[UPDATED: 25 November 2007 - Slight flow changes to the content]
I've just returned from the IIR/SharedInsights Portals, Collaboration and Content Management conference. While I've been speaking at this conference for a few years, this year's conference was a bit unique. Unlike past conferences, where the vast majority of the attendees were more business oriented and "non-denominational" when it came to technology, this year's attendees were more technical and were very interested in specific technologies -- a good many of them interested in SharePoint. It seemed that many of the attendees were either starting to implement or had implemented "phase 1," a smaller percentage were making their final decisions around what portal platform they would implement in the coming months -- almost universally, SharePoint was in the product mix, if not the chosen portal platform (hence the interest). However, there still seemed to be a lot of basic questions about how SharePoint would fit in the enterprise. To that end, I wanted to recommend a book written by some former colleagues of mine. It's called Essential SharePoint 2007.
Amazon.com: Essential SharePoint 2007: Books: Scott Jamison,Mauro Cardarelli,Susan Hanley
What makes this book somewhat unique in the space (since there are absolutely tons of book on SharePoint 2007) is that it takes a less technological route. The book focuses on business usage more than technological implementation. I would recommend it as good starting point for anyone interested in SharePoint -- whether or not you're technically inclined. In addition, CMSWatch also has a number of reports which compare SharePoint to other tools in the ECM/Portal space. These reports would also be valuable for anyone considering SharePoint.
Now, even in the SharePoint 2003 days, there was great interest in SharePoint -- organization's interest in 2007 is not really unique. In a good majority of the cases, the Windows SharePoint Services component was and is a very big leap in accessible (easily obtained and easy to install) collaborative technology, but it is also just darn easy to use for the vast majority of typical Office users. Contributing to this ease of use is the fact that the technology is directly integrated with Office -- even people with older versions of Office can use it (you don't have to match SharePoint's version with your Office version). However, the 2007 version (and WSS v3) seems to have created a great deal more buzz.
From what I heard from attendees, most organizations were hoping to leverage the portal capabilities found in MOSS. There was a slightly smaller group interested in pure team collaboration management -- project teams need a place to deposit assets and work from one "song book." Finally, there were those groups who felt that SharePoint was almost a "blight," but needed to figure out how to manage it (my guess is that these individuals got caught in the WSS explosion that occurs in many organizations).
If I were to identify the biggest changes/advantages, it would be in two categories: 1) expanding content management capabilities and 2) improved extensibility. On the content management side, web content management tops the list. This feature allows you to manage traditional web sites using SharePoint. In addition, Microsoft has added new forms of contribution with the addition of Wiki and Blog templates. When you add these capabilities to the business intelligence and forms processing features, Microsoft has taken SharePoint native content management function to a whole new level.
For the developer types, 2007 represents a leap forward in extensibility, where almost everything inside of SharePoint is accessible through the object model. For example, you can write your own authentication provider, to enable SharePoint to use something other than Active Directory to authenticate users (unheard of in SharePoint 2003). It's also now possible to easily add new interface elements to native SharePoint administrative screens using the "features" capability.
For those of you who might be interested in some of the content at the conference, IIR has posted some podcasts on their web site. More podcasts will be posted as time goes by (include my own). If you're interested in attending the spring conference, you can find more details on the IIR web site (you may want to wait a few days before searching around, since the current conference is still running as of 8 November).
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