Setting up an Intranet 101

Intranet Solutions

  1. Simple But Clunky Solution
  2. Inhouse Sophistication Solution
  3. The Microsoft Solution
  4. The web solution 

Simple But Clunky
HTML files, in effect web pages, can be stored on a computer just like any other file.  Therefore, if your office has a server with a shared drive, you can simply store HTML pages in a directory called "Intranet" on your shared drive.  Then, once people bookmark an intranet page in their browsers, they will be able to navigate to those pages at will.

Pros:
Easy to set up
No extra infrastructure needed

Cons:
Someone needs to know a bit about HTML to update the pages
Pages are essentially static
Some active content will not run on HTML pages that are not served by a web server.

Useful:
If you want half a dozen static pages providing rarely changing company information which is regularly useful to staff.

Inhouse SophisticationEverything you could want to set up an intranet is available for free.

The Apache web server is an open source application that runs most of the internet across the world.  It is simple to download and install, so you could have a full functioning internal webserver for your network in minutes.  From there, any web pages would be put into the HTdocs folder within the Apache directory and Apache handles the rest.  This allows, for example, Flash video/audio players and other active content to function.

But the next question is "how do we avoid having to learn HTML?".  For this, one requres a content management system.  There are many content management systems (CMS) available (see other articles), many open source, and therefore free to download.

Most of the opensource CMS use the following three technologies:
Apache web server (as above)
PHP (a programming language)
MySQL (a database)

You can install the three of them separately if you so desire, or for ease of use and setup, you can download and install a prepackaged collection called WAMP .  WAMP stands for Windows Apache PHP MySQL, and contains everything you need to set up and run a CMS.

Once your WAMP server is running, you should be able to point a browser from any computer on your network to something like HTTP://yourservername:8080 to see your intranet.

An excellent CMS for use as an intranet platform is the opensource application Joomla! .  Joomla! works straight out of the box and is hugely customiseable, depending on your needs.   Joomla is relatively easy to set up and easy to operate.

Pros:
All the software elements are available for free
Infinitely flexible
Total control
Can serve rich media

Cons:

Takes a little time and some technical knowledge to set up and get running

Useful:
If you know you want to do something more than a few static pages, and want the facility to expand/improve as you go along.{mospagebreak}

The Microsoft SolutionMicrosoft's Sharepoint is built for intranets.  It is big, can do lots, is customiseable and is meant for sharing, collaboration and flexibility.  It is available for free (effectively) to registered charities from the technology donations programme at ENCLUDEit.org

Pros:
Free to registered charities
Powerful, flexible

Cons:
With big, powerful solutions comes a learning curve
Takes some time and technical ability to set up

Useful:
If you want a purpose built, flexible and customiseable solution for your organisation's sharing and collaboration needs.

Finally, the web solution

A very simple, yet quite neat solution would be to use a service such as Ning .  (see article on Ning here).  Ning allows you to set up your own social network for free, in about two minutes.  If you set up a network for your organisation, and set the privacy level of the network such that only registered members can see the network and only people who are invited can join the network, then it is completely private, which makes it a perfect platform for an intranet, depending on the uses to which you wish to put it.

Pros:
Free
Customiseable
Quick and easy
no extra stuff required

Cons:
It is a platform for social networking, so may not be suitable for some applications.

Useful:
For a neat, quick and easy solution that offers a fun solution to a practical need.