of documents directly from SharePoint 2001. If you are implementing SharePoint for the first time, or continue to use bulk uploading to get documents into the system, you will need to write code to do so.Bugs and All

As we've come to expect with Microsoft products, there are integration problems with SharePoint. If you have several OSs relying on more than just ADS for your directory server, you need to be aware that SharePoint only supports ADS or a PDC for authentication. LDAP is not directly supported at all.

There is also a problem with files for which the MIME type is not correctly configured. When I tried to open a Word document on a machine with only WordPad installed, I received an error message that SharePoint required a SharePoint-compatible program. Why not take me to a download dialog? And why call it a SharePoint compatibility problem when the real problem is MIME type configuration? It was no biggie to work around--I simply right-clicked and downloaded the document, then opened it with the application of my choice--but this glitch needs attention.

My primary concern with SharePoint 2003, however, regards document management. The ability to check in a document in many different places severely limits the usefulness of document management, because edits to the doc in one location are not carried over to the doc in other locations. Therefore, if you choose SharePoint for document management, be prepared to write standards for how and where documents are published and edited, and to develop tools to validate that there is only one copy of a document in the repository. It's also disconcerting that there are no options to "show me all subareas in the system" or "browse documents." Both of these items are essential tools for keeping control in your corporate portal/intranet.

If you are a Microsoft shop looking for a portal and you can live with the severely limited document management, SharePoint might be the solution you've been looking for--the portal can really make life easier. I would not recommend moving to SharePoint without checking out the competition, though, as this is a tight market with excellent competition.

Don MacVittie is an application engineer at WPS Resources. Write to him at [email protected].

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