Office 2003 offers cut-price portal software. Users could save tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds by basing their enterprise portals on Office 2003 rather than other software products, according to analyst firm Ovum.
Portal software is gaining popularity among business users as it offers IT directors a way to integrate enterprise software, while at the same time providing end-users with access to shared documents, as e-mail inboxes and calendars. A report from Ovum on Microsoft Sharepoint Server 2003, published this week, said Microsoft's product was good value for money compared with high-end products from companies such as Plumtree, Oracle, SAP and IBM.
Cassandra Nuttall, Microsoft product manager for Sharepoint Server 2003, said the product's main function was to provide users with a browser-based interface for sharing information.
She said the new version was integrated with Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client software and Instant Messenger software. With an entry price of less than $5,000, (£3,400) Ovum said Sharepoint offered a low-end but flexible portal product for small and medium-sized organisations or departments that did not want, or could not afford, more sophisticated document management and enterprise portal software.
Ovum analyst Angela Ashenden said, "Searching for documents and collaboration are extremely well supported in the Sharepoint 2003 server."
Another strength she highlighted was the ability for IT directors to customise Sharepoint using Microsoft's .net framework and Visual Studio .net development tools.
With a list price of $4,000 per server and $70 per user, a 250-user licence for Microsoft's portal software would cost about $21,500.
The equivalent cost using an enterprise portal product such as Plumtree Corporate Portal would be about $115,000 said Ashenden.
She said the main benefit of the more expensive products was in terms of out-of-the-box support for integrating enterprise software. But she said, "Sharepoint is good product for businesses that want to start small and build up, or for organisations that need more flexibility compared to out-of-the-box integration."
In September, high street retailer Marks & Spencer began using the previous release of Microsoft Sharepoint Server to provide 600 staff with best practice guidelines, e-learning training material and controlled access to allow staff to work collaboratively on shared documents.