Traditionally, most situations that require a group of users to share a frequently updated document tend to get messy. One way that the situation is often handled is that a user might make an update and then E-mail the updates to everyone else in the group. Another common situation is that the document might be placed in a shared folder where it can be updated as needed. Both of these techniques have problems though. For example, what happens if two people try to make contradictory updates at the same time? What happens if a user updates the document incorrectly, ruining the document in the process. These are issues that business units within corporations have had to deal with for years. Fortunately, those days might be over thanks to a free add-on to Windows Server 2003 called the SharePoint Services.
What Are The SharePoint Services?
The SharePoint Services are the little brother to Microsoft’s SharePoint Portal Server. They are designed to allow users to organize and to more easily share information in a collaborative environment. For example, let’s go back to the example that I gave earlier in which a group of users needed to share a common document related to a project. Rather than trying to maintain the document in the usual way, the team could create a SharePoint Web site with a document library. The document library would allow users in the group to check the document in and out, thus guaranteeing that there was no chance of two users updating the document simultaneously. The document library can also maintain previous versions of documents so that if the team needed to revert to a previous version they could easily do so without having to restore a backup. The document library even offers a manageable set of permissions that control who can read, create, or modify documents. You can even structure approval routing so that a change to a document will not be posted to the library until it has been approved by a manager.
If all of this sounds really complicated, it isn’t. The SharePoint Services are designed so that even someone with no programming experience can create a collaborative Web site on the fly by using prefabricated Web parts. Microsoft offers an entire library of Web parts that do all sorts of different things. For example, there is a document library Web part, a calendar Web part, etc. All the project leader has to do is to tell SharePoint which Web parts to use, set a few permissions for the team, and they are in business.
Preparing Your Server
Prior to downloading and installing the SharePoint services, you must do a little prep work on your server. First, you must verify that your server is running Windows Server 2003, ASP.NET and IIS 6. More specifically, your server must be running the World Wide Web service, the SMTP Service, and the Common Files components of IIS. You should avoid installing the SharePoint Services onto any server that is already hosting a Web site however, because the installation process temporarily shuts down any existing Web sites. It will also disable Kerberos authentication for IIS because the SharePoint services use NTLM authentication instead of Kerberos.
To install the necessary components, open the Control Panel and select the Add / Remove Programs option. When the Add / Remove Programs dialog box appears, click the Add / Remove Windows Components button to launch the Windows Components Wizard. Select the Application Server option from the list of available components and click the Details button to display the various Application Server components. Select the ASP.NET check box and then select Internet Information Services (IIS) and click the Details button to display all off the IIS sub components. Select the check boxes corresponding to World Wide Web Service, SMTP Service, and Common Files. Click OK twice, Next and Finish to complete the installation.
Installing the SharePoint Services
Although the SharePoint Services are designed to be easy to use, it is a bit of a chore installing them and setting the server’s initial configuration. Fortunately, that’s a one time job. To get started, you must first download the SharePoint Services from Microsoft. You can get the SharePoint services from http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2003/technologies/sharepoint/default.mspx The download consists of a 34 MB self extracting, executable file.
To install the SharePoint Services, download the STSV2.EXE file to an empty folder and then double click on it. This will cause Windows to decompress the file’s contents and to launch the installation program. When the Setup wizard begins, accept the license agreement and click Next to continue. The following screen will ask you if you would like to perform a typical installation or if you would rather set up a server farm. For demonstration purposes, select the Typical Installation option and click Next. The Setup program will now confirm that it is about to install the SharePoint Services and that the target drive has enough free space. Click the Install button to begin installing the necessary files.
As the installation progresses, you might notice a message indicating that Setup is configuring the Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine. The Windows SharePoint Services are dependant on SQL Server. As we all know though, SQL Server can be expensive. To help make the SharePoint Services (and other applications) more affordable, Microsoft has included a watered down version of SQL Server in Windows Server 2003. It is called the Microsoft SQL Desktop Engine or MSDE. If you don’t have SQL Server installed on your server prior to installing the Windows SharePoint Services, Setup will automatically configure the SharePoint Services to use MSDE. Although MSDE works sufficiently well, SQL Server offers much better performance in environments in which more than five people will be using the Windows SharePoint Services simultaneously.
Configuring the Windows SharePoint Services
When the installation process completes, Internet Explorer will open and display the default SharePoint Web site, as shown in Figure A. As you can see, the default Web site contains folders for documents, pictures, links, contacts, tasks, discussions, and surveys. These elements are all made up of individual Web parts. You can add or remove Web parts to change the page’s look, feel, and functionality, by clicking the Modify Shared Page link.
Figure A: This is a portion of the default Web page
When you click on this link, you will have several different options presented to you. You can Add Web Parts, Design This Page, or Modify Shared Web Parts. The Add Web Parts option allows you to add a prefabricated Web part to the page. You can also write your own Web parts in HTML or ASP code. The Design This Page option allows you to drag the currently used Web parts to new locations or to get rid of them completely. The Modify Shared Web Parts option allows you to control things like the size of a Web part, what toolbars it uses, and the text displayed within it.
As you may recall, to get to these options, you clicked the Modify Shared Page link. This means that when you make a change, the change effects anyone who views the page. The Modify Shared Page menu has two other options though; Shared View and Personal View. Shared View is the default setting, but if you switch to a personal view, then any changes that you make to the Web page will only effect you. Everyone else still sees the shared view (or their own personal view). Likewise, you have the option of switching between the shared view and your personal view.
Now that I have shown you how to move around some Web parts, click on the Site Settings link. As you can see in Figure B, the Site Settings page allows you to customize the site’s permissions, or modify the look of the site by applying a theme.
Figure B: The Site Settings page allows you to manage user permissions
Permissions within the SharePoint Services are fairly complex and are beyond the scope of this article. What I can tell you though is that you can modify the site’s permissions by clicking the Manage Users link. Upon doing so, you will see the screen shown in Figure C. As you can see, you can add users, delete users, or you can click on a user to modify their permissions. Although Figure C shows someone with Administrator permissions, don’t be fooled. SharePoint permissions are different from NTFS permissions. SharePoint Permissions are role based. For example, the Contributor role can add content to document libraries and lists, while the Web Designer role can modify the site’s design. Figure D shows a summary of the various roles.
Figure C: The SharePoint Services allow you to add and remove users from the site
Figure D: SharePoint security is role based
The Windows SharePoint Services are an excellent solution to office data collaboration nightmares. In this article, I have shown you how to deploy the SharePoint services. I then went on to show you some of the basics regarding modifying the site design and controlling permissions to the site.