Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.; (800) 426-9400, www.microsoft.com
We installed and configured SharePoint Portal Server within 30 minutes, guided by a simple four-step setup wizard. For our initial catalog, we searched InfoWorld.com, several intranet sites, Exchange 5.5 public folders, a Notes 4.6 database, and two Windows NT 4 file servers. In addition to text and HTML files, the software includes an Ifilter interface, which allowed us to easily index TIFF images of faxes, Adobe Acrobat PDF files, and Corel WordPerfect documents.
The portal's out-of-the-box Web interface allowed us to get right to work. The search engine, which is built on SQL Server 7 technology, quickly returned accurate results ranked in order of importance. We noticed that the time to retrieve search results decreased with time; its adaptive crawling algorithm learned where documents were likely to be updated, so it spent less time indexing stale files. We also appreciated a "best bets" function, which placed files that we deemed important at the top of search results.
Within the portal, folders were organized by categories and could be populated by the portal or by users who publish information straight into them. By configuring the system's indexing and metadata features, we automatically organized marketing, financial, and technical data, which resided on different servers, into related libraries.
In addition, we subscribed to categories and searches, a feature that notified us, either by e-mail or an indicator within the portal interface, when new content was added to our areas of interest.
To enrich the look and usefulness of our personal portal display, we easily added and rearranged a few of the 25 supplied ActiveX components, called Web Parts. For example, we added our Outlook e-mail and calendar with the MSNBC news subscription services.
Web Parts are wwritten using Microsoft's Digital Dashboard Resource Kit 2; therefore it's easy for IT staff to create native Web applications for specific company needs. Within a few hours we wrote and distributed a simple Web Part displaying data from a SQL 7 database.
This extensible design is a key differentiator for SharePoint Portal Server. A portal, by its very definition, must be flexible enough to match a user's and a company's unique requirements.
We were impressed with how easily we could further customize our individual pages. For example, we saved a Microsoft Excel pivot table as a Web Part and inserted it into our portal view. We then interacted with the spreadsheet directly from the portal user interface. Word and PowerPoint files were treated in the same way. But this feature is only available when using Office XP, which we tested in beta form during this evaluation.