By Ken Withee

Microsoft represents SharePoint 2013 as a “business collaboration platform for the enterprise and web.” Maybe you’re a whiz at Word or a spreadsheet jockey with Excel. Going forward, you’re going to have to be just as good at SharePoint to get the most out of your desktop Office client applications.

Microsoft continues to integrate functionality that used to be locked up in client applications, or not available at all, with SharePoint. For example, using SharePoint 2013 with Office 2013, you can create an online gallery of PowerPoint slides, display interactive spreadsheets in web pages, or reuse information from your company’s databases in Word documents. You can even use Visio 2013 to automate your business processes using SharePoint.

SharePoint is a platform from Microsoft that allows businesses to meet their diverse needs in the following domains:

  • Collaboration: Use SharePoint’s collaboration sites for activities, such as managing projects or coordinating a request for proposal.

  • Social networking: If you work in a large company, you can use SharePoint as a social network for the Enterprise experience to help you track coworkers and locate people in expertise networks.

  • Information portals and public websites: With SharePoint’s web content management features, you can create useful self-service internal portals and intranets, or you can create visually appealing websites that are actually easy for your business users to maintain.

  • Enterprise content management: SharePoint offers excellent document and record-management capabilities, including extensive support for metadata and customized search experiences.

  • Business intelligence: SharePoint is an ideal platform for providing entrée into your organization’s business analysis assets. You can use insightful dashboards that allow users to get the big picture at a glance and then drill down to get more detail.

  • Business applications: Use SharePoint to host sophisticated business applications, integrate business processes’ backend databases and your SharePoint content, or simply use SharePoint as the means to present access to your applications.

The functionality discussed in the preceding list is delivered by two editions of the product and one online cloud service:

  • SharePoint Foundation 2013 is the underlying software platform that delivers all the building-block functionality of SharePoint. That includes apps, web pages, websites, and alerts. SharePoint Foundation is licensed as a Windows Server component. In other words, as part of a properly licensed Windows Server, you also get all the functionality of SharePoint Foundation 2013.

  • SharePoint Server 2013 is a set of applications that uses the building blocks of SharePoint Foundation 2013 to deliver all the functionality mentioned in the previous bulleted list. When using SharePoint internally, you have at least a standard license that grants you access to use search, portals, social networking, and some content management features.

    You also need an enterprise license if you intend to use SharePoint’s advanced content management, business intelligence, and business application features.

  • SharePoint Online is a cloud-based service offered by Microsoft that allows you to create much the same SharePoint experience as you can with SharePoint installed on a local server, but you don’t have to install and maintain it.

    It can come bundled with an Office 365 monthly subscription; giving you access to hosted e-mail, calendaring, and conferencing with Microsoft Exchange and Microsoft Lync, or you can buy a SharePoint Online monthly subscription on its own.

Additional licensing is required to use SharePoint in Internet scenarios unless you have SharePoint Online, which comes with a built-in, Internet-facing website.

You can approach SharePoint with the following model in mind:

  • Product: SharePoint is a product with a lot of features, even in SharePoint Foundation. Explore how SharePoint works without any customization when you’re deciding how to approach a solution, and then decide if you want to customize it for your specific needs.

  • Platform: SharePoint provides everything you need to deliver a robust business solution. It provides the infrastructure (the “plumbing”) required to deliver web-based solutions.

  • Toolkit: Finally, SharePoint is a set of components and controls that you can mix and match to provide a solution. You can create sites, pages, and apps, all without leaving the comfort of your web browser.