Microsoft Bets on Group-Collaboration Tools with SharePoint Team Services

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 12, 2001 — Microsoft today made two announcements in which SharePoint Team Services play a significant role; first, the company announced that the server version of the forthcoming Microsoft Project Server 2002 will include SharePoint Team Services. Second, a new SharePoint Team Services site-migration tool will be available in Service Pack 1 of Office XP. :

To learn more about Microsoft’s ongoing efforts to enrich customers’ team-building experiences with co-workers, partners and clients through SharePoint technology, PressPass spoke with Reed Koch, general manager of the SharePoint Team Services development team at Microsoft.

PressPass: What is SharePoint Team Services and how does it help companies collaborate?

Koch: SharePoint Team Services is a team Web site in a box. You basically push a button and have an instant team site for ad-hoc collaboration. The team site provides you with a central place to post information and documents relevant to specific projects. I think of it as a very large, virtual whiteboard where teams can store and collaborate on documents, phone numbers and contact lists; update to-do lists, and share team calendars. The site can offer discussion boards, which you can use as a forum for sharing thoughts on specific topics. There is also a survey function, which is a useful way to get targeted responses to key issues.

SharePoint Team Services can be used for very large teams working together over a long period of time, and it also works really well for a project you just want to get started on without the hassle of building a Web site from scratch. Inside Microsoft itself, for instance, there are now 8,000 active SharePoint sites. The fascinating thing is how useful this tool is to so many people and, consequently, how many sites they create. This is really about empowering individuals and small teams to get their work done.

PressPass: What are some of the chief benefits of the technology?

Koch: I think one of the main benefits is that people can collaborate with colleagues both inside their own companies, and with partners or customers external to the organization. For example, when people usually go about sharing documents, they send them in e-mail or they work with an IT administrator to set up a Web site, assign rights and permissions, post documents, and manage the site. It can be a costly venture, and as a result people often hesitate to do it. SharePoint Team Services makes this task invisible to the user and doesnt require any additional resources from the IT department. You click on the tab that says
“new Web,”
and a new Web is automatically built. You can access Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations from the browser interface. Hit Save, and your document is automatically saved to the Web page so that others can access it.

As I mentioned earlier, some people do this inside their companies, as in the case of a marketing group working with corporate communications, where people can collaborate around issues and track changes made to specific documents. It also works between companies. You can lease the technology from Microsoft bCentral or other Web providers. In this scenario, your business partner can log in and access the team Web site. The issue with doing that on your own today is the security model; you would have to register the business partners with whom you want to collaborate within your company. You can build a site, but that gets to be a timely and expensive thing to do. With an ISP, you have your logon, the business partners have their logons, and its a very easy and straightforward thing to do. If you just want to be able to review documents and collaborate on projects, you dont have to learn HTML or how to configure Web sites for external access. The easier we make it for you and your partners, the more likely you are to use the technology.

So, along with the business benefits of being able to collaborate with others inside and outside the organization, the technology allows companies to save money, save time, save IT resources, and save phone and mail costs typically associated with external collaboration activities. And at the end of the day, the team Web provides a central place to store everything you need.

PressPass: What are the main collaborative features of the technology?

Koch: SharePoint Team Services helps teams share ideas through subscriptions and notifications that alert everyone to changes in the Web site. With inline document discussions, you can collaborate on a specific document without altering the original. You can also use the discussion boards and surveys I mentioned earlier. Another interesting feature is the ability to track member participation; you can assign different permission levels to each member depending on their role on the team, and then look at date, time and author stamping info to gauge how often a person is contributing.

All of these features are wrapped around a homepage, which contains announcements, a group calendar, links to the various document libraries or other Web sites that are being used in the project, etc. The home-page Web metaphor has become very natural for people — most people use the Web for at least part of their job and are used to seeing a textual description of what they want to do with links to what might be important to them. A nice capability too, is that you can get started quickly and then customize the site later. For example, if you set up your site and then decide you want to add a company logo or change things around a bit, its easy to do with FrontPage. So its easy to use out of the box but if you need more, you can customize with FrontPage.

PressPass: SharePoint Team Services technology is found in various Microsoft products: Office XP (in FrontPage), the beta of Windows .NET Server and now the beta of Microsoft Project Server 2002. Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the technology?

Koch: SharePoint Team Services came about from Office Server Extensions and FrontPage Server Extensions, which were built into the operating system. Its the next generation of server extensions for the Web. The first generation was built around a Web server like Internet Information Server, where you had a default blank Web on your server. The next generation was server extensions, where you had an authoring tool like FrontPage that allowed you to design a Web page. Now were on to the third generation of server extensions where you get a Web site out of the box. You still have the same rich authoring that you had with server extensions, but now it comes in a ready and easy-to-use form.

SharePoint Team Services is a Windows technology that ships in Windows. NET Server, as is the case with many of our technologies. When a third party needs to ship the technology in advance of the operating system, we do make it available for them to do that. Just like the old printer drivers in the past, if a product like FrontPage or Project needs the technology before its available and shipping in Windows, well make it available to them. In this way customers can benefit from the technology now instead of having to wait to use it.

PressPass: What’s the difference between SharePoint Team Services and SharePoint Portal Server?

Koch: Typically, when companies get started with SharePoint Team Services, lots and lots of Web sites crop up as individual teams begin using it. When you need to aggregate those sites and search through all of the information showing up in the project sites, you would install SharePoint Portal Server to do that. SharePoint Portal Server is an enterprise portal that combines document management and sophisticated search technology with a customizable portal. You would use SharePoint Portal Server to access all of the information stored within your company. For instance, if you wanted to find information on a product launch for ski coats that occurred last year, you might use SharePoint Portal Server to do a search of all SharePoint Team Services Web sites to find the particular team Web that the ski coat product team used.

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