Office 2007 collaboration features puzzle IT managers

With Office 2007, Microsoft is releasing SharePoint as a collaboration boost for Office 2007. IT managers are asking how to adapt SharePoint Services to their businesses.

We have this week's formal announcement covered regarding Microsoft Windows Vista and Office 2007 in Training and help desks loom large in Office 2007 adoption and Office 2007 adoption hurdles shared by IT managers.

As Microsoft prepares to release Office 2007, IT managers are in the process of figuring out how the launch will work with all the flavors of SharePoint -- the collaboration software that can be purchased separately to work with the productivity suite.

Microsoft will launch Vista and Office 2007 code on Nov. 30. Exchange Server 2007 code will come out in December.

Available now, SharePoint Services 3.0 is a free service in Windows Server 2003 R2 for creating a Web-based collaboration community and Web-based business applications.

SharePoint Server 2007 will be available this week. It includes the same document sharing and community creation capabilities as SharePoint Services but has enterprise document management and search functions as well. The product offers four different licensing options, from basic to enterprise, each with different privileges.

"[SharePoint Server] does everything Services does, but it has more advanced document management and support for compliance definitions for documents, for example, search features and Web content management," said Rob Helm, director of research, desktops at consulting firm Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash.

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Aside from the confusion between SharePoint Services and the server, a subset of features within SharePoint Server are available as separate licenses, such as for Enterprise Search and Business Process and Forms, said Helm.

"It's a very capable product, but IT managers are left to figure out how to adapt SharePoint to their business," he said, adding that they need to determine which license or features are right for them.

SharePoint Server is just window dressing, said Steve Perry, IT director at Costello & Sons Insurance Brokers in San Rafael, Calif. "There's a lot of interest in it, but it doesn't really replace what you can already do in terms of network shared drives and Outlook," Perry said. "It's not really ultimately adding a lot of benefits." But SharePoint Services does look like a promising platform for corporate intranets, he added.

Other IT managers say SharePoint has room to grow before their organizations consider it as an alternative to other collaboration tools.

If you look at GroupWise or Lotus Notes you can see where SharePoint needs to go," said Mike MacNeill, director of technical operations for Cross Country Healthcare in Boca Raton, Fla. Other collaboration software works on all operating systems and all Web browsers and devices, MacNeill said. "If you look at SharePoint in IE and then Firefox, it's completely different."

Technology developed by Web-based software vendor Groove Networks, which Microsoft acquired in April 2005, has also been added giving users the ability to create documents in Office 2007 applications and share them in a hosted workspace.

The collaboration features are Microsoft's attempt to make IT managers view Office as more than a collection of productivity applications, said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director with JupiterResearch in New York.

"They've done a lot to enhance the features in SharePoint and make integration with Outlook better," Gartenberg said. "They don't want IT managers to look at Office [7] as just another upgrade or suite itself, but as a development platform."

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