The end of SharePoint

Not really the end but certainly the end for disruptive innovations in productivity and collaborative solutions using SharePoint. The baton has been passed on and SharePoint will join Exchange as a behind-the-scenes platform

Read More

Do you need a portal?

Back in April, I presented some sessions at the International SharePoint Conference held in London. One of the sessions was titled ‘We need a portal’. It was part of the business track, exploring how to run SharePoint projects.

Read More

Same but different

A while back I posted a video Microsoft had commissioned from Common Craft: SharePoint in Plain English. Here’s that video again:

Not long after, Jack Vinson posted a video on his KM blog, from IBM explaining Lotus Connections. Not as slick as Common Craft but looks kind of familiar:

Which made me wonder, has Google got anything similar? Oh yes, and wisely created by none other than Common Craft too:

Three vendors with three products/services touting a similar story. What are the differentiators that make you choose one over the other?

Side note: whilst many seem to be copying Common Craft’s style of presenting, I don’t see any coming close. The Common Craft web site is well worth checking out.


SPC 2008 – Analyst Mash-up

Anyone who attended the analysts session at SPC 2008 will immediately understand the title… read on to find out more.

Yesterday I attended a session – Analyst Panel: AMR Research, Forrester and Gartner Anaslysts Weigh In. I just know it is going to have been the best session of the conference. Apologies to those who have yet even to present.

Introductions: Tom Rizzo moderated the session. Hat tip to Rizz, he was brilliant! The analysts who braved the audience:

  • Gene Phifer: Gartner
  • Kyle McNabb: Forester
  • Rob Koplowitz: Forester
  • Erica Drive: Forester
  • Jim Murphy: AMR

The following are my scribbled notes typed during the session. They are not a perfect transcription, no guarantees regarding accuracy yade yade yade. My comments are either in brackets within the answers or called out separately under ‘my comments:’

Q – What is your view on enterprise records management in MOSS

Kye: Is RM ready for primetime? Usual answer – it depends. Truthfully, for larger organisations with complex requirements for retention management, then no. Microsoft knows this and has partnered with other companies in this space.

Gene: Ditto. Business records management is one of the missing pieces. It is not feature complete. MOSS with additional third parties is required.

Q – So what are the top 3 things that MOSS needs to make it ready for prime time records management?

Kyle: 1st = experience. Tower and others have been around for longer (this is the stupidest answer. What can MS do about this? Keep plugging away with random releases for the next few years just to prove they’ve been around for long enough?). 2nd = additional certifications, such as UK’s TNA/PRO. It is a checklist requirement for projects but good practice (Agreed but this also has little to do with improving the actual technology.) 3rd = notion of a single secured records repository is being blown away by new technologies such as LinkedIn, Facebook, web apps. You need to put policies on the asset itself (i.e. the record) rather than the store. (Agreed, but what current prime time vendor is already doing this today. If SharePoint is playing catch-up, it needs to catch-up. Trying to reinvent the records management market,despite it being a much needed effort, is unlikely to be a winning strategy for MS in the near term. In other words, the analysts didn’t come up with one concrete requirement that MS needs to build to make SharePoint a prime time platform for records management. Like the much needed ability to handle compound documents, manage complex taxonomy structures such as multi-faceted and poly hierarchies for classifying content, how to create a file plan/classification schema that both works and doesn’t kill the search engine in the process…there you go – 3 things I think MOSS needs to make it ready for prime time record management!)

Q – what surprised most about MOSS 2007

Jim: the breadth of capability. MOSS is covering 6 formerly distinct areas of technology. It is not surprising to see MS do it but it is interesting to see how MOSS is disrupting all 6 spaces at once.

Erica: 1. How quickly it evolved into an application platform that competes with Lotus Domino; 2. Adoption rate is like weeds and wildfire.

Rob: It was an aggressive release, almost entrepreneurial in nature, and aggressive in terms of continued improvement

Gene: In addition to the pace of adoption, I’m more surprised by what wasn’t there. Mash-ups – not mentioned during the keynote. Popfly is doing that stuff. Connecting web parts does not create mash-ups, that’s just interoperability

Tom: Hey, MOSS itself is the biggest composite application of all.

