What Exactly is SharePoint Anyway?

Today the task I'd set myself was to get a SharePoint development environment up and running on my laptop and then report back here with a idiot's guide/how to.

However, I soon got lost in the dizzying world of the myriad Microsoft library articles full of business speak and fancy diagrams, videos (also full of business speak) and all the confusing similarly-named products available for download. Sometimes you can have too much information. An hour or two in and I'm no closer to even getting started.

So, I thought I'd take a step back and before actually setting it up I aim to understand exactly what it is. What is SharePoint?

Your challenge is to use one sentence to describe SharePoint from a no nonsense developer's point of view?

As I understand it, it's a "framework" built on top of ASP.NET. By installing the SharePoint "server" we're actually just installing a load of folders that contain the .NET code which IIS will run. Or does installing SharePoint actually install a proper executable program? Does it create SQL Server databases too?

Here's what I already know:

  • To set-up a local development environment requires 64 bit Windows, which I have.
  • You need to install the SharePoint SDK

The most promising guide I've found so far is this article on Setting Up the Development Environment for SharePoint 2010 on Windows 7. Looks like I need a whole day set aside for that. For now I want to get it clear in my head what exactly I'd be installing.


  1. I'm interested in the responses you get as it seems you want one thing (SharePoint) but need a whole bunch of other things that you didn't really want but kinda have to have.

    • avatar
    • Flemming Riis
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 05:27 AM

    sharepoint is websphere portal with a microsoft logo.

    • avatar
    • Ed Maloney
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 05:49 AM


    If you don't want to talk about optimizing the value proposition to maximize alignment with business processes... you must be a developer!

    Please do post your findings on setting up a test server. It may be easier to just open an account with one of the many hosted services if you just want to start coding.

    Good luck

  2. In the same way that Lotus Notes is email, SharePoint is for the most part File Server 2.0 with some workflow tools.

    However like Lotus Notes, there is more to SharePoint than that.

    • avatar
    • PL
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 06:30 AM

    I have attended a SP 2007 developer course (although not done much with it since as SP as a development platfrom beyond webparts looked like a mess of workarounds and deployment headaches)

    Anyway for a standalone developer installation you need Windows Server, SQL Server and Visual Studio (with various SP specific tools) all installed on the same (virtual) machine. It was strongly recommended doing this on a virtual image as it would need restarting etc pretty frequently.

    • avatar
    • Richard Shergold
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 06:59 AM

    It's a Site Provisioning Engine/Platform

    • avatar
    • Erskine Harris
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 07:16 AM


    From my experience, SharePoint is a web based collaboration tool. Short and sweet. Yes it does a lot of things some good and some bad, but to me basically that is the goal of SharePoint oh right Lotus too :).

    At my job we have installed development environments on VM machines and the developers code there and then move to a stagging server.


      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Wed 9 Jun 2010 07:26 AM

      I think I mis-wrote my question. When I asked what it is I meant it literally. Rather that what it does I wanted to know what it consists of. Is it simply a load of DLL files that make up the Microsoft.Sharepoint.* classes for use in ASP.NET code?

      My first path to learning something new is knowing exactly what it is I'm dealing with. I find it helps if I can understand from the "bottom up".

      Show the rest of this thread

    • avatar
    • Murph
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 07:19 AM

    I'd like two attempts please :)

    1a. SharePoint is a consultant's dream because you can really rack up the billable hours.

    1b. SharePoint is a third party tool developer's dream because it takes many third party tools to make it do anything reasonable.

    Chapter 2 in Scot Hillier's "Microsoft SharePoint - Building Office 2007 Solutions in C# 2005" contains a very detailed exercise in setting up a SharePoint development environment.

    If anyone finds a reasonable way to move an application/site from your development SharePoint environment to your production SharePoint environment, I'd love to hear about it!

    1. This blog post gives the best explanation I've ever seen. Most people start off with the stone age deployment. However there is a method through solutions development that makes the developer in my sleep a little easier at night.

