1&1 SharePoint review
Imagine a portal and a server bound together. That’s SharePoint, in a nutshell. While the portal shares contact lists and diaries, publishes company news and runs surveys, the server organises documents, provides secure off-site storage and lets teams of up to 50 work on shared Office files together. In short, it’s what Microsoft has been talking about every time it’s put the words ‘data’, ‘anywhere’ and ‘any time’ in close proximity for the past couple of years.
1&1 launched its first SharePoint hosting service at the end of October, saving you the cost or the headaches of running your own server. Its stand-out feature is a first-class set of instructions. The manual’s 53 pages may look daunting at first, but they’re clearly explained and well laid out, and within ten minutes you’ll have configured the service to meet your company’s particular needs.
The package bundles a subdomain within 1&1’s website home URL, and gives you the option to link either a new or existing domain of your own. We stuck with the default subdomain in our tests, and added several users and mailboxes.
The front-end is well put together, giving you access to 25 POP3 email accounts, the mail from which can be forwarded, left on the server or collected using a client or webmail service. We’d have liked to see an account for each user, rather than one between two, but at £15 a month, and with no setup fee, we can overlook this minor shortcoming. What we find harder to overlook is the fact you can’t upgrade the number of mailboxes at extra cost, which strikes us as unnecessarily restrictive, in spite of the fact that features like virus scanning can be bolted on for 99p a month. Fortunately you can at least set up unlimited aliases, or forward incoming mail to existing mailboxes.
Each SharePoint account comprises 100MB of server space, and a 6GB ceiling on data transfer, which should be enough for a fairly large organisation. With round-the-clock support and a 60-day refund if you don’t like it, this is the most convincing version of the access-anywhere model we’ve seen to date. The only way it could be improved would be if it was truly platform agnostic, working across Windows, Linux and the Mac and on all office suites, but that’s Microsoft’s responsibility, not 1&1’s.
Using the server is easy. Once you’ve added some user accounts, team members need nothing more than a web browser to access existing data and upload their own. Microsoft recommends using Internet Explorer, as some of the features won’t work properly in other clients, although we found that anything a restricted user could want to do also worked fine in Firefox (see p93): it’s only when you start to perform some of the more demanding admin tasks that you need to switch back to IE.
SharePoint’s real strength – and purpose – lies in its integration with Microsoft Office, from which you can share your Outlook contacts and appointments, and documents created and edited using Office suite members.
The SharePoint server shows up in Windows’ Network Places so can be accessed from the Office location bar, and we saw no lag when opening or saving documents across a consumer ADSL connection. As such, you could happily use 1&1’s service in place of your local hard disk, rather than copying files off before you start work on them. Once the connection is live, a list of available documents appears on the Shared Workspace page of the Office task pane, saving you repeated trips to your browser or Network Places. This page also shows other registered users and their online status, and allows you to schedule meetings with them, edit their privileges and look up their personal user data.