Your time is up

It seemed like a sensible enough plan. Of all the new stuff in Office 2007, the one that really caught my eye was the feature that lets you host Excel worksheets within a web browser, all running from the SharePoint server. The advantages should be obvious: with the Excel engine running on the server and a presentation made in HTML to the user, any intellectual property hidden within the formulas and cells would be kept away from prying eyes, yet the user would still be able to fiddle by inputting values into the complex formulas and see the results change before their eyes. What I needed to do, therefore, was to install the server components onto a handy victim, I mean target computer, and for this dangerous task I chose a spare rack-mounted server and proceeded to download the code from the Microsoft website.

Your time is up

Once it was all downloaded, I fired up the installer only to be told there was a longish list of prerequisites that weren’t present on my server, and could I please sort them out before trying again? The list wasn’t that long – it included the .NET runtime 2 – but finding the right beta of the Workflow Foundation gubbins took a little more effort, not helped by the fact that none of it was on the Office installation DVD, nor on the relevant bit of the Microsoft website. What you’re supposed to do if installing at home or on an office trial network wasn’t clear – dig around the Microsoft website for a few days, I think.

After the obligatory installs and tweaks, it was time for the Big Daddy operation, so I fired up the setup program and let it trundle its way along, taking all the default options because I felt in a default sort of mood. After all, why go twiddling things when you just want to get the program up and running? Fine-tuning could wait until later. I waited and left it running under its own devices. Finally, it decided it was installed and started the final configuration utility, which ran for a while and then keeled over, giving me a warning message that the software had time expired and would go no further. Sometimes you just want to rip someone’s head off and pour petrol into the gaping hole.

With a heavy sigh, I started searching around the web. It turns out that this is a known problem with the Beta 2 code, and that there’s a downloadable patch file to fix it, so I ferreted around, found the fix, downloaded it and ran it against the server. This process appeared to go without any hitches but the error still persisted. I tried a reboot but that didn’t fix things, and I then discovered that it had mildly nuked my Exchange Server installation on the same server as Outlook Web Access no longer worked. Digging around in the IIS management tool found that the relevant virtual servers had been turned off – a few clicks, and at least Exchange Server was running smoothly.

Nothing I could do, including uninstall and reinstall, would clear this bottleneck, so I roped in some help in the form of the SharePoint product manager at Microsoft UK. He took a brand-new machine just like mine, tried to get SharePoint installed and running, and found that it keeled over in a similar, although excitingly different, fashion. And, at this point, we’ve ground to a halt – my intention of showing Excel in web browsers will have to wait another month until this logjam can be cleared.

What does this mean to the man in the street who’s trying to get SharePoint up and running? Well, it seems I’m not alone in my frustrations. I accept, of course, that this is a beta release and is therefore not final code, and it isn’t claiming to be ready for prime time. All the standard excuses have crossed my mind. But this is different, because Beta 2 isn’t just a beta-testing milestone but also a key component in the public unveiling of Office 2007, a critical part of Microsoft’s marketing machinery. Things never used to be like this – Microsoft used to keep Office betas close to its chest until a month or so before release, at which point there would be hurried press briefings so we could get up to speed and into print in time for the product release. With Office 12/2007, these briefings have started well over a year before the final roll-out.

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