SharePoint, wikis truly wise

We won our second Maggie award! For the second year running, "Enterprise Windows" won the Western Publications Association's industry award in the category of Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Trade. And if you think I enjoyed the red carpet, the dinner banquet at the Westin Hotel, and the million-dollar prize package ... well, you're wrong (but I would have enjoyed them had I had them). But I did revel in the knowledge that our editor, Ted Samson, got a hearty handshake and that the shiny lucite award will be gracing the magazine office display case. Wisely frugal on InfoWorld's part. [Ed. note: For the record, I didn't get to go collect the award or the handshake, either.]

Something else that's wisely frugal is a wiki, he said in an amazingly tenuous segue that would doubtless count against him for the 2007 Maggie awards. Wikis are darlings of the team-collaboration set, and with good reason. The word wiki comes from one of InfoWorld's favorite places, Hawaii, and it means "quick" -- which is also a descriptor for how long it takes to set up one for, say, a software document hub.

After they're set up, wikis allow team members to create and alter documents pertinent to the team's project. Team members can alter those docs and the wiki has a rudimentary version control system built in, so tracking changes historically is easy. To set up a private wiki, you can purchase commercial software (like that sold by Atlassian or JotSpot) or subscribe to a wiki Web service such as Seedwiki or Wikispaces. But this wouldn't be the "Enterprise Windows" column if I didn't point out an additional possibility: Use SharePoint.

I point this out not because I'm a Microsoft moonie, and I do it only partially because of this column's moniker. Mostly I'm pointing this out because if you're reading this, it's likely that you've got a series of Windows 2003 servers in your enterprise -- and if you do, you've already paid for a chunk of SharePoint, at least as far as wiki-type functionality is concerned.

With Windows 2003 Server R2, basic (read "internal") SharePoint Services come free out of the box; you've just got to spring for download time. With these, you can set up a basic discussion and document-sharing site in just a few minutes, as long as you're happy with a template-based presentation. Administration talks directly to Active Directory, so deciding who's who on a team is also easy.

That's what I really like about SharePoint from an administrator's point of view: It's mindless to manage day-to-day. No need for separate access control lists, separate security measures, or backup procedures. The same console I use to manage my Windows machines will serve to manage this. And the fun part: It's impressive as heck.

As soon as that front-line manager stammers out a request for "someplace me and my team can keep our stuff," you can have a dedicated SharePoint site with that team's name, mini-logo, and even employee photos, up and running in under an hour. That'll include a discussion area, document library, even things like surveys. All out of the box. If you feel like impressing them further over time, the site can be fleshed out with Microsoft Web Parts or Visual Studio for the really heavy hitters.

Managing all of that without even making a dent in your IT budget is also going to impress the boss. Your CEO-type boss is going to be happy as heck because anything to do with "business" and "team" always makes those guys grin; and your CIO-type boss is going to smile because you made him look good.

If you're looking for the weakness, it's back up a few paragraphs in that word internal. SharePoint is (basically) free for R2 users behind the firewall. Building an extranet-type infrastructure with outside partners, customers, and such is going to require SharePoint Portal Server, which is a significant added cost.

But for that behind-the-firewall team stuff, there's really nothing better than a mature toolkit you've already dished out cash for. Besides, getting familiar with SharePoint is now is in your best interests anyway, as it's only going to become more crucial when Office 2007 hits the shelves.

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Oliver Rist

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