My comments: a great debate sparked up on what is or isn’t a mash-up (a.k.a composite application), including audience participation. Gene was absolutely adamant that MOSS cannot do mash-ups. His attitude – mash-ups are about RESTful applications. I was on Tom’s side in this debate. In my opinion, a mash-up is simply the outcome from mashing two independent sources of information together to create new information. For example, mapping Flickr images using Virtual Earth. SharePoint performs two core roles – 1. storage of content in sites, lists and libraries. 2. a web user interface for accessing digital content – stored locally within SharePoint and elsewhere. Web parts can be used to display content in many different ways, including creating connections between multiple sources (integration) and creating visualisations that are the outcome from mash-ups. No, you wouldn’t use SharePoint itself to create the mash-up. (Ditto for other portal/collaborative platforms) And in this way, Gene was correct. But you would use SharePoint as the user interface to display the outcome from a mash-up. Should we see Popfly type functionality within SharePoint in the future? I should hope so… but I wonder if it will be a feature native to the future hosted version of SharePoint only… Tom certainly kept the session fun and lively by managing to squeeze in references to what is or isn’t a mash-up throughout the remaining questions 🙂

Q – What’s your take on the consumerisation of IT

Gene: We’ve seen it for years, consumer technology coming inside the organisation.

Rob: Forrester is working on an agenda called Technology Populism – they believe the current approach is more dramatic than we have seen in the past. Research shows huge upswing in web 2.0 as organisations create strategic directions based on it. The problems are growing – content going out to public domain sites that shouldn’t. You need a strategy to take control of this. Applaud Microsoft’s partnerships with Newsgater and SocialText to tackle this space.

Kyle: The line between work inside the organisation and out of hours activities is disappearing. I.T. in the past has been about applications and hard-core technology. Now it is becoming more about information and how you manage information, down to the individual item level. Stuff outside the organisational boundary is currently completely unmanaged. No technology company has come up with a solution yet to tackle this space.

Jim: The dissolving lines between work, home, and community is a more fundamental change than consumerism of technology (which has been happening since PCs first appeared). How can businesses take advantage of technologies like Facebook, monetise it? Anticipate extreme pressures in terms of risk over the next few years, with regard to information leaking. But it is an issue that we need to get over as companies globalise their businesses and become more transparent as those lines dissolve (The added challenge here is that governments show no signs of embracing globalisation in terms of policies placed against information assets and how government data is managed.)

Q – what’s the biggest technology shift in general that will affect the market that sharepoint plays in?

Rob: SaaS. You’ve got to rearchitect applicationss from bottom up to fit the new data centre environments (I’d second this – a separate blog post is brewing on this topic)

Q – what comes after Web 2.0

Erica: 5 – 7 years is going to be Web 3D. 3D environment with avatars, integrating with regular 2D environment. We will see it used for training, demos, simulations… SharePoint has nothing in this space today, no sign of a bridge, I keep telling MS that this stuff is coming. (I think most analysts over estimate the impact of SecondLife and friends to mainstream business, and underestimate other peoples’ ability to see what’s coming. Yes, it has fantastic potential in certain scenarios, but it’s simply not even close to being available in a usable format for the majority of business. And honestly, does Erica think that nobody in MS has heard of SecondLife or is aware of the growing integration of virtual 3D environments into real-world processes and activities? Not sure that the current form of SharePoint is the place to be developing such capabilities… perhaps the hosted online version of the future. For 3D environments to become integrated into daily activities will require them to be hosted on massive data centers…)

Kyle: (staring at the audience) You in IT need to learn what your people do! They use this stuff all the time, you just don’t know it. (I’m not sure who in the audience he thought this actually applied to. Sure, there are some IT depts who have a complete disconnect with the people they support… but I doubt many in that category are allowed out to have fun and attend conferences. Mandates to lock down computers and ban access to Facebook and friends rarely start from within the IT dept…)

Q – What’s your take on virtualisation

Gene: Seeing it at the hardware and OS layer first, it will naturally work up the stack

(Checked the audience for who was using virtualisation in some form – most were, and a lot were for SharePoint. Audience member asked out – what’s Microsoft support for virtualisation with SharePOint)

Tom: SharePoint is supported on Microsoft’s own virtualisation server. PSS will do a best effort level of support on other virtualisation technology like VMWare. According to VMWare, SharePoint is 4th largest load being virtualised

Q Put yourself in Microsoft’s shoes. What’s the one next thing MOSS should do next?

Erica: its the silverlight stuff – more visual and contextual ways of working

Gene: Figure out how are you going to charge for SharePoint SaaS-based services. How are enterprises going to adopt this? What’s the monetary model going to be. Google is free… MOSS should be more capability but how to justify the charging

Kyle: coping with the hybrid that is going to be a mix of on-premise and in the cloud

Jim: Mash-ups and more analytics. How does sharepoint tell me how i’m doing, what the business value is of what i’m getting, how well is this working… and better taxonomy management

Q – It’s 2020. What are the hot topics

Kyle: The interesting question will be what will have happened to Google. We can imagine IBM still being around, ditto for Microsoft. But will Google still exist even? (Spot on with this observation. 2020 is 12 years away, 12 years ago, Google didn’t exist, the web was barely
2 years old from a non-academic/non-military perspective.)

