Not long ago I mused on the possibilities of Open Source, and yes, I took a swipe at Microsoft, but I’m a great believer in the right tool for the job, and as such, if you want an out-of-the-box jack of all trades (intranet, enterprise content management and web content management), then without a doubt, I’m a staunch advocate of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (also known as SharePoint or MOSS). MOSS is the missing link between Microsoft Server products and the Microsoft Office suite.
I must make the point that this article concerns MOSS 2007 (with the ‘for Internet’ licence), not Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services (WSS). Whilst it is true that both can rightly be called ‘SharePoint’, it can cause confusion during discussion if one person is talking about MOSS and the other about WSS. In fact, as is usually the case with Microsoft, there are different editions of SharePoint. Generally speaking you will probably have WSS already available to you if you have a fairly recent edition of Windows Server, and you may well be already able to create an intranet using WSS. MOSS extends the features of WSS so that you are able to build an intranet and extranet as well as multiple public facing web sites and connect to any existing business applications you have.
MOSS is specifically designed to help and encourage teams of people to communicate, collaborate, share work and ideas and engage in ongoing dialogue. If you already use Microsoft Servers and Microsoft Office, and you are in the market for a hybrid collaboration tool, document management, intranet and web content management system, you would be hard pressed to find a solution that is as comprehensive as MOSS and in the same price bracket. Last year (2008) I was asked to compare MOSS to other products on the market and measur e it up according to particular requirements. There are few places where I could find a side-by-side analysis of MOSS against any other solutions with the same sort of feature set, so I had to go about creating my own which I’ve re-produced below. You should be aware that the table below was created specifically to list the features required by a particular organisation, so that constrained the features I was looking at.
The solutions other than MOSS listed below may well have certain specialised features which you might consider to more closely meet your own requirements, but I think MOSS is a great solution for probably the majority of organisations who already use Microsoft products and who have no extra-ordinary requirements or who are constrained by a down-to-earth budget.
UPDATE (June 25 2010): Due to blog changes, you can now download the SharePoint comparison table in PDF format.
Perhaps one of the greatest things about MOSS is that it enables your enterprise to put everything in one place. MOSS is a single system with a single web based interface through which teams can pool all kinds of resources, plan meetings, connect to corporate data in other systems, set up e-mail alerts to let them know when important documents have been changed. There is no need to log in to multiple systems for different things, a well-oiled organisation can set up SharePoint as a window into almost everything that team members need to be productive. Couple this with the integration SharePoint has with the Microsoft Office suite of products and the security features of the Microsoft network you are probably running on and a compelling case is formed for seeing things The Microsoft Way.
Other powerful features include offline access to files (in effect, you can download files, go offline to change them, and when you go back online the files can be synchronised back into MOSS), and a set of 40 basic application templates (vacation management, room booking, inventory tracking, help desk system!) to get you up and running with an intranet with a real minimum of fuss – and the application templates work with the basic Windows SharePoint Services.
If all that isn’t good enough to get you drooling you can actually build your own applications within MOSS, so you can get the best of both worlds – a system that is cost effective and relatively quick to install and get used to, but one which can grow and evolve with the needs of your company if you need to develop something bespoke. It isn’t by any means Open Source, but you are able to tinker with MOSS to a very sophisticated degree by building your own applications into it. SharePoint offers a great framework to get you up and running with a wide range of standard tools, so you can concentrate your time and resources on tailoring it to any specific requirements rather than building something from scratch.
It’s not often I’ll sing the praises of Microsoft, and I’m sure I haven’t covered the half of it in this post, but with MOSS, Microsoft really have hit the jackpot – especially if you consider that much of the functionality is already built into a server system that you may already own in the form of Windows SharePoint Services. I must stress again that this is not an exhaustive comparison of all the features available in SharePoint, against all the features of the other systems. Additionally, this table was compiled some time ago and it is likely that some of the features listed above will have changed or been improved, or possibly even deprecated.
I’d advise that if you are looking into the various editions of SharePoint that you do some detailed analysis of how it suits your particular business needs. Create a ‘wish list’ of features and then compare that wish list with what is available on the market, ideally, create a table (or ‘matrix’ if you want to get all sophisticated) like the one above and compare and contrast the available features, you should find that this helps make the decision easier to take.