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Microsoft just released SharePoint 2010, the latest version of its enterprise-level content-management, search, and collaboration platform. TechSoup has donations of SharePoint 2010 Standard Edition, SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise Edition and SharePoint Workspace 2010 to eligible nonprofits and libraries. SharePoint is an impressive, powerful application, but its wealth of features makes it difficult to understand if you haven't had access to any of the previous versions. Therefore, if you're evaluating SharePoint 2010 as a possible answer to your organization's knowledge management needs, some of the resources below might help you to make your decision and learn how to use it.
Expert SharePoint Consulting from mindSHIFT
You can follow the links below and do your own SharePoint research, but it's often faster to talk to an expert, explain your situation, and ask them to get your evaluation underway to help guide your project implementation. The consultants at mindSHIFT specialize in advising organizations on whether or not SharePoint suits their organizational needs, and how to plan a successful SharePoint implementation. When you request the mindSHIFT donation through TechSoup, you'll get four hours of consulting services. The donation starts with phone and email interviews to give the consultants a sense of your organization's situation, followed by a written report with recommendations on the feasibility of using SharePoint in your office.
Sandboxing SharePoint 2010
If you want a detailed understanding of SharePoint 2010's features and capabilities, spending some quality time together is the best technique. If you want to download a free trial of SharePoint 2010 and experiment with it, you'll need a server with a 64-bit, four-core processor, and the 64-bit edition of Windows Server 2008. You can download a trial version of Windows Server 2008 and a trial version of MOSS 2010. As usual, trial versions are free, but they expire after a set period of time (30 to 180 days, depending on the software). Since you probably don't have a spare server under your desk, consider following these step-by-step instructions on How to Install SharePoint 2010 on Amazon Cloud: EC2. You can also use one of Microsoft's cloud platforms; Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) or Azure. BPOS offers a free 30-day trial. Theoretically, you could use this free trial to experiment with SharePoint while you're trying to decide if it's the right solution for your organization. However, I found the trial version very limited and difficult to work with. For testing and learning purposes, I'd recommend Azure or Amazon's EC2 over BPOS.
Comprehensive SharePoint Documentation
A few sites offer extensive, nearly comprehensive coverage of past and present versions of SharePoint. Of course, SharePoint is one of Microsoft's flagship products, so the Microsoft site contains reams of information about SharePoint. The official SharePoint 2010 site is a convenient starting point for finding much of this information. Also, the SharePoint team has provided separate portals for IT Professionals, software developers, and SharePoint end users. The SharePoint Tech Center on TechNet is a good resource for beginning to advanced SharePoint training, aimed mostly at IT Professionals. If you'd like step-by-step directions for accomplishing specific tasks, aimed mostly at an end-user audience, visit the SharePoint Help and How To page.
If you'd like a neutral third-party perspective, CMS Wire is a site that offers thorough coverage of SharePoint and its competitors. They also provide a useful software directory in case you want to explore alternatives to SharePoint. Finally, when studying an advanced, enterprise technology such as SharePoint, I often find that it's worth the money to buy a book or two on the subject. I can't recommend a specific title, but Wrox, O'Reilly, and Microsoft Press are all reliable technical publishers.
Broad Overviews of SharePoint's Features
Rather than detail each one of SharePoint's hundreds of features, these articles describe broad classes of functionality such as collaboration, enterprise search, and enterprise content management. You can see my recent introductory article SharePoint 2010 for Nonprofits and Libraries for my take on its business use for these sectors as well as some highlights of the new features in the 2010 version.
Jeff Teper, Microsoft's Vice President in charge of SharePoint Server wrote a series of blog posts earlier this year describing the history, architecture. and high-level functionality of SharePoint Server. Also, while Introducing the Features of a SharePoint Site refers to MOSS 2003, it applies to subsequent versions as well. SharePoint 2007 Review - Six Pillars of MOSS is also version agnostic.
Detailed Descriptions of SharePoint Functionality
If you're trying get a more detailed understanding of everything that SharePoint can do, you should explore the SharePoint Capabilities pie chart and the Editions comparison tool. As you can see with the latter, SharePoint comes in several versions, and the Enterprise Edition is the only one that provides features in the Insight category. Again, the SharePoint Tech Center provides granular descriptions of each of those features.
Comparing SharePoint with other Knowledge Management Solutions
There are dozens if not hundreds of strategies and applications for managing organizational knowledge and collaboration. A few articles in the TechSoup Learning Center take a compare-and-contrast approach to this type of technology. For example these two articles discuss SharePoint in a broader context:
What's New or Improved in SharePoint 2010
If you want more information about the upgrades in the latest version of SharePoint, check out these articles:
Share your tips on using SharePoint at your organization and what things you're looking for when considering whether to upgrade (or jump into) getting the 2010 version. Got any great resources for learning how to use it? Share them in our forums!