Microsoft readies portal server

Microsoft on Monday named its new portal, search and document management server and said it will be available in the spring.

          Microsoft on Monday named its new portal, search and document management server and said it will be available in the spring.

          The server, code-named "Tahoe," was officially renamed the SharePoint Portal Server, and Microsoft shipped the first "release candidate" to beta testers Monday. A release candidate is software deemed worthy of shipping but subjected to a final round of testing for major bugs.

          Microsoft is touting SharePoint as an enterprisewide intranet portal that can index documents on file servers, Web servers, Exchange public folders, Lotus Notes databases and other data sources across an enterprise and provide searching and publishing capabilities.

          Critics contend the server's product positioning and wide range of features are confusing to end users. The software also has several features that overlap with Exchange 2000 and Office Server Extensions, which add document sharing and Web publishing capabilities to Office 2000.

          Also, both SharePoint and Exchange 2000 incorporate Microsoft's Web Storage System, a universal repository that supports multiple file formats.

          But Microsoft officials say the server is a cornerstone for knowledge management and will challenge Lotus, which is expected to ship its Discovery Server, code-named "Raven," early this year.

          "In comparison to Raven, we have portal, search and document management in one product," says Trina Seinfeld, product manager for SharePoint. Lotus' Discovery Server does not include document management, which is offered as a separate product.

          SharePoint also is integrated with Windows 2000 and the upcoming Office 10, which has a feature called SharePoint TeamServices for creating ad hoc Web sites for project teams.

          The SharePoint server can recognize TeamServices Web sites as part of its indexing and cataloging features.

          SharePoint has three main components, a user interface based on Microsoft's Digital Dashboard technology; document management features that allow check-in/check-out, version tracking and approval routing; and a search engine developed by Microsoft Research.

          The search engine is similar to the one in SQL Server 7.0, which uses a probabilistic search algorithm. The engine also has an adaptive crawling mechanism that remembers where the freshest data is on the network and routinely searches that area, and a subscription service that provides automatic notification when new data related to a chosen topic is available.

          The search engine can index and catalog any file that has an iFilter, which allows the search engine to view a file's contents. There are iFilters available for Adobe PDF files, Corel Word Perfect and Microsoft Office applications. The engine also can index HTML-based files. Microsoft is working with vendors such as SAP on filters for their file formats, which currently have to be saved to HTML before they can be recognized by the search engine's indexing feature.

          SharePoint also will ship with approximately 25 Web Parts, which are Digital Dashboard components that allow functionality, such as instant messaging, to be plugged into portal sites. Customer Web Parts also can be built.

          SharePoint, which was first introduced in January 1999, runs on Windows 2000 but does not require Active Directory. It can be used in a Windows NT domain. Microsoft expects to ship the software this spring, but pricing has not been set.

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