      It's not easy to setup the environment but 2010 has helped. It simply is what it is and you have to decide if the work arounds are worth the ultimate end solution for your customer.


  3. SharePoint suffers from the same issue Lotus Notes has (and more recently Google Wave).....what does it do in 2 sentences or less?

    Part file share, part development framework, part MS Office, part components, part workflow, part applications.....but no email.

    At the moment this is Microsoft's golden hammer. If it ain't an OS, ain't Office and ain't SQL Server it is SharePoint.

    • avatar
    • Doug Finner
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 11:08 AM

    SharePoint is a mess.

    Muph is spot on...

    Note - I worked briefly with SP about 1-2 years back; ymmv and I could be wrong. These were some of my takeaway points.

    It's a collection of many MS tools cobbled together to try and be something for everyone. None of the bits really interact properly. Change one, everything breaks. New versions are mystery boxes that nobody understands.

    The web site details live inside the SQL server db and the site is rendered up from the db (ala the way Apple's iPhoto works). As far as I can tell, this even includes the css stuff. The intent appears to provide a controlled front end for 99% of the users; users set config information, that's written into the db which then handles the actual code work in the background. How the site is actually rendered remained a mystery.

    Some basic workflow is included with the product but if you want to do anything interesting, you need the full up workflow engine (name escapes me now). User rights are managed in conjunction with AD. As I recall, if you want to manage security outside of AD, it gets interesting real fast.

    If you want to drive yourself batty, add in Project Server rev latest...we hired a consultant, he had no clue, we gave up...

    I refer you back to the Notes dude who had to migrate Notes to SP for some interesting discussion of the process.


    I do like the doc collaboration features; everyone in the universe uses MS Office and SP provides a nice way for teams to collaborate on doc authoring. If this isn't controlled, it can get pretty crazy fast; everyone sets up a 'My site' and offers up collaborative environments and suddenly, you have no clue where 'docX' lives. It would be similar to giving every employee a Notes designer client and rights to add dbs to the server. Many companies don't get this but until the system is out of control.

    Since everything is in one db, searching for items is relatively easy, but the number of hits can be overwhelming making the feature less than useful.

    OK, out of steam...back to work

    • avatar
    • Ferdy
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 12:09 PM

    Jake, as much as I wanted to think of a simple one liner, I can't. Sharepoint is not simple in any aspect. Technically, yes, it is built on top of ASP.NET. Yes it needs SQL Server too, to store its content. Note that this content is mostly denormalized, much like Notes data. Then there is security, site management, search indexing, seperate components for Infopath and Excel services and much, much more.

    It is a technically complex puzzle to setup and maintain. A real production deployment of Sharepoint often consists of many servers and maybe even farms. You should see it as an ecosystem, not a single component. There are also confusing terms used in the Sharepoint world. For example, an "application" is not what you think it is. In Sharepoint terms this is a high level service "sandbox" that contains site collections and below that sites.

    I think it would be great if you continue to ask such questions. Collectively I think we can gather quite some valuable Sharepoint insights for both you and the audience to enjoy.

  4. http://www.crossedconnections.org/w/index.php/2006/11/21/sharepoint-from-the-domino-developer-perspective-part-1/


      • avatar
      • Jake Howlett
      • Wed 9 Jun 2010 02:02 PM

      Thanks Jeff. I should have known to pay your site a visit first. Although you seem to focus on the post-installation aspects, so I'll hold off reading until I'm at that point.

    • avatar
    • Jorge Coelho
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 01:50 PM

    SharePoint is a file server with a "pretty" GUI on steroids.

    • avatar
    • Lance Jurgensen
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 02:31 PM

    Funny how there is such a love/hate relationship with Sharepoint... Seems oddly familiar :-)

  5. One line answer....

    It's Microsoft's attempt to do IBM/Lotus Notes/Domino.