Bob: There will be a fundamentally different approach to business processes.

Jim: lingual support is likely to be a bigger issue (Good point, will China be the super power by then?)

Gene: by 2020, the digital natives will be running companies. So stuff that seems ‘out there’ to today will be business as usual… (very good point, makes you realise just how inevitable the transformation of business is going to be in what we will look back on as a very short space of time. At the moment, it’s an uphill battle to get many organisations to acknowledge the ineffeciencies in current busines practices.)

I’m bagging the final comment. I was surprised that ‘green computing’ wasn’t called out. I can see the need to reduce carbon emissions (likely driven via government policy) as being a driver to move I.T. services into ‘the cloud’ and start using hosted data centers rather than attempt to grow your own to host applications (3D?) and information that require increasing amounts of hardware resources…

Technorati tag: SPC 2008

SPC2008 – BillG Keynote

Having sat in on Bill G’s keynote at the Office DevCon 3 weeks ago, it was interesting to see what would be in the SharePoint conference keynote… Has to be said, the content had a bit more zing. Yes, the ‘last day at the office’ video was played. And as always, the Q&A threw up some great quotes.

Usual disclaimers. These are my scribbles taken live at the event. They are not a transcript, no guarantees regarding accuracy, etc. Enjoy.

Technology Trends

Same mega trends highlighted as at the Office DevCon. Talking about BI benefitting from chip improvements. Lowering storage costs enabling recording/indexing of media content. Natural user interfaces such as touch, pen and speech will transform apps. See MS Surface being integrated into meeting tables, white boards. Building up to the online services announcement:

“Historically, software was tied to a specific piece of hardware. Now software is becoming much more abstract, distributed across resources.”

Business Productivity focus areas:

  • Unified communications
  • Social computing
  • Enterprise search
  • Business intelligence

Comparing SharePoint Pie to Office suite 15 years ago. Previously, people had separate client applications for word processing, number crunching, presenting. Packaging the tools into a suite and lowering the cost made it easy to assume that everyone had the required tools to open and work with relevant content. Today, SharePoint is taking the same approach with server applications. Currently, many organisations have separate tools for business intelligence, search, web content management, CRM etc. SharePoint is tying them all together. Not necessarily about winning in each category, but creating a broad infrastructure that makes it easier to get stuff done. Simple scenario – rich new visualisations created within Excel 2007 that you can publish up to a web site hosted on SharePoint.

Software + Services Platform

Running software on-premise versus subscribing to a hosted service ‘in the cloud’. There are trade-offs in terms of ownership, resource management etc. It means that some elements will stay in-house (at least for a while), but other elements are straightforward enough to be hosted elsewhere. Expecting many organisations to have a hybrid scenario, a mix of installed software and subscriptions to hosted software in the cloud.

Announcing SharePoint Online and Exchange Online: Microsoft Online Services

Opening up the beta (previously, was private beta for customers with more than 5,000 seats). Aiming for general availability by end of year, regardless of organisation size. At the high-end, working with Coca Cola Enterprises, taking all their SharePoint work and putting it into an online environment. The new environment is a strong fit for the kind of work they are doing.

Demo of MS Online Services – John Betz: Login to MS data center – Microsoft Online. An administrator will get an admin view, e.g. add users, set roles, enable account and assign licenses for services to be made available for account. Can sync internal applications with online services (e.g. enterprise email synced with online mail). A sync tool for connecting to internal resources, including AD. Means you can external accounts to the GAL. (Assuming they act as external recipients)

For end users, the sign-in client looks similar to logging into an instant messaging service. The first time the user logs in, will have option to connect online service with user’s Outlook profile to auto-sync email. The quote from John Betz:

“the promise of enterprise class software being delivered as subscription services”


Microsoft has three levels of search:

  • Entry level = Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express
  • Standard = Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Specialised = FAST

Announcing availability of Microsoft Search Server 2008 Express today

Search Demo – Richard Riley: Showed Search Server delivering federated search results, including integration with Symantec Enterprise Vault. Presenting a customised results page, with images presented alongside structured results (similar to the example in To click or not to click). Demo’d FAST, showing a preview pane within the web page built on Silverlight. Very nice demo. (Looks a lot like the Album preview you get in iTunes.)

Back to Bill:

Talking about business data connectors letting you get to information of all types. Search is great when it gets you to documents but becomes more powerful when you can also get to structured data sources.

Looking ahead, people shouldn’t have to worry about where the information comes from. The software takes care of connecting to the backend information stores. The SharePoint environment will enable new ways of interacting with data. Modelling is an important focus area – simulating what’s going on in the enterprise. This approach should reduce dramatically the amount of code that needs to be written. Currently at the early stages but it will make the value of information even more impactful. (He’s talking about declarative programming – see the Office DevCon Keynote Q&A for more information.)

