Lately, Microsoft has been placing a much heavier emphasis
on its SharePoint line of products. SharePoint will eventually take over the
public folder functionality currently found in Exchange Server and Microsoft is
also pushing to make SharePoint the file server technology of choice.
Unfortunately, many of the people that I have talked to say that they find
SharePoint to be confusing. What makes SharePoint even more confusing though is
that it comes in two different flavors; the Windows SharePoint Services and
SharePoint Portal Server. In this article, I will discuss the differences and
the similarities of these two products.

Costs

If you are shopping for SharePoint products, the first
difference that you are likely to notice between the two versions of SharePoint
is the cost. SharePoint
Portal Server
tends to be a bit pricey. The retail price of SharePoint
Portal Server with five client access licenses is $5,619. This price is the tip
of the iceberg though. You must also figure in the cost of a Windows Server
2003 license, the Windows Server client access licenses, and the cost of the
hardware that SharePoint will run on. SharePoint Portal Server also requires
SQL Server. The software comes with MSDE (Microsoft Database Engine), which is
a watered down version of SQL Server, but most organizations will have to use a
full blown SQL Server deployment.

Furthermore, if you need additional SharePoint client access
licenses, those licenses cost $71 per device or user. Since SharePoint is a Web
based technology, it is conceivable that some organizations may make a
SharePoint site available to external users or non employees over the Internet.
In order to do so, you must purchase an external connector license. An external
connector license sells for $30,000 per server.

As you can see, SharePoint Portal Server can be very pricey
to deploy. In contrast though, the Windows SharePoint Services are free!
Actually, they aren’t completely free. You still need a Windows Server 2003
license and the Windows Server client access licenses. Even so, Microsoft
offers the Windows SharePoint Services as a downloadable feature pack for
Windows Server 2003.

To put it into prospective, both SharePoint products require
you to buy a Windows Server 2003 license and the necessary Windows Server
client access licenses. After doing so though, you could deploy the Windows
SharePoint Services at no additional cost, whereas deploying SharePoint Portal
Server will cost you thousands of additional dollars in software licenses.

Windows SharePoint Services

Since the Windows SharePoint Services are so much less
expensive than SharePoint Portal Server, I will talk about it first. As I
mentioned earlier, the Windows SharePoint Services are downloadable as a free
feature pack for Windows Server 2003. You can download the Windows SharePoint
Services at Microsoft’s
Web site.

The Windows SharePoint Services are primarily focused around
workgroup level collaboration. The idea is that the Windows SharePoint Services
can be easily deployed in a matter of minutes. Once the Windows SharePoint
Services are up and running, it is simple to set up a workspace for a small
group of users, with minimal effort. This allows a group of users to share a
small collection of documents among themselves.

Even though small seems to be the operative word here, don’t
be fooled. The Windows SharePoint Services can be scaled to support thousands
of users and multiple terabytes of data. In fact, SharePoint Portal Server (an
enterprise class product) is built on top of the Windows SharePoint Services.

The truth is that even though the Windows SharePoint Services
are free, the Windows SharePoint Services are no slouch by any stretch of the
imagination. While it’s true that SharePoint Portal Server offers features and
capabilities that the Windows SharePoint Services don’t offer, the Windows
SharePoint Services is a very powerful application.

When you install the Windows SharePoint Services, there is
next to no configuration that has to be done. I have to admit that when I
installed the Windows SharePoint Services on my test server, I didn’t take
notes regarding the installation process, but I honestly can’t remember having
to do anything other than accepting an end user license agreement. Once the
installation was complete, Windows opened Internet Explorer and displayed the
Windows SharePoint Services Web site, shown in Figure A.

Figure A

This is what the Windows SharePoint Services Web Site looks like.

As I mentioned earlier, SharePoint Portal Server costs
thousands of dollars while the Windows SharePoint Services are free. In order
to understand what you are really getting for your money if you decide to
invest in SharePoint Portal Server, you need to have a good idea of what you
can and can’t do with the Windows SharePoint Services. Unfortunately, there is
no way that I can talk about all of the Windows SharePoint Service features in
a single article, but I will give you a brief tour so that you can see how
SharePoint Portal Server differs.

If you look at Figure A, you will see that the Home page
contains a list of announcements, events, and links. Each of these sections is
made up of a separate Web part. A Web part is nothing more than a block of HTML
or ASP code. In a SharePoint environment, multiple Web parts can be joined
together to create a Web page like the one that you see in Figure A. In fact,
you will notice in Figure A that there is a Modify Shared Page link directly
above the Windows SharePoint Services logo. You can use this link to add
additional Web Parts, remove unwanted Web Parts, or to rearrange the position
of the Web parts on the screen.

What this means is that the SharePoint Web site is
completely customizable. The reason why this is important is because the
default Web site is usually only used in the smallest organizations. As you
will recall, earlier, I mentioned that the Windows SharePoint Services were
designed to allow small groups of users to share small groups of documents.

