The number of companies testing and then using SharePoint is expanding rapidly.  When we’re on site, a very common question that we receive is this:  “What’s the difference between Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server 2003?”.  The differences are profound and, at the same time, fairly easy to understand.

At Mindsharp, we like to say that the we use the portal to “get somewhere”.  Now, while that is primarily true, it is also true that the portal is used for other functions.  I often say that if you don’t need any of the following seven elements in your SharePoint deployment, then there’s no reason to purchase portal server:

  1. Aggregated Search and Indexing

  2. Flexible taxonomies

  3. Personal portals

  4. Audiences and users profiles (objects)

  5. Single-Sign On

  6. Shared Services

  7. Robust alert architecture

However, if you do need these functions or a subset of these functions, then you need to purchase portal server.  Now, did you notice something?  I didn’t mention collaboration or application development with reference to portal server.  Why?  Because we don’t recommend (strongly, in fact) that you don’t customize the portal or us it for collaboration. By collaboration, we mean developing documents or managing team sites within the portal itself.

It is fine to manage documents or team sites within the portal’s managed paths.  But creating team sites directly within the portal pages is what we strongly recommend against.  Why?  Because those teams sites are not as easily managed by the end users as they are if they exist inside a site collection that doesn’t involve (or have as it’s root) a portal.

SharePoint Portal Server 2003 really does three things:

  1. Aggregation of information and information resources

  2. Organization of information and information resources

  3. Presentation of information or information resources

If you take a long step back and look at a default portal, you’ll see that the default areas – Home, Topics, News and Sites – are all about aggregation (Topics and News), organization (Topics, News and Sites) and Presentation of that information (all four areas).  There isn’t any collaboration in the default portal.  Moreover, if you take a good look at the main features that portal brings to the table, you’ll see that none of them deal directly with collaboration or application development.