What is SharePoint?

Were you at the mall last weekend? Did anybody stopped you and asked: “Hey, can you tell me what SharePoint is?” Really? you haven’t experienced this? Get ready, you and I know that it’s just a matter of time =)
Were you at the mall last weekend? Did anybody stopped you and asked: “Hey, can you tell me what SharePoint is?” Really? you haven’t experienced this? Get ready, you and I know that it’s just a matter of time =)

What is SharePoint?

So, what is SharePoint? I’m sure you’ve asked that before and you get a different answer everytime you ask:

“Well, it’s for document management.”
“It’s kind of like a collaboration tool.”
“It’s an ASP.NET website used for projects.”
“An end-user tool”

All those answers are correct. But still, it seems like there could be a simpler and better way of explaining it. You’re in luck. I’m here to help you not only define clearly what SharePoint is, furthermore, explain the core SharePoint components for you. So here goes:

SharePoint allows individuals in an organization to easily create and manage their own collaborative Web sites.

It sounds simple yet let me dissect what it truly means:

Does it specify that anybody using SharePoint should be technically savvy? No. In fact, as long as you have familiarity with using Windows, Microsoft Office and surfing the Web, you are in good shape.

It implies that the intent of using SharePoint is for a limited number of people belonging to the same group. This also means that within the group there will be varying levels of authority and privileges. You don’t have to rely on the IT/IS department to set up access privileges in SharePoint. You are empowered to define and manage who gains access to specific information. This means that not only can you define who can access your SharePoint site, but also customize who can access which information. For example, you will only allow managers to see payroll information.

Instead of contacting IT/IS, any individual can create, customize and manage this collaborative tool. Though IT will not totally out of the picture, it empowers the user to be able to develop a customized automated system that can support their needs appropriately in a timely manner.

Just like my first point, the intent of SharePoint is to enhance team collaboration. There is nothing stopping you from creating the next Yahoo or Google, however, SharePoint is not intended to be used as a platform for non-collaborative web sites.

SharePoint has been around since 1997. It has evolved from a simple web-based site content management tool to an empowering collaboration tool that integrates seamlessly with the web, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Since it is a foundational Microsoft technology, various organizations ranging from government institutions, airlines, banks, construction companies to retail industries have benefitted from its tools and feature sets.

SharePoint does not refer to a specific product or technology. Using the phrase “Microsoft SharePoint” is like using the phrase “Microsoft Office”. It refers to several aspects of collaborative solutions. The key components include Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007.

To distinguish WSS and MOSS, an analogy that I use is comparing SharePoint to a car. What’s the main purpose of a car? To take you from point A to point B, agree? What component of a car is required to fulfill this purpose? You’re right, a car engine.

With SharePoint, the main purpose is to empower users with document management and team collaboration tools. What’s required to fulfill this purpose is WSS. It is the core “engine” of SharePoint. Without WSS there is no SharePoint. WSS is available for free as long as your organization has proper licensing for Windows 2003 Server. All the fundamental document management and collaboration tools like storage, versioning, wikis, discussion boards, calendars, contacts, surveys, etc. comes with WSS.

What about MOSS? It provides extended capabilities to WSS. Going back to the car analogy, we can equip our vehicles with accessories such as GPS, a DVD system, Voice Command, etc., however, these extended features are not required to fulfill the purpose of a car (taking us from point A to point B). If these accessories are not installed, the car will still work. It’s just that having a GPS might enable us to reach our destination faster without getting lost. MOSS extended features include Enterprise search, Personalization, Enterprise Content Management, etc.

Unlike WSS, MOSS is not available for free. Licensing can vary and become quite costly. For more information about licensing, visit Microsoft’s SharePoint licensing website.

Okay, I hope this shed some light on what SharePoint is. Hopefully this clarified any misunderstanding and more importantly, I have equipped you so the next time you’re at the mall and somebody asks: “What is SharePoint?”

You’ll know what to say.

9 thoughts on “What is SharePoint?

  1. Thanks Dux for this informative blog entry describing Sharepoint! Until reading it, I was unclear on all of the aspects of this powerful tool.

    Being an IT entrepreneur, project manager and consultant myself, I can see many business applications for this technology. I plan to purchase a copy of your forthcoming O’Reilly book, and can’t wait for its arrival!

    I’m also an aspiring author; so you have inspired me even further. Keep up the good work!

    JM Kelly, The IT Entrepreneur

  2. Hi Dux,

    Great overview!

    I would beg to differ on one point, though:

    “SharePoint is not intended to be used as a platform for non-collaborative web sites.”

    Sure it is! 🙂 That’s what the Publishing sites (aka Web Content Management) are for. WCM is the descendant of Microsoft Content Management Server, the previous WCM product in Microsoft’s toolbox.

    Plus Microsoft sells the MOSSFIS (For Internet Sites) license which makes it available for unlimited users (though it comes at a steep price).

    I agree that SharePoint’s primary function is a collaboration platform, but it can do much more than collaboration if you want it to. 🙂


  3. I have a coworker that’s pushing SharePoint and the cloud as a total document management system. I think he’s crazy. SharePoint is absolutely not intended for this purpose. File sharing is a integral part of collaboration but collaboration is not an integral part of document management. DM comes way before good collaboration. Thoughts?

  4. I tend to agree with your co-worker.
    DM – what is your definition?
    Regulated Industry – maybe not
    I have implemented SharePoint over 100 times for DM – file, store, retrieve. For most small organizations it works fine for replacing the file server and file cabinets.

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