Guides What Developers Need to Know About Windows SharePoint Services

What Developers Need to Know About Windows SharePoint Services

You’re probably at least vaguely aware that Microsoft has a collaborative
product named SharePoint. Actually, they have several such products, and one of
them — the soon-to-be-released Windows SharePoint Services — is poised to make
a significant difference in the way that you write collaborative applications.
As an optional (but free) component of Windows 2003, SharePoint Team Services
provides a rich collaborative layer that any application is free to use. In this
article and in other articles to come, I’ll show you the basics of SharePoint
Services, so that you can add this product to your toolbox for future
solutions.

Getting Started with Windows SharePoint Services 2.0

Windows SharePoint Services 2.0 is the new version of the application that
was formerly known as SharePoint Team Services. Under either name, it’s
Microsoft’s solution for workgroup and department collaboration. (There’s also
SharePoint Portal Server, which is aimed at more enterprise-level applications).
SharePoint Services allows you to communicate, share documents, and work
together on projects using nothing more than a Web browser. Figure 1 shows a
SharePoint Services Web site open in Internet Explorer.

SharePoint Services in the browser

Installing Windows SharePoint Services 2.0

SharePoint Services is free; you can download the current beta from the Windows
SharePoint Services page
on Microsoft’s Web site. The final release of this
version should be available at about the same time that Office 2003 comes out,
later this year. You’ll need to ensure that your system meets some minimum
requirements to install SharePoint services. Note that these requirements only
apply to the system where the server runs, not to client systems that access
SharePoint sites:

  • Hardware
    • Intel Pentium III-compatible processor
    • 512 megabytes (MB) of RAM
    • 550 MB of available hard disk drive space
  • Software
    One of the following operating systems:
    • Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Standard Edition
    • Windows Server 2003, Enterprise Edition
    • Windows Server 2003, Datacenter Edition
    • Windows Server 2003, Web Edition
  • Web Application Server with the following components:
    • ASP.NET
    • Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 with the following components:
    • Common Files
    • SMTP Service
    • World Wide Web Service
  • Database
    One of the following versions of Microsoft SQL Server:
    • SQL Server 2000, with the latest service pack
    • SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, with the latest service pack
    • SQL Server 2000 Desktop Engine (MSDE 2000)
  • Network
    • Multiple server configurations must be members of a Windows NT 4.0, Windows
      2000, or Windows Server 2003 domain.
  • Browser
    One of the following browsers:
    • Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.01 with Service Pack 2
    • Internet Explorer 5.5 with Service Pack 2
    • Internet Explorer 6.0
    • Netscape Navigator 6.2 or higher

Given those prerequisites, installing SharePoint Services is easy. Just run
the SETUPSTS.EXE file on the Windows SharePoint Services CD-ROM or from the
downloaded file. This installs SharePoint Services on the default Web site for
the computer, and sets up its own instance of the Microsoft Desktop Engine
(MSDE) version of Microsoft SQL Server to store the SharePoint Services data.
For more complex configurations (such as using an existing SQL Server to store
SharePoint Services data), refer to the release notes installed with the
product.

SharePoint Services Architecture

SharePoint Services is built on the twin foundations of Microsoft SQL Server
(or MSDE), and ASP.NET. SharePoint Services is implemented largely as a set of
Web Parts, which are ASP.NET controls that run on the server. Web Parts can
display lists or images, retrieve stock quotes or weather forecasts, and perform
a host of other tasks. Web Parts are grouped into Web part pages, which can be
built and modified in an HTML editor, FrontPage or directly in the browser.

For the developer, SharePoint Services offers a number of ways to tie in to
the collaborative process. I’ll briefly introduce three of these in this article
(and then dig into them further in future articles):

  1. Web Services
  2. Lists
  3. Workspaces

Using SharePoint Web Services

You’ve certainly noticed Microsoft pushing Web Services as a means of
application connectivity over the last year or so — and with good reason. The
loosely-coupled model of Web Services, where the client needs very little prior
knowledge of the server, is an ideal way to manage platform-agnostic component
software from multiple vendors distributed across networks. For version 2.0,
Microsoft has added a comprehensive Web Services API to SharePoint Services.
Just about any task that can be done from the browser-based user interface can
also be done by making an appropriate Web Services call. Figure 2 shows the test
page for the Meetings Web Service, which is one of a dozen Web Services
supported by SharePoint Services.

SharePoint Meetings Web Service test page

The Web Services API for SharePoint Services is important for several
reasons. First, it provides easy access to SharePoint functionality for other
Microsoft applications that can consume Web Services — notably, Visual Studio
.NET and Office 2003 (or Office XP) equipped with the Web Services Toolkit. But
even more importantly, thsi ties SharePoint Services to the open standards that
support Web Services, including SOAP and WSDL. This will make it possible to
write applications on a variety of platforms that work with SharePoint Services
data.

Using SharePoint Lists

SharePoint lists are not new in this version of SharePoint. Lists are
the basic data structure of SharePoint Services; everything from meetings to
contacts is stored as a list, which is very similar to an Access table or an
Excel range. What is new is tight integration of SharePoint lists with the
applications in Microsoft Office 2003. You can, for example, save an Excel
2003 range as a SharePoint list, or open a SharePoint list in Excel. You can
import, export, and link data from Access to SharePoint and
vice versa. This makes SharePoint a very useful tool for data interchange with
Office 2003 applications.

For example, suppose that most of your employees work with Microsoft Access,
but that you have a few roaming employees who need to be able to get to the same
data with nothing more than a Web browser. Rather than layer a Web interface on
top of the Access data, you could store the data in SharePoint Services, link it
back to an Access database for the majority of your workers, and let the rest
use it through the standard browser-based SharePoint interface.

Using SharePoint Workspaces

SharePoint Services 2.0 introduces “Meeting Workspaces” and “Document
Workspaces” – these are SharePoint sites organized around particular tasks and
accessed mainly through Office 2003 documents instead of Web sites. A Meeting
Workspace lets you organize the documents and tasks surrounding a meeting, while
a Document Workspace provides you with a document-centric collaboration model.
Figure 3 shows a Document Workspace open in the task pane of Microsoft Word
2003.

A Document Workspace in action

Workspaces provide another way for users to interact with SharePoint — one
in which SharePoint isn’t even evident to the end user. In addition, Office 2003
supplies an object model for workspaces, so you can use Office VBA code to tie
into SharePoint directly.

Is There Collaboration In Your Future?

Microsoft is betting heavily on collaboration in general, and SharePoint
Services in particular, to drive the adoption of Office 2003. You should expect
a steady stream of technical and marketing material to come out of Redmond,
demonstrating the usefulness of these features. Of course, you should evaluate
SharePoint Services in terms of your own organization’s needs, not strictly
based on marketing. The key questions are whether you’re doing anything that can
benefit from collaborative features, and whether those features can be easily
supplied by the SharePoint Services infrastructure. If the answer to both of
those questions is “yes,” then it’s definitely worth your while to find out more
about the nuts and bolts of these features.

Mike Gunderloy is the author of over 20 books and numerous articles on
development topics, and the lead developer for Larkware. Check out his MCAD 70-305, MCAD
70-306, and MCAD 70-310 Training Guides from Que Publishing. When he’s not
writing code, Mike putters in the garden on his farm in eastern Washington
state.

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