  6. Gavin got it right there.

    My summary 1 line take on it:

    SharePoint = Quickplace - intuitive development + hair loss

    In a little more detail (MOSS 2007:) immature, flaky and ridiculously tedious hack-and-slash XML/unmanaged code pain to get anything (even basic stuff) working well. Feels a step back by 10 years. Let's hope 2010 improves the dev experience.

    And I did mean Quickplace, not QuickR...

    And yes, I have been burnt...

  7. wss is bundled in windows server, which i think you have.

    Start, administrative tools Sharepoint Central Administration. Off you go.

    wss is free with the server licence and does a lot of good things.

    Moss (Sharepoint Server) is a value added bit which gives more functionality but has a horrendously expensive licencing model, so I try to do everything in wss.

  8. @Lance. SP is trying to mimic Lotus Notes but without the equivalent "i hate lotus" web sites....LOL...

    • avatar
    • Rishi
    • Wed 9 Jun 2010 08:28 PM

    I've worked on Quickplace ( now Quickr) and SharePoint both and I would say SharePoint is like Quickr with more features of course..Microsoft has done tremendous job to advertise SharePoint where as IBM failed to do for Quickr.

    However, custom development and deployment in SharePoint are very complex.If you are using SharePoint vanilla version then your life is easy but once you started adding custom features, SharePoint will be a mess.

  9. My attempt at one-liners:

    Lotus Notes: A sophisticated document based data management system with inherent mail, calendar and scheduling functionality that includes layered security and is capable of accessing - and interacting with - data from virtually any source.

    Microsoft Sharepoint: A development environment that stores information in a database (MS SQL) and surfaces that data through built-in or custom templates utilising a web server (MS IIS).

    If you think Sharepoint does anything other than the above (without a LOT of code, plug-ins, dependancies and heart-ache) you are sorely mistaken.

      • avatar
      • Rickee
      • Sun 1 May 2011 06:56 PM

      SharePoint does a LOT more without custom code or plug-ins, including no-code workflows, record managment, web publishing, content managment, creation/deletion of team/meeting/workgroup/collaboration websites by ordinary IWs (IT pro involvement not required), creation of whole new types of websites without any coding or IT involvement, hosting of dozens of built-in web services (SOAP and REST), no-code localization of content and data, decentralized administration of websites (no IT Pro involvement required), data change alerts by e-mail or text message, integration with the most popular desktop business suite (Word, Excel, Outlook ... ), access from any web browser on any OS, access from any phone with a browser on any OS, offline access from SharePoint Workspaces (formerly Office Groove), built-in user authentication/authorization. There are hundreds of thousands of SharePoint sites without a speck of custom code or plug-ins and many of those businesses build virtually all of their activities around, and with, SharePoint.

    • avatar
    • benny
    • Thu 10 Jun 2010 12:46 AM

    hi Jake... i think the following series of videos may help you summarize the Sharepoint 2010 in one liner... btw, i'm also a notes/web developer who loves your work.

    if i were you, i'd learned sharepoint by installing WSS3.0 (SP2007) and Windows Server Foundation 2010 (SP2010) and play within a browser first to understand what it can do as a vanilla web application before starting to write any custom solution.


    • avatar
    • Sperry
    • Mon 14 Jun 2010 03:47 PM

    I've been trying to figure this out for several months now. I think I've got it:

    SharePoint is a website design package for users to create a variety of customized interfaces for an underlying relational database.

    In other words, it's Microsoft trying to out-Oracle Oracle.

    • avatar
    • The Wiz
    • Fri 18 Jun 2010 02:02 AM

    SharePoint is the operating system for your business

  10. SharePoint is a platform geared towards business productivity and with a lot of out of the box features.

  11. SharePoint is based on ASP.Net and SQL Server. When you install and configure SharePoint lots of databases are created and populated.

    If you're really into databases, download the Visio Diagram:


    • avatar
    • JM
    • Sat 19 Jun 2010 01:57 AM


    This is the sharepoint (http://www.bleedyellow.com/blogs/dotdomino/entry/what_do_sharepoint_boggers_say_about_their_product7?lang=en_us)

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