In 2007, Microsoft will release the third version of their SharePoint server product – Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007). It will provide a wide variety of features that make it a complete information management platform, capable of delivering solutions for business intelligence, collaboration, communication, composite applications (mash-ups), content management, portals, process automation… you get the picture.

This post charts the progress from SharePoint’s initial beginnings through to the end-to-end information management platform that it is becoming, and the market changes that have also occurred along the way. The attached diagram provides the visual version. It should be noted that what follows are my own thoughts and opinions, and they do not necessarily represent the views of any employers, past, present or future :-) It’s particularly relevant to this post, given I worked for Microsoft from 2000 – 2005 and at one point was the UK lead for SharePoint.

1997 – 1999

Before SharePoint arrived, there was a product called Site Server (and Site Server Commerce Edition) that contained features including: web content management and replication, site analytics, personalisation, indexing/search, document management and ecommerce. Site Server felt less like a product, more a collection of tools that didn’t have a home any where else. At the time, there weren’t too many servers to choose from. King of the range was Exchange Server (version 5.5), the messaging platform. SQL Server 6.5 was paddling around in the nursery pool.

In 1998 Microsoft announced that the next version of Exchange, codename Platinum, would include a new information store – the Web Store – designed for handling documents and web content, as well as email. A new product, codename Tahoe, would enhance Platinum by introducing document management through a technology called WebDAV – Document Authoring and Versioning – and an improved indexing/search engine. A separate project was also underway – developing the Local Web Store – to provide local replication of content between client and server. (If this all sounds familiar, you’ve probably worked with Lotus Notes…)

The combination of Platinum and Tahoe would be Microsoft’s next generation messaging, collaboration and document management platform. Of the remaining Site Server features, content replication moved into a new product called Application Center. Commerce Edition kept the personalisation, ecommerce and site analytics, and was renamed Commerce Server. The web content management features were, from memory, pretty ugly and retired to be replaced by a product acquisition…

In April 1999, a toolkit originally called the Digital Dashboard Starter Kit was released as a free download and introduced Microsoft’s first portal framework. The UI could sit in a browser or in Outlook and contained ‘nuggets’ displaying information from different content sources. Nuggets would later be renamed as web parts.

2000 – 2001

In 2000, Microsoft finally released Windows Server 2000 (upgrade from NT 4.0, introducing Active Directory) and SQL Server 2000 (upgrade to SQL Server 6.5). Exchange Server 2000 was completed and also released. All three releases were major product upgrades. Tahoe began the year in beta 1 development. The Digital Dashboard Starter Kit was up to its third release and renamed Digital Dashboard Resource Kit.

By mid-2000, the portal market was taking centre stage and, in October, Tahoe beta 2 was released complete with a new UI based on the Digital Dashboard Resource Kit. Tahoe had adopted a portal UI. It’s product name was finally announced – SharePoint Portal Server 2001 (SPS 2001).

By late-2000, SQL Server 2000 was outperforming its stable mate – Exchange 2000, and in December 2000, Microsoft (Steve Ballmer to be precise) killed the Local Web Store project, announcing that future database development would be based on SQL Server 2000.

Early in 2001, SPS 2001 was finally released. Having started life as a document management and indexing application, its new focus was on targeting the growing portal market. Whilst its features were basically good, it was saddled with two major problems – the web store and the digital dashboard. The web store underperformed, limiting the scale of the product. The digital dashboard was outside of Microsoft’s core development platform – Visual Studio – and had limited support within the developer community.

Also in 2001 Microsoft acquired content management vendor nCompass, and re-branded the product Content Management Server 2001 (CMS 2001). Initially the product was targeted with providing CMS capabilities for Commerce Server (re-completing the feature set that existed back in Site Server days). However, as the portal market continued to grow and overlap with the existing web content management market, CMS 2001 began to compete with SPS 2001.

And to further confuse customers, Microsoft also released a free add-on to Office 2000 called SharePoint Team Services (STS) that provided web-based team collaboration features. Confused? Plenty of customers were.

2002 – 2003

Development options for the next version of SharePoint were relatively simple – replace the Web Store with SQL Server as the storage back-end, and replace Digital Dasboard with ASP.NET for the front-end. As always, the devil was in the details – easy choices don’t necessarily lead to easy development. The focus was on improving scalability and improving portal features and that meant some of the document management features were going to struggle to be included. There’s a good reason why most document management systems choose to use a hierarchical database as opposed to a relational one for storing content… but that’ll have to wait for another blog post. As it was, features such as document profiles and workflow were left out of SPS v2. The relationship between SPS and STS needed sorting out, and the two groups were merged together. CMS continued on its own path, with an upgrade – CMS 2002 – that used ASP.NET as the front-end.

In October 2003, Microsoft released a new version of Office – Office 2003 – and included the new upgraded SharePoint range within the Office brand. STS was renamed Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), and became part of Windows Server 2003. It provided a collaboration store and a web part user interface built using ASP.NET. SPS v2 was built on top of WSS and named Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 (SPS 2003). SPS contained indexing/search, personalisation and enhanced management/taxonomy.

So we now had a portal product with a bit more scale than its predecessor that used Microsoft’s common developer tools (well, pretty much). Microsoft began to creep up Gartner’s magic quadrant for portals, and all would have been well if it hadn’t been for Enron and WorldCom…

2004 – 2006

Just as SharePoint moved away from document management and focused on portal capabilities, Sarbannes-Oxley was born and, all of a sudden, document and records management moved back up the agenda. Simultaneously, the continued growth of the portal market made it clear that portals and web content management were on a collision course, with document and records management joining the party.

