Use the FREE version of SharePoint 2010 for your CMS

That’s right.  You can use the free version of SharePoint 2010 to run your public facing website.  SharePoint Foundation 2010 is free.  SharePoint Foundation 2010 may be a good fit to run your public facing website.  In order to look at this in a completely scientific manner, realize that there are literally hundreds of web content management systems out there (see CMS Matrix).  In reality, I see about 10 CMS platforms in use.  There are the commercial platforms (SharePoint, SiteCore, Ektron are the most frequently used ones) and there are a couple of free options (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Plone are pretty common).    I would be very surprised if anyone was able to find a single CMS platform that is all things to all people, but I wanted to present SharePoint Foundation as an option for running a FREE CMS platform.  Even if you knew that there is a free version of SharePoint, what most people don’t realize is that SharePoint Foundation is a great option for running web sites of all kinds – not just team sites.  It is a great option for many reasons, but in reality it is supported by Microsoft (not just a community or a small fly-by-night company), it is FREE, and it is extremely easy to get started.  SharePoint is also quite large.  The ecosystem of users, authors, conferences, blogs, communities, and so much more.  From a functionality perspective – it’s hard to beat SharePoint.  Even the free version, SharePoint Foundation, offers simple data connectivity (through BCS), cross browser support, accessibility, support for Office Web Apps, blogs, wikis, templates, document support, health analyzer, support for presence, and MUCH more.

In order to show some of the completely of what comes with this free version of SharePoint 2010, I thought it would make sense to use Wikipedia.  Doesn’t everyone use Wikipedia as a credible source?  It is WIKIPEDIA, after all.

Wikipedia shows that a web content management system typically has the following components:

  • Automated templates.  Create standard output templates that can be automatically applied to new and existing content,
    allowing the appearance of all content to be changed from one central place.
    Through the use of Master Pages and Themes, SharePoint provides the ability to change the entire look and feel of site.  Of course, the older brother version of SharePoint – SharePoint Server 2010 – also introduces the concept of Page Layouts which allows page template level customization and even switching the layout of an individual page using different page templates.  I think many organizations really think they want this but rarely end up using this bit of functionality. 
  • Scalable expansion.  Available in most modern WCMSs is the ability to expand a single implementation (one installation on one server) across multiple domains.

    SharePoint Foundation can run multiple sites using multiple URLs on a single server install.  Even more powerful, SharePoint Foundation is scalable and can be part of a multi-server farm to ensure that it will handle any amount of traffic that can be thrown at it.
  • Easily editable content.  Once content is separated from the visual presentation of a site, it usually becomes much easier and quicker to edit and manipulate. Most WCMS software includes WYSIWYG editing tools allowing non-technical individuals to create and edit content.

    This is probably easier described with a screen cap of a vanilla SharePoint Foundation page in edit mode.  Notice the page editing toolbar, the multiple layout options…  It’s actually easier to use than Microsoft Word.image
  • Scalable feature sets.  Most WCMS software includes plug-ins or modules that can be easily installed to extend an existing site’s functionality.

    I think that it is arguable that there isn’t a single platform anywhere that has more plug-ins, modules, web parts, features, samples, templates, and global support than SharePoint (other than possible the Windows operating system).  You can extend the platform to perform thousands of tasks and integrate seamlessly into hundreds of existing systems – all without writing any code.
  • Web standards upgrades.  Active WCMS software usually receives regular updates that include new feature sets and keep the system up to current web standards.

    SharePoint is in the fourth major iteration under Microsoft with the 2010 release.  In addition to the innovation that Microsoft continuously adds, you have the entire global ecosystem available.
  • Workflow management.  Workflow is the process of creating cycles of sequential and parallel tasks that must be accomplished in the CMS. For example, a content creator can submit a story, but it is not published until the copy editor cleans it up and the editor-in-chief approves it.