If a user were to click the Create link, they would be able
to create a dedicated Web site for the group or the project that they are
working with. The fact that SharePoint sites are nothing more than a collection
of pre-defined Web parts means that when users create dedicated Web sites, they
can custom tailor the new site to fit their specific needs. Furthermore, they
can accomplish this without having to do any coding.

That being the case, you might be wondering what users can
use these Web sites for. Well, if you go back to Figure A, you can get a bit of
a preview. If you look in the menu bar on the left portion of the screen, you
will see links for shared documents, contacts, tasks, discussions, and surveys.
There is actually a lot more that users can do with the Windows SharePoint
Services, but I don’t really have the space to talk about everything, so let’s
pretend that these were the only options available.

To see how these particular Web parts are useful, imagine
that you are working as a part of a team that’s assigned to develop a new
product for your company. In such a case, you could start out by creating a
contacts list containing contact information for everyone on the team. You
could then go on to add contact information for parts suppliers and other
non-employees that you might interact with as a part of the project.

You could then use the task list to assign tasks related to
the project to various members of the team. The Discussion area is basically a
message board that can be used to discuss specific issues related to the
project. You could use the Pictures library to store blueprints or design
ideas, while the document library can be used to store text documents.

The document library is one of the key pieces of SharePoint
and is worth discussing for a moment. The idea behind the document library is
that users can check documents in and out of the library. Essentially, what
this means is that a user can check out a document, make changes, and check the
document back in. This prevents users from making simultaneous, possibly
contradictory changes to a document, but it does something else too. The
document library allows you to retain multiple versions of documents. This way
you can see who has made changes to a document and when. If necessary, you can
even revert to a previous version of the document.

Another thing that the document library does is that it
allows users to be alerted to changes. Users can be alerted immediately if a
new document is added to the library or if an existing document is modified. If
users don’t want to be bothered by constant change notifications, they can
receive a daily or a weekly change summary message.

In case you are wondering, the Windows SharePoint Services
does have built in user management. You can easily specify which users are
allowed to create Web sites. When a user does create a site, they can decide
who can access the site, and what level of access various users should receive
to the document library and to other areas of the site.

SharePoint Portal Server

It’s impossible for me to talk about all of the capabilities
of the Windows SharePoint Services because the application is so intricate.
Hopefully by now though, you have a pretty good idea of what the Windows
SharePoint Services are and what they are used for. Now, I want to move on and
talk about SharePoint Portal Server. As I mentioned earlier, SharePoint Portal
Server was built on top of the Windows SharePoint Services. This means that
anything that the Windows SharePoint Services can do, SharePoint Portal Server
can also do.

The main difference between the two applications is their
focus and intended usage. As I have said numerous times in this article, the
Windows SharePoint Service’s primary focus is to create workspaces that small
groups of users can use to collaborate on projects by sharing a small
collection of documents and other data. Certainly, SharePoint Portal Server can
be used for this as well, but why spend thousands to do something that you can
do for free with the Windows SharePoint Services?

The main purpose for SharePoint Portal Server is to act as
an enterprise level portal. One of the areas where this is the most obvious is
in SharePoint Portal Server’s ability to manage documents. SharePoint Portal
Server’s document library is very similar to the one found in the Windows
SharePoint Services. The main difference is that SharePoint Portal Server is
designed to index huge numbers of documents that exist across multiple
locations.

For example, you could start out by indexing all of the
documents that exist on your company’s file servers. You don’t have to stop
there though. You could also index the public folders on your Exchange Servers.
If there are Web sites that your company frequently references, you could even
index pages on those sites. It doesn’t even matter if the Web page is in
secured by SSL. SharePoint can use the HTTPS protocol to index secure Web
content.

The point is that large companies typically have huge
amounts of information on file, and that information often exists in many
different formats (Microsoft Office documents, PDF files, public folders, HTML,
text files, etc.). What SharePoint Portal Server does is to make it possible
for users to use a single search engine to search for information regardless of
where the information is located and what format the information is in.

SharePoint Portal Server also differs from the Windows
SharePoint Services in its ability to search document indexes. SharePoint
Portal Server offers some very rich search capabilities. For example, users can
search for specific key words and tell the search engine that they only want to
search for items that have been added since their last search. The results of
the search can then be arranged by document author, site, date, and category.
SharePoint Portal Server also offers hierarchical search scopes that allow
users to perform searches from within specific topics, categories, or content
sources.

Similar names, but different

As you can see, there are many similarities between the
Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server. Where the two
products really differ is in that SharePoint Portal Server allows you to index
the contents of huge numbers of documents, in a variety of formats, both inside
and outside of your company. SharePoint Portal Server also offers advanced
query tools that make it easier to locate specific content within a vast store
of indexed content.