CMS and SPS finally joined together as the two product groups were merged in 2004. Web parts built using ASP.NET were beginning to take on a life of their own and were moved fully into the developer playground. ASP.NET v2, launched at the end of 2005 includes native web parts. Workflow was back on the agenda, and now there is a common engine to build around – Windows Workflow Foundation (WinWF). Just like Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), WinWF will be a native add-on to Windows Server, providing a workflow service that all other applications can build upon.

Another missing piece of the SharePoint puzzle has been offl
ine synchronisation. The local web store was originally going to be used, but that project was cancelled before it was ever launched. Outlook was the logical place to introduce such a feature and, sure enough, you will be able to have offline SharePoint folders in Outlook when the next version is released. But in 2005, Microsoft acquired Groove, a peer-to-peer (P2P) team-based collaboration product that also includes synchronisation of SharePoint sites. This will likely cause some confusion again with customers, similar to when STS and SPS first appeared. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Groove has its own built-in forms service, and InfoPath also provides a forms service.

Whilst compliance requirements have sobered up the content management party, business intelligence (BI) helps put back some fizz. Portals have always been the logical place for BI to come of age, moving away from the niche specialists such as business and data analysts to become integrated in every day work. In 2005, Microsoft released Business Scorecard Manager 2005 (BSM 2005), including integration with SharePoint. And in 2006, they acquired ProClarity. Alongside MOSS 2007 will be a a new product – Microsoft Performance Point 2007 – providing pervasive BI capabilities. Get ready to see some really badly designed dashboards :-) but that’s another post waiting to be written.

So, when version 3 of SharePoint is released (I’m guessing it will be some time in the first quarter of 2007, although the official estimate is still end of 2006), it will finally include the full set of capabilities first introduced in Site Server 10 years earlier, albeit in a far more grown up and usable format. It will also include quite a few additional features that have emerged since. I haven’t even touched upon the support for blogs, wikis and RSS, Excel services, Forms server or the new social networking capabilities provided by the Knowledge Network component, or the mash-up features that will enable composite applications, or related products such as Project Server. There is one area that does still contain duplication of features from the original Site Server. SharePoint has its own personalisation store and site analytics. So does Commerce Server. Will we see them join forces in the future?

That’s pretty much it for now. There’s a few other bits and pieces I’ve left out and I’ve tried not to include any non-public titbits around the development cycles. And if I went it to any more detail, I may as well start writing a book instead because this post is already a little on the long side. SharePoint has had an interesting journey, with curve balls thrown from all directions as the market place has evolved and adapted to changing demands. But it provides a great picture of how Microsoft develops products and is able to adapt them as the market changes. Love or hate the company, you can’t not admire the relentless perseverance to improve and deliver a successful product.

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Join the conversation! 6 Comments

  1. Great summary of SharePoint history, Sharon. And well done site overall.Re: your comments on taking SharePoint offline. As you mentioned, Outlook 2007 will allow users to take limited SharePoint data (files, contacts, events, tasks and discussions) offline. Groove 2007 provides even less support – files only and certainly not "sites". Access 2007 also has some SharePoint list functionality. So, to get most of the SharePoint lists and libraries offline, users really need to use all of these applications together. I agree that this arrangement will be confusing.I think it's very interesting that Microsoft never actually built a client version of SharePoint, but has chosen to split parts of it up in Office. Even them they've missed a lot of its functionality, and the point of collaborative workspaces in general, with their approach. For example, no Microsoft client application supports SharePoint views, a very powerful capability for organizing data – often based on the content of other lists on a site. I think this is because views go to the heart of SharePoint's unique user experience and the approach they've chosen is to harmonize the client experience with the particular Office application. There are many other examples of lost SharePoint functionality in Microsoft's offline implementation.Other collaboration applications, such as Lotus Notes, have a complete offline client experience so users do not need to switch UI's when working out of the office. This is one of the big reasons they still have a dedicated following.I don't mean to post an advertisement here, but this is the challenge that we have taken up – namely, a complete offline SharePoint experience that works online just like offine. If you are interested in seeing what I mean you can download the free product, Colligo Reader here (http://www.colligo.com/products/sharepoint/reader.asp).We've also got blog at http://www.offlinesharepoint.com where we discuss these issues in more detail.Again, congrats on a great site!Barry Jinks,Founder & CEO,Colligo Networks, Inc.www.offlinesharepoint.com

  2. Thanks for that Sharon – I'd just posted about how confusing SharePoint can seem on the Intranet Benchmarking Forum blog and this makes a lot of sense so I added it as a footnote.Sam MarshallDirector of Researchwww.ibforum.com

  3. A couple of important factors that influenced the design of Sharepoint were the original "Information at Your Fingertips" vision that Bill Gates laid out in the early 90s and the Cairo project that was supposed to fulfill that vision. Many of the early architects and designers of Tahoe were originally on the Cairo project. It may be Sharepoint's ultimate fate to become the operating system platform that provides that Cairo capability – the object-oriented operating system.

  4. Interesting and food for thought. Thank you Kal

  5. I think Digital Dashboard concept was introduced in Outlook 98, in the "Outlook Today" web Page. The WebParts in that time was called "Nuggets".

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