SharePoint Portal Server - Benefits
Some ideas are just great and SharePoint is one such wonderful idea. SharePoint organizes all aspects of information sharing, from finding documents through to collaborating with version control and workflow. It also works in partnership with other Microsoft products, from the Internet Explorer to see the site, to Office XP to publish the documents.
However, beware there are two products from Microsoft. SharePoint Portal Server is the bigger and better 'full package', SharePoint Team server is the smaller 'cheapskate' product. This page extols the benefits SharePoint Portal Server.
Problems that SharePoint solves
The best feature for collaboration is the 'Check In' / 'Check Out for documents'. This allows only one user at a time to modify a document whilst simultaneously creating document versions. When one user has 'Checked Out' a document others can still get a read only copy of the last published version.
The key client is Office XP because it has this check in / out feature on its menus. This in itself is good new as it tells me that SharePoint has a future if the client is built-in to Office.
The traditional way is to create folders, with SharePoint you can create what Microsoft call 'Digital Dashboards' to display the folders in a way which makes most sense to you and your users.
Tip - Use meaning full names for the folder and the documents
Metadata - data about e.g. time created
SharePoint cajoles, nags or even bullies authors to add metadata like author and keywords. The result is that the documents are so much more valuable and easier to 'Find'.
The twin concepts of publishing and metadata make it possible to give documents version numbers. The author can control when a document has been changed sufficiently to warrant a new whole number, or whether its just a point increase.
When you browse through documents, you do a lot of scrolling down or double clicking to open a subfolder. With searching you put your criteria in a box and the engine searches the documents and pulls out matches.
SharePoint makes searching a pleasure. It forces the user to add useful metadata
SharePoint can link email address to a change notification process, the result team member know when a document is updated.
In medium and large companies there are many scenarios where you need document approval, holiday requests, expense claims spring to mind. SharePoint is flexible, you can set up documents for serial or parallel approval; in addition require that any or all must approve.
Author and Reader roles that you can assign in SharePoint remind me of public folder permissions in outlook. 'Under the covers' SharePoint uses Windows 2000 access control lists and bundles read, write, modify, full control into roles like Reader, Author and coordinator.