Posted by: Gabe Hilado in SharePoint on October 23rd, 2009

The SharePoint conference just concluded in Vegas. So many things being discussed right now with the upcoming SharePoint 2010. My friend Russell emailed me this article about SharePoint: SharePoint is Microsoft’s Real Window of Opportunity.

The article couldn’t have explained it better about the strategic importance of SharePoint. People think SharePoint is all about Web 2.0, collaboration, content management, etc. SharePoint is that but it’s NOT ALL that. You see, it’s all about protecting and promoting the Microsoft Office product line. Years ago, Open Office came along and gave people a free alternative to having software to create documents, spreadsheets, presentation slides, and email client. Microsoft Office cost money while Open Office was free–based purely on price-point, Open Office seemed like a no brainer. Then early versions of SharePoint came along; I thought the first versions were utter crap. Better “content management” systems came along, some of them open-source such that they were attractive to organizations with small budgets. Open source Web 2.0 such as Media Wiki and WordPress also came along. Fine products if I may say so myself. Meanwhile, Microsoft was busy improving Office, SharePoint, and the .NET Frameworks. This coming version of SharePoint integrates all of that together. Keyword is interoperability. The Office products (Word, Excel, Access, Outlook) integrate with SharePoint and .NET and .NET runs inside Office (macros and code-behinds) and in SharePoint (Web parts, features). Then there is the SharePoint Enterprise Search–if the organization was putting most if not all of their artifacts in SharePoint, people within the organization can find information regardless of whether the information resides in a Web site, a  Word document, a database, a blog, a wiki, etc.
 
Now, imagine getting Open Office as your productivity tool, Media Wiki as your wiki tool, and WordPress as your blogging tool, and then get some open-source search engine. Cost is zero dollars for software licenses so far. Add an open-source email client and mail server. The cost is still zero up to this point. Now integrate all that disparate technologies and maintain it over long term. Can you even integrate all that stuff at all? Say, they managed to integrate Open Office and WordPress and the integration breaks later on, who is responsible for the fix? In other words, who will provide support? Open Office developers? Or should that be the WordPress developers’ responsibility? Or is it the shop maintaining the integration (after all, they do have the source code)?
 
It will be very difficult to make all that open-source or “cheaper” alternatives inter-operate with each other. At the end of the day, SharePoint and Office is a one-stop-shop for everything–document creation and editing, sharing, calendars, tasking, blogging, knowledge management, forms, businss data, dash boards, and search.
 
SharePoint is like a Swiss Army knife–it has different things packaged into one. If each of the features of SharePoint is a tool within the Swiss Army knife, then one can say that technologies trying to compete with SharePoint are individual tools and they’re not together. Should an office always buy and implement the Swiss Army knife? No. If  it just needs a screw driver and nothing else, the bottle opener and the rest of the stuff is frivolous, So, that office is better off just “buying a screw driver”. To use SharePoint just for blogging is overkill. To use SharePoint just so there is a place to upload documents to is overkill. To use SharePoint just as a content management system is not getting your money’s worth. You get the point. If you just need blogging, just get WordPress. If you just need wikis, get MediaWiki. And so forth.
 
The article also points out that Google is the only closest thing to provide the “one-stop-shop” alternative to SharePoint. I’m not very familiar with this coming Google Wave just yet. All I know is that it’s going to be “cloud-based”. If it’s going to be an outsourced cloud, such that Google hosts the data and apps, a lot of big companies will shun from it. Amazon S3 is already out there yet you can’t use that cloud technology for everything; Amazon S3 fails to comply with financial standards/requirements (example: Amazon will tell you do not store credit card transactions in their platform). Sensitive corporate or national security stuff going to an outsourced cloud? Forget it; it ain’t gonna happen. Check this picture though–Google might allow companies to implement a private cloud:
 
http://www.waveprotocol.org/Home/federation_diagram.png?attredirects=0
 
We really don’t know what the cost will be to implement the Google way when it’s ready. We’ll find out soon enough. By the time Google or anybody can provide all that is provided by SharePoint, Microsoft would have sold many licenses at that point that they can give this product away for free. Oh, another way to say it is by the time Google or anybody else has figured it out, Office will be so entrenched everywhere that Microsoft can give away freebies.
 
Heck, if one looks at it, it seems Microsoft is already giving people a cheap alternative. Enterprise SharePoint (MOSS) is expensive, right? Well, you can get a zero-dollar-cost solution and still be in SharePoint. Here’s what you do:

  • Get SQL Server 2005 Express for free
  • Get WSS 3.0 from microsoft.com for free (if OS is Small Business Server 2008, WSS 3.0 is already there, for free)
  • Get Search Server 2008 Server from microsoft.com for free
  • Go to codeplex.com and get BlogEngine.NET for free to get enhanced blogging. Did I say it’s free?
  • Download Community Kit from codeplex.com for free and get an enhanced wiki engine.. Again, free.

The nice thing is that all of these will integrate together. The integration of all of the listed above comes close to MOSS but still missing a few features such as Publishing feature, Excel Services, InfoPath Forms Server, and Business Data Catalog. But all of that for free! Search used to be part of Enterprise MOSS. I couldn’t believe it when Microsoft started giving that stuff way for free! I can see Microsoft giving away more free stuff in the future there really is no point to going to an open-source alternative. Open-source developer Gary Edwards is worried. And rightly so.