Review: Microsoft Updates A Solid Server With SharePoint 2010

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Microsoft has done a good job of bringing the server squarely in step with the times with the SharePoint 2010 beta, providing business-oriented social networking features and a new interface

Ask business people what the best and most useful product made by Microsoft is, and you may be surprised to hear many skip past the more obvious choices – such as Windows and Office – and go right to SharePoint.

Introduced as a modest set of online extensions for a variety of online and collaborative tasks, SharePoint is arguably the most successful Microsoft product of the last 10 years, especially in the corporate world. In many ways, SharePoint has become the core on which Microsoft has based most of its online enterprise solutions.

Need a corporate portal? SharePoint. Want a collaboration system? SharePoint. A document management system? Web publishing system? For those and many other tasks, companies have made use of the SharePoint platform.

All of this isn’t exactly what Microsoft had in mind for SharePoint – users have continually pushed the platform past its original design goals and have used it for tasks such as enterprise content management and records management.

However, while the current version, SharePoint Server 2007, is an excellent product, it is definitely showing its age. To put it into perspective, when Microsoft was developing SharePoint 2007 in 2006, Twitter was just starting to leave its prototype stage and Facebook was just opening up to non-college students.

I recently tested the beta of the newest SharePoint server, which is due in the first half of 2010. I found that it has definitely caught up with the times, including capabilities such as Twitter-style microblogging and social networking. However, in my tests of the SharePoint 2010 beta, I also saw a much improved interface that takes advantage of rich web technologies (and that also works well on non-Internet Explorer browsers), and I saw many new enterprise features that take into account the advanced applications for which businesses have been using SharePoint.

Looks Familiar – At First

The beta of SharePoint 2010 requires the 64-bit version of Windows Server 2008. Also, many new features require, or work best with, the forthcoming Office 2010 suite.

When a user first logs into SharePoint 2010, it will look familiar – until, that is, the user decides to add, edit or manage content on the server. Once a user initiates this kind of action, the Microsoft Office ribbon interface is activated within SharePoint.

Users not familiar with the ribbon interface will have a bit of a learning curve when managing content in SharePoint 2010. However, I found that the interface generally worked well for the type of content management performed in SharePoint, with the ribbon always showing options relevant to the task at hand (such as showing font and text tools when I was editing page content).