First launched in 2001, Microsoft SharePoint is typically associated with content a management system, but it is actually a much broader platform of web technologies, capable of being configured into a wide range of solution areas.
SharePoint is designed as a broad, central application platform for multiple purpose. SharePoint's multi-purpose design allows for managing of intranet portals, extranets, websites, document management, collaboration spaces, social tools, enterprise search, business intelligence, project management, workflow automation, and core infrastructure for third-party solutions.
Microsoft sells licenses for SharePoint per user or per site and also provides SharePoint as a service in their cloud computing offerings. The product is also sold as a cloud solution by many third-party vendors.
The SharePoint wheel
Microsoft's SharePoint marketing refers to the "SharePoint Wheel" to help describe the package of functionality built into the SharePoint platform. The wheel refers to six abstract functional capabilities:
Sites: The SharePoint platform fundamentally enables users to provision 'sites' (public or private) without a requirement for specialized knowledge. SharePoint is designed to become the central location for management of sites in an organization.
Communities: SharePoint aims to support the formation of communities within an organization - these communities may form around teams, projects, clients, geographic locations, etc. SharePoint also provides social features and social integration.
Content: SharePoint provides a central location to put content such as files, documents, or general information. This can be accessed and modified within a web browser or using a client application (typically Microsoft Office) via desktop or smartphone. SharePoint 2010 also provides a concurrent edit ability with Office 2010.
Search: SharePoint provides a range of search abilities, including in documents, in external content (such as network shares or public websites), and in user profiles.
Insights: SharePoint provides data integration, data crawling, and report design to enable business decision making. SharePoint can integrate with SQL Server Reporting Services to surface business intelligence.
Composites: SharePoint provides an application platform based on ASP.NET 3.5 allowing no-code solutions to complex business problems using SharePoint Designer. SharePoint also allows custom code solutions to be deployed using Visual Studio.
The most common uses of SharePoint include:
Intranet portal: A SharePoint intranet portal is a way to centralize access to enterprise information and applications on a corporate network. It is a tool that helps a company manage its data, applications, and information more easily. This has organizational benefits such as increased employee engagement, centralizing process management, reducing new staff on-boarding costs, and providing tacit knowledge capture.
Enterprise content and document management: SharePoint is often used to store and track electronic documents or images of paper documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions created by different users. In addition to being a platform for digital record management systems that meet government and industry compliance standards, SharePoint also provides the benefit of a central location for storing and collaborating on documents, which can significantly reduce emails and duplicated work in an organization.
Extranet sites: SharePoint can be used to provide password-protected, web-facing access to people outside an organization. Organizations often use functionality like this to integrate third parties into supply chain or business processes, or to provide a shared collaboration environment.
Internet sites: Using the Publishing feature, SharePoint can be used to manage larger public websites.
SharePoint offers web interface with a ribbon user-interface that is familiar to users of Microsoft Office. This interface provides a general user interface for manipulating data, page editing ability, and the ability to add functionality to sites.
Broadly, the web-based interface provides the ability to:
- manipulate content in lists & libraries, pages and sites;
- copy, create, delete, or rename lists & libraries, pages, sites and web-parts;
- manage user permissions, and view document/page version histories;
- manage definitions and properties of lists & libraries, pages, sites and web-parts.
A site collection is used to provide a grouping of SharePoint Sites. Each web application must typically have at least one site collection. Site collections may be associated with their own content databases, or they may share a content database with other site collections in the same web application.
A SharePoint Site is a collection of pages, lists, and libraries configured for the purpose of achieving an express goal. A site may contain sub-sites, and those sites may contain further sub-sites. Typically, sites need to be created from scratch, but sites can also be created according to pre-defined templates that provide packaged functionality. Examples of Site templates in SharePoint include: Blogs, MySites, collaboration (team) sites, document workspaces, groupwork sites, and meeting workspaces. Sites have navigation, themes/branding, custom permissions, workflows, and have the ability to be configured or customized in a number of ways. In order to achieve a greater degree of maintainability, sites typically inherit site-level settings from their parent sites.
Lists & libraries
Lists and libraries are stored in SharePoint Sites. A List can be thought of as a collection of pieces of information — all of which (typically) have the same properties. For instance, you can have a list of links called "my links", where each item has a URL, a name, and a description.
Lists have many features such as workflows, item-level or list-level permission, version history tracking, multiple content-types, external data sources, and many more features. Some of these features depend on the version of SharePoint that is installed.
A library is a list where each item in the list refers to a file that is stored in SharePoint. Libraries have all the same behaviors as lists, but because libraries contain files, they have extra features. One of these is the ability to be opened and modified through a compatible WebDAV client (e.g. Windows Explorer).
Microsoft SharePoint comes with some pre-defined list and library definitions. These include: Announcement Lists, Blogs, Contacts, Discussion Boards, Document Libraries, External Content (BCS) lists, Pages, Surveys, and Tasks.
Some of these pre-defined lists have additional integration. For example, lists based on the contact content-type can be synced directly with Microsoft Outlook.
Web-parts are sections that can be inserted into Pages in SharePoint sites. These sections are UI Widgets whose typical uses are:
- Displaying content defined in the web-part's settings (e.g. custom content or an iFrame);
- Displaying items from Lists/Libraries (this can be customized in SharePoint Designer, using XSLT & CAML);
- Providing Access to Features in the SharePoint platform (e.g. Search).
Web-parts based on completely custom code can be built in Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and uploaded by end-users to SharePoint as packaged, sandboxed features. Due to the prevalence of SharePoint, third-party vendors often provide SharePoint web-parts for intranet sites.
SharePoint has three primary page content-types: Wiki pages, Web-part pages, and Publishing Pages. Unlike prior versions of SharePoint, the default page type is a 'Wiki Page', which enables free-form editing based on the ribbon toolbar. It is possible to insert Web-parts into any page type.
SharePoint contains a limited search engine. Microsoft produces a free product called Microsoft Search Server Express to complement SharePoint Foundation. Different SharePoint search versions offer different features, but all search engines contain the ability to search within documents and - except in cloud environments: across external data sources (such as file systems).
Next time: I am going to talk about SharePoint 2010.