The second generation of Microsoft SharePoint Team Services technology recently debuted as Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), a free add-on for Windows Server 2003 that integrates with Microsoft Office 2003 applications and lets users easily create and maintain special Web sites that enable document collaboration among team members. WSS isn't just an elegant replacement for FTP- or WWW Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV)­based file shares, however. In addition to file sharing, SharePoint sites also support versioning, document checkout, calendar and task sharing, Instant Messaging (IM), and other collaborative technologies. Here's what you need to know about WSS. Also, note that WSS installs and runs on Windows 2003 only—it won't work with any Windows 2000 or Windows NT 4.0 OSs.

Office Integration
Accessing SharePoint Web sites is already straightforward, even for nontechnical users. However, users with Microsoft Office 2003 can now access WSS features and functionality directly from a new Shared Workspace task pane in Office applications such as Microsoft Office Word 2003. This task pane lets users view and edit document workspaces on WSS views, view and edit status information about the current document, see which users are online and use Windows Messenger to communicate with them, view and assign project tasks, view and edit available documents, link to additional Web-based resources, and perform other project-based tasks, all without leaving the familiar Office environment. Microsoft designed task panes to occupy unused space on the right side of Office applications, so they're less intrusive than dialog boxes and won't become buried under other windows.

Lower Costs, Less Downtime
The real beauty of WSS is that users can generate collaborative Web sites, bypassing the need to place support calls or ask an administrator to take time to set up a file share. Furthermore, team members can use a simple Web-based UI to administer the site, adding and removing users, managing shared resources, and performing other tasks.

Recommendations
WSS is a hidden gem that enterprises get with Windows 2003, although its most impressive features will require that users upgrade to Office 2003. But if you're already rolling out these products and supporting users who need to collaborate on documents, WSS will be a welcome surprise. Businesses with earlier Office versions can still take advantage of most WSS features, albeit through a less elegant and less integrated Web-based experience. All businesses rolling out Windows 2003 should investigate WSS.