Q & A

Q – Data access and data storage – concept of universal data access still isn’t there. Is it going to change in Office 14? And what about the Exchange storage engine?

A – Storage unification is a big deal at MS. A big opportunity to simplify the programming and admin model and ability to do integration. In SharePoint, you’ve got these lists that are better than tables in some way, but in SQL you’ve got the flexibility and scale that goes beyond what you have in lists. What’s the answer? Want to have the capabilities within SQL as a native capability within SharePoint. In the next version of SharePoint, we’re taking a big step in terms of putting a table from SQL into SharePoint and enabling those richer capabilities. The direction is straightforward – we want list semantics to be in the database engine itself, without giving up the reasons we invented lists – the approachability and ease of use. On to storage unification. (Side note: Bill said that SharePoint has always been built on SQL… Er, no. He must have forgotten about the first version being on the Exchange web store.) AD had its own way of doing distribitued info replication. Now moving more to a metadirectory – will be based in SQL and then do replication out to the stores that do distributed login capabilities. Exchange has its own store, SQL doesn’t do the hierarchy stuff that Exchange needs. To model that hierarchy, we need SQL to cope with tables within tables. Tnat will simplify the underlying store. But no timelines.

Q – When do you plan to go relational with data store: allow nested tables, relational dropdowns within SharePoint?

A – Lists today are pretty powerful, were built for the kinds of things people do in SharePoint. The idea of tables within tables – we’re taking a big step towards that goal in SQL 2008.

Q – What’s MS plan in being ahead of competition, i.e. Google Sites and Team Edition

A – SharePoint is about end users and being able to get their work done. Hilarious – Bill said “the day they announce the product is it’s best day… I may be biased…” It’s great that people have choices. The breadth of work required to build the likes of SharePoint is very high…

Q – MS-Yahoo?

A – We are very serious about competing in consumer search. We’ve learned alot about how to build up the data center in terms of hundreds of thousands of serv
ers. Needed as we host Exchange and SharePoint. But also need to develop what we can offer in terms of software management that can also help customer data centers. Shouldn’t have to have people on call 24 hours a day (i.e. software needs to be self-healing). That’s what we are working on in our data centers. The boundary between desktop search, SharePoint and web search is blurring – we are going to see more solutions drawing on all these different areas. It shows our bullishness about search and software regardless of whether or not MS-Yahoo happens – that is speculation at the moment.

[Update: 04 Mar 08] See the comments for a link to a YouTube video covering Bill’s comment about Google. You can view video of the keynote, and find the official viewpoint over on Microsoft’s web site – SharePoint Conference 2008 Virtual Press Room

Related posts:

Technorati tag: SPC 2008

SharePoint History

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.

Related Posts

Site topic: SharePoint


Ages of SharePoint

There once was a time when I was usually the youngest person in meetings, but alas no more. This week, SharePoint showed up my age. No, not the wrinkles gained from past endeavours explaining why there was no search license (and now there is), why the workflow was removed (and now its back), (ditto doc profiles/metadata), why nuggets became web parts, when is a taxonomy not a taxonomy, or why it took so long for CMS and SPS to get married…

No, the age issue was highlighted during a session explaining just how the next release of SharePoint (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 – MOSS) collected its feature set. I’m currently working on a couple of MOSS 2007 projects and sat down with a colleague to do some SharePoint skills transfer. The start point for these discussions (I’ve done a few of them over the past couple of years) is always the time line of products involved. And so the meeting began..

me: “In the beginning, there was Site Server…..” (scribble 1998 and Site Server on to whiteboard)

colleague: “Blimey, I was still at school then!”

Not funny. Not funny at all. Two cups of coffee later and, talking about Tahoe and Platinum, we reached the next ‘agestone’…

me: “The first version of SharePoint Portal Server was launched in 2001”

colleague: “I went to university that year.”

Still not funny! 🙂 It’s bad enough that my inability to to write mobile texts with my thumbs shows up my age…

Anyways, in case you are interested, the attached diagram (jpg, 350Kb) charts the SharePoint lifecycle to date. I’ll post up the notes as soon as I’ve written them…

SharePoint Mash

(Now would be a great time to play the tune from the Instant Mash TV advert, for those who remember it – the one with the Martian robots… Amazingly, Wikipedia has an entry for the Smash Martians, I wonder if they are also in Britannica…)

Bill Gates was the opening keynote at the SharePoint conference last week. After the usual blurb about the new world of work, he made an interesting comment about the focus on integrated services within Office SharePoint Server 2007 being similar to the focus on an integrated desktop suite in the Office 95/97 releases. Office 97 was the release that saw Microsoft Office become dominant across most areas of desktop tools (the most notable exception being the Adobe range). It remