Microsoft SharePoint in a poor man’s language

Needless to say that Microsoft is now mostly about productivity in the office and Microsoft (MS) Office is the collection of tools that delivers this. In MS Office, we have MS Word, which is the software that allows you to create documents by providing you with a graphical user interface (GUI) that collects the characters you pick on the keyboard and combines them into the words that make up your document. The GUI also allows you to section your document – creating lines, paragraphs, sub-sections, sections, chapters, front matter, and so on. These capabilities are quite intuitive, if only because they can also be accomplished by hand!

The Excel component of MS Office is also not that foreign, as it is simply a spreadsheet that allows you to enter data into tables and do “small” calculations on the data. You can also carry out some statistical analysis, graphing, and writing small codes. (My daughter, the Aerospace Engineer, uses Excel in ways I have never seen a human being use it – so sophisticated and far more advanced than I could ever do!) The PowerPoint in Office came to replace the old way that we used to make presentations – which involve the use of viewgraphs – those transparent films on which you write or type the material you want to present to an audience, and display the material on a large screen with the help of a projector. This too is quite intuitive. In MS Office, there is also Outlook, which provides you with the capability to send and receive emails, for example, as an alternative to Google’s Gmail.  More recently – that is, in Office 365 – the MS Yammer tool was added to Office, as an Enterprise Social Network (ESN), that enables Facebook-style communications with the users in your organization. The usefulness of these components of Office are easy to appreciate. The capabilities provided by SharePoint in MS Office are also within grasp, but a bit of hand-holding may be in order.

Using SharePoint, you can manage your own documents and data, or the documents/data of your team members. You can create a “room” or “back-office” (website) in your office complex (web) where you can keep your documents, and data and the documents of your colleagues, locked up. Only people who have the key (password) of the lock to the room or back-office will be able to enter it to remove documents, make changes to the documents, send the documents to others, take the documents home to work on them, and then return the documents (modified or unchanged) into the room. The other people you collaborate with, because they have their own keys to the room, can go into the room to take a look at any changes that you or your other team members have made to the documents. The meaning of the word “sharing” in SharePoint is thus quite obvious.

Of course, to create and modify the documents, you will need a word processor, which is where Microsoft (MS) Word comes in. After all, Microsoft developed this application as well, so you will expect that SharePoint should work well with MS Word. Also, it is not difficult to imagine how Microsoft Excel can come into the mix. Moreover, to manage data of all sorts (customer names, affiliations, financials, historical service/support information, and so on), you will need a database management tool, with MS SQL or MS Access being obviously relevant. Well, all of these tools are bundled in MS Office 365. The metaphorical room or back-office referred to above could of course be Microsoft’s cloud, Azure. Has Microsoft cornered the productivity landscape or what?

Since your other team members are located in their various offices in your office complex, or elsewhere (different cities, different countries, different continents, etc.) there must be an application (app) that connects them to SharePoint. This could be a third-party software – or software developed by an entity different from Microsoft.

In a nutshell, what can you do with MS SharePoint? Here are some:  Upload files to your SharePoint document library so you can access them from anywhere, open a document in the (document library), work with team members on the same document at the same time, share documents, create a site for your team, keep previous versions of a document while changing it, search for stuff in the library, and share information with team members.

The way to acquire Microsoft tools has gotten more complicated in recent years because of the focus on web deployments. This applies to SharePoint as well. In those days, you bought your copy of Office and it has everything you need installed on your desktop, and you might not need to interact with Microsoft ever on the product. I don’t think this is possible anymore! The only way to obtain SharePoint server license as of today is through membership in Microsoft Visual Studio Enterprise, which costs $5,999 for the first year about $2,000 annually thereafter. This is not cheap. However, you may acquire SharePoint via single-standalone subscription. There are two plans. Plan I give you one Terabyte of cloud storage and cost you $5/month with a commitment for one year. Plan II gives more storage but costs twice as much. Note in particular that the old “one-time” purchase model is passé!

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