    Workflow.  It’s in there.   In fact, the same workflow engine is running under SharePoint Foundation that is running under the other versions of SharePoint.  The primary difference is that with SharePoint Foundation – you need to configure the workflows yourself.  You can still configure 3-state approval workflows, make your own publish approvals, associate workflows with content types, send emails, update information/data, and much more. 
  • Delegation.  Some CMS software allows for various user groups to have limited privileges over specific content on the website, spreading out the responsibility of content management.

    Security.  Again – simpler with a screen grab.  SharePoint Foundation provides very granular security capabilities.image
  • Document management.  CMS software may provide a means of managing the life cycle of a document from initial creation time, through revisions, publication, archive, and document destruction.

    SharePoint is king when it comes to document management.  Version history, exclusive check-out, security, publication, workflow, and so much more. 
  • Content virtualization.  CMS software may provide a means of allowing each user to work within a virtual copy of the entire Web site, document set, and/or code base. This enables changes to multiple interdependent resources to be viewed and/or executed in-context prior to submission.

    Through the use of versioning, each content manager can preview, publish, and roll-back content of pages, wiki entries, blog posts, documents, or any other type of content stored in SharePoint.  The idea of each user having an entire copy of the website virtualized is a bit odd to me – not sure why anyone would need that for anything but the simplest of websites.
  • Content syndication.  CMS software often assists in content distribution by generating RSS and Atom data feeds to other systems. They may also e-mail users when updates are available as part of the workflow process.Again, SharePoint Foundation nails it.  With RSS syndication and email alerts available out of the box, content syndication is already in the platform.
  • Multilingual.  Ability to display content in multiple languages.SharePoint Foundation 2010 supports more than 40 languages.  http://blogs.msdn.com/b/sharepoint/archive/2010/05/13/language-offerings-for-sharepoint-2010-products.aspx

By John Stover

John Stover Bio.

7 comments

  1. Good article. But what about the use of Windows Server External Connectors? From what I see you can’t offer up sharepoint to the world without it? Thats why they offer Sharepoint for Internet Sites (http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/en-us/internetsites/products/Pages/SharePoint.aspx?Product=SharePoint) And what about installing it? Of the major web hosts out there, I haven’t seen any who support a sharepoint installation. From what I see you either have to serve it yourself on your own 2008 server or buy specific sharepoint webhosting. Thoughts?

  2. Cory, The Windows Server External Connector is required for ANY Windows Server that is offered up to anonymous users (the public). So, yes, this is required for SharePoint of all flavors. You can use SharePoint Foundation 2010 or WSS 3.0 for a public facing website with only the Windows Server License and the Windows External Connector License – there is no specific SharePoint license that you must purchase for this. The SharePoint for Internet Sites licenses offer much more functionality than the SharePoint Foundation 2010 product (MySites, WCM, Workflows, BI, etc.). Regardless of the SharePoint version you wish to use, you need the Windows External Connector License to put any Windows Server on the internet for anonymous use (even if it’s a custom .NET website, DNN, or even WordPress that you are hosting on Windows!). Hope this is helpful. -John

  3. Thanks for the reply. What if we want to put SharePoint on the internet but it’s only accessible to registered users (much like a forum)? Sharepoint can work like that can’t it (i.e. people can register/sign up for an account to use it?)

  4. Yes it can. Unfortunately, SharePoint doesn’t ship with a ‘Create User’ or ‘Manage User Account’ function. By default, SharePoint supports Active Directory, but it’s pretty simple to add other ‘authentication providers’. You can use the default ASP.NET SQL Auth Provider, you can purchase a 3rd party one, write your own, or even easier – go to the CodePlex.com community and download one for free. Good luck.

  5. john,

    do you need the external connector when allowing access for registered users as cory mentioned?

    a

  6. My solution to avoid all these problems with licencing and internal/external useage is to use a Hosted Sharepoint Installation, where I can get an entry version for as low as 110 $ /Year. You can run as many Sharepoint Subsites internal or external as you want and easily can support up to 100 users, which you can creat and manage using the Shrepoint standard functions. Certainly you cannot manage all features of Sharepoint on a hosted server. However, there is much more function than anybody probably can manage. Just look at http://portaleco.mysp.ch/centered as an example.

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