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SharePoint featured prominently in Office 12 plans

The next version of Microsoft's Office suite of productivity applications will lean heavily on updated collaboration software designed to let users index and search e-mails and other documents in team environments.

Updated versions of Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services will be included in the...

next-generation productivity suite, code-named Office 12, furthering the company's enterprise collaboration initiative. Office 12 is scheduled to ship in the second half of 2006, with public betas available this fall.

While [SharePoint is] basic, compared to other offerings out there, it will be ubiquitous within a few years.


Erica Rugullies, analyst,

Forrester Research

,

The suite is ushering in what Microsoft is calling a "new world of work," in which information technology allows workers to collaborate in new ways. The strategy was broadly outlined by Microsoft chairman and software architect Bill Gates last week in an e-mail to customers and at the company's CEO Summit in Redmond, Wash.

"In a new world of work, where collaboration, business intelligence and prioritizing scarce time and attention are critical factors for success, the tools that information workers use must evolve in ways that do not add new complexity for people who already feel the pressure of an 'always-on' world and ever-rising expectations for productivity," Gates said in the e-mail message.

While Microsoft isn't giving specific information on how it is going to accomplish this, or which features will be included in the new suite, SharePoint is expected to incorporate some of the peer-to-peer technologies acquired with the purchase of Groove Networks Inc. Groove founder and Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie is likely to play a key role, now that he's joined Microsoft as a chief technology officer.

The Office product suite should have enhanced collaboration and information management capabilities, focusing on the overall enterprise content lifecycle and collaboration efficiency.

Capturing data in Exchange public folders

Exchange administrators in particular could see great benefit in the SharePoint update, according to Sanjay Manchanda, Microsoft's director of product management for portals.

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Exchange and SharePoint: Two peas in a pod

"SharePoint Portal Services provides a built-in enterprise search engine," said Manchanda. "One of the things we support out of the box is the ability to capture e-mails in Exchange public folders." The folders allow both e-mail and documents to be shared. SharePoint gives users the ability to index and search that content.

"Moving away from public folders and to use SharePoint sites is exactly what it's been designed to do," Manchanda said. "One of the reasons that it works so well in a collaborative environment is that it provides the capability for check-in and check-out and maintaining revision control." SharePoint also gives IT administrators a break from doing one-off projects as it allows end-users to create portals themselves.

Mauro Cardarelli, a consultant with systems integrator Knowledge Management Associates Inc., in Waltham, Mass., has helped more than a dozen clients learn and deploy SharePoint. Demand has increased, he said, and medium and large companies are beginning to develop portal strategies.

"It leaves a very small footprint from an IT perspective," said Cardarelli. "While they're responsible for the initial deployment … ownership of the portal pages is handed over to the business side. IT provides support from a disaster-recovery perspective.

Basic but ubiquitous

SharePoint is the market leader among collaboration offerings, according to Erica Rugullies, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc., a Cambridge, Mass., market research firm. "While it's basic, compared to other offerings out there, it will be ubiquitous within a few years."

SharePoint does have its flaws.

"One of the major shortcomings of the product is that there is no capability for doing ad hoc approval writing," said Rugullies. "It isn't possible to track who contributed what to a document." SharePoint also doesn't allow for inter-enterprise collaboration because it requires Active Directory, a typically internal system.

However, Gates told a gathering of executives at the CEO Summit that Microsoft is making steps to resolve those issues in Office 12 products.

"We're making it easier for businesses to create, track, manage and distribute content both within and across organizational boundaries," Gates said. "And we're offering open XML standards and rapid-development tools so corporate developers can build and extend applications that specifically target their needs."

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