Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 is a significant improvement over SharePoint 07, providing IT execs with multiple ways to streamline their infrastructure and cut costs.

Based on our hands-on testing of the public beta of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, this product allows IT departments to run applications such as enterprise search, content management, collaboration and business intelligence on a single platform.

Together with improved internet site capabilities, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 means companies can avoid the licensing and training costs associated with separate apps. SharePoint 2010 also offers improved developer and administration capabilities, which will likely speed application creation while easing server management.

We tested beta versions of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, and two related apps, Visual Studio and Office 2010, in a virtualised environment and found that SharePoint Server 2010 is faster and more intuitive than the previous version, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007.

The now-familiar ribbon user interface, introduced with Office 2007, is integrated throughout SharePoint 2010. The beta let me take a complex Word 2010 document with tables and paste it into a SharePoint website without losing any of the original design - and then use identical formatting commands in SharePoint to further refine the layout. By contrast, MOSS offered very limited formatting options.

Microsoft has woven Silverlight (a tool for creating interactive web apps) and AJAX functionality throughout, giving business users easy ways to add rich media and interactivity.

We dropped a Silverlight Web Part on to a page to display a Windows Media Video file (contained in the new video asset library) - something that wasn't possible in the past. Companies can employ this capability to build You-Tube-like sites, but without the need for programming or additional applications.

According to Microsoft, accessibility was a highly requested new feature, and from our testing the company listened. We had no trouble viewing my SharePoint sites and editing them using Internet Explorer 8 on a PC and Safari on a Mac, and viewing them through Safari on an iPhone.

SharePoint Workspace 2010 (formerly Microsoft Office Groove) worked without problem in transferring my documents offline (or creating new ones), letting me make edits, and then synchronizing changes once we connected back to my network.

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Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010: Getting social

Community applications are all the rage, as enterprise software vendors try to emulate the success of Facebook behind the firewall. Microsoft has done a good job improving the community features of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. User Profiles now let you include colleagues, interests or expertise. There's social tagging and ratings, making it easier to share content. And activity feeds help you keep up with what colleagues are doing.

Blogs and wikis are improved, too. As an experiment, we built a Wikipedia-style table of contents in our enterprise wiki, a common task that you couldn't easily do in the past.

To sift through all this data, Microsoft offers two search options, SharePoint's refreshed standard search engine and the optional FAST Search for SharePoint. Both offer very good navigation based on taxonomies, spell checking and wild card searches. Our testing returned the results we expected on the first page of results. However, many larger organisations will opt for FAST because it adds functionality such as previews of PowerPoint presentations and lets you feature content in results.

Additionally, people search appears to be much improved. We found colleagues based on information in their social network feeds and expertise they entered in their profiles. There's also a very accurate phonetic search for times you don't know the spelling of a person's name.

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