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August 30, 2007 / Bob Black

Sharepoint 2007 as Document Management System?

A couple of weeks ago I attended a Mindsharp Sharepoint Summit held in the beautiful Washington, D.C. My head almost burst with knowledge, because Sharepoint is a wildly complex tool, and Mindsharp does a fabulous job at training.

I would dare to say that Mindsharp may be one of the best training providers I’ve ever had the pleasure to be trained by. My class (the admin track) was led by Ben Curry, a Microsoft Sharepoint MVP who was clearly on the top of his game. Todd Bleeker led the developer track. Just look at Todd’s profile. Yeesh. These people have credentials coming out… their ears.

Microsoft Office Sharepoint Services (MOSS) has a host of new improvements over the 2003 product, which I was thrilled to see. For example, web applications are automatically provisioned on each web front end (WFE) server in your farm. Which is just brilliant. You can add a new WFE, flip a switch, and voila – a new IIS site is created, assigned a port, host header, the appropriate files are created, and you’re off to tell your boss how hard it was to add that new server.

The new Shared Services feature adds a new twist. Shared Services is the set of services that manages personal sites, user profiles, audiences, Excel Services, and the Business Data Catalog, for a set of a web applications. The new architecture allows greater configuration flexibility over Sharepoint 2003’s Shared Services. For example, it’s possible to create two different Shared Service Providers within the same farm, each with its own configuration.

Document management is a major component of life here at my law firm employer, and MOSS is almost ready to be a full-fledged document management system. Features like content types and built-in workflow capabilities make MOSS very enticing as a potential DMS, which some law firms like UK-based Lewis Silkin found hard to resist. Unfortunately, there are a few big ol’ bugs that still make it a little scary to use MOSS as your Enterprise DMS (just yet).

For example, one bug Ben Curry mentioned during training was with the document list Explorer view. You can open any document list in Windows Explorer, as though it were a folder. The path to the folder appears in the Windows Explorer address as a URL, for example http://www.portal.com/document%20lists/MyFolder/, but it looks just like a normal Windows folder! A user can copy, delete, cut, and paste files, and change the view (Details, List). Buckets of coolness.

But a problem occurs when you enable forced checkout mode, which you would want to enable if you were using MOSS as your DMS (Document Management System), because you don’t want anyone to edit a document without first checking it out. Checkouts should therefore be automatic. Checkins, unfortunately, are not automatic, so a user can copy a thousand files into this pseudo-folder (filling up your content database in the process), leave for the day, and because they never checked the files in you won’t be able to see why your content database suddenly filled up! That’s right, until the user checks in the files for the first time, nobody, not even an admin, can see the documents (note that this only occurs when using the Explorer view).

And no, you can’t turn the Explorer view “feature” off, not without disabling WebDav, which disables lots of other important things too, like Sharepoint Designer authoring, among other things.

Fortunately, that little buggy is buried off in a rather obscure, hard to find place. For small-ish law firms, or small to medium-size businesses where a big-honkin’ Enterprise class Document Management System would be overkill, Sharepoint 2007 fits the bill very nicely. And I know many people are anxiously awaiting the next version (2008? 2009?), not just for the slate of new features sure to be included, but to see if Microsoft gobbles up all the DMS competition.

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One Comment

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  1. Tom B izannes / Aug 5 2009 12:02 am

    That’s why the Wisdom Document Management Addon for SharePoint automatically checks documents out and then prompts you if you don;t check them back in.

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