What is Microsoft(r) Sharepoint(r) 2007? I thought this a very appropriate Halloween query.
You look on the Microsoft web site and it is a very confused picture. You are not told what Sharepoint is; you are told what Sharepoint does. You are told that Sharepoint "improves organizational effectiveness". You are told that you can "turn information into results". Perhaps more informative is that Microsoft(r) Sharepoint(r) Office(r) Server(r) 2007(r) [all copyrights and registered trademarks are the property of Microsoft and all rights reserved] is "one unified suite of enterprise-scale applications that satisfies diverse business critical needs". Hmmm, more informative, but not necessarily clearer.
Sharepoint is first and foremost an exercise by Microsoft to extend their monopoly of Office. Sharepoint is part of the Office group. I spoke to one of Microsoft product managers a couple of years ago who spoke about Filenet and Documentum complaining that they could not get access to the proprietary hooks that Microsoft had put into Office. He was rather dismissive of the claim. I spoke to the head of Microsoft's shared source office (Microsoft's term for open source) about this same issue who said that although they were interested in pursuing the shared source path, some pieces are clearly competitive advantage. I would say that a 90% market share is a very competitive advantage.
Sharepoint is also a platform, but good luck determining what that platform is aimed at based upon Microsoft's web site. If you follow their demo, you probably think that Sharepoint is a CRM system. However, the demo gives you probably the clearest picture yet of what that platform is. At the end of the demo, you get a circular diagram that lists: Collaboration, Portal, Search, Content Management, Business Process Management and Business Intelligence, surrounding a platform core circle. This is to illustrate the very confusing distinction of Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS 2007) from the operating system level of Windows Sharepoint Services 3.0. Obviously a Microsoft turf war in the making. Interestingly, you get program managers talking about wikis and blogs, but the MOSS folks, the ones that could actually benefit from these features the most, telling journalists that there is no blog or wiki capability in Sharepoint. I guess the question to really ask is which Sharepoint should you be asking - the MOSS level or the operating system level?
In addition, Sharepoint is not a very good platform. I hear users of ECM of all persuasions say that it is very difficult to program. Currently with Sharepoint 2003 one must use both web services and native APIs to get stuff done. This is part of the server/services split. Just watch the demos to see how hard it is to add web parts and to program new features. I hope you are all certified in Microsoft Studio(r). And for scalability, one only needs to look at a post I made in May. I posted an entry on Sharepoint only being able to scale to 1 million documents where one of their product managers stated that the "'1 million objects limit' is associated with each SharePoint Document Library" and it appears that a highly federated, but not obviously integrated, environment gives them great scalability.. He went on to ask me to spread the word that "spread the word that scalability has been vastly improved in the 2007 versions of Windows SharePoint Services and Office SharePoint Server. After we finish our performance optimizations and testing, we will publish a scalability whitepaper -- sometime in Q3CY2006." We will see what happens in apparently the next month. At Alfresco, I would be quite happy to go head to head on that.
I asked a very, very large bank and a very, very large pharmaceutical company what they thought Sharepoint was. These are people who are responsible for this type of infrastructure. Both more or less agreed that it was three things: a portal, light-weight content management and collaboration with a strong connection to Office. It was the connection to Office that seemed to be the most compelling piece of Sharepoint for both of these companies. The fact that they worked in the environment in which their users worked aided the perceived value of collaboration, access and productivity.
So finally, it should be noted that Sharepoint is an Office Platform. Its purpose is to build upon and expand the Office monopoly and therefore utilize the capabilities of the latest versions of Office. I understand that Sharepoint 2007 can support older versions of Office. However, Office is a $10B+ business, the second largest software business on the planet and larger than even Oracle. Upgrades must feed future revenue and growth. Sharepoint 2007 can be a very compelling reason to upgrade and I have no doubt that it will. Let's hope that the level of compatibility far exceeds the non-compatibility between Sharepoint 2001 and Sharepoint 2003.
So, Happy Halloween. The biggest Halloween surprise will be if Microsoft actually declares that Sharepoint 2007 actually is. It’s probably in their interest to be ambiguous about what it actually is. Perhaps they are gunning for IBM or EMC or they may want the flexibility to go into other markets with it. It should not be a surprise if this drives more billions of Microsoft Office upgrades. As information workers with few competitive options, could this be our worst nightmare?