SharePoint for free, as in beer

MS Windows SharePoint Services delivers a nice helping of collaborative features without the licensing fee

Many admins don't know it, but SharePoint has two distinct faces: one quite costly, the other free. The pricey version is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, or MOSS for short. The free one is called Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), currently at Version 3.0.

I was somewhat in the dark regarding the differences between the two and just assumed that the free version would be lame in comparison with MOSS (which is built on WSS). However, I was schooled last week at the IT360 Conference in Toronto by C.A. Callahan, respected tech speaker and author of the book "Mastering Windows SharePoint Services 3.0."

WSS provides a Web interface that allows users to collaborate on documents and other Office files, as well as build shared calendaring, discussion forums, wikis, blogs, and more. Out of the box, there are professional-looking site themes to choose from (which are easily customizable using SharePoint Designer) so that the workspace can fit within your business smoothly.

You can also quickly add or remove navigation tools, features, Web parts, and solutions. The document library support has a common repository, advancing collaboration in WSS a step beyond file sharing; users can take advantage of versioning, required checkout, and content approval.

WSS has been on my mind lately, perhaps for two reasons. The first is that public folders have been de-emphasized in Exchange 2007. Now, keep in mind, they will be included in the next release of Exchange and will be supported until 2016 (supposedly). But the Outlook 2007 clients no longer need public folders like previous versions did -- and Microsoft is pushing people toward SharePoint. Thus, my curiosity was piqued as to whether my company wants WSS or MOSS.

The second reason for my interest relates to the release of seven new Office 2007 Servers (Forms, PerformancePoint, Project Portfolio, and so forth), many of which rely on WSS to function.

Contrary to my original belief, WSS is not a lame, free offering from Microsoft. It's pretty impressive -- once you and your users get used to it. One admin I spoke to at the conference recently implemented WSS in his organization and said he imagined getting users to start playing with it would be slow going. He was wrong -- he says it has taken over his office of 200. "Everyone is setting up their workspace sites (I think they were setting up blog sites, a popular site template in WSS...) and loving it!"

According to Callahan, "Microsoft has about 40 WSS application templates -- literally site templates, with nifty, custom Web parts, lists, and libraries -- that are both examples of and extend the functionality of WSS for those new people who want it to do things like time management, help desk, resource reservation tracking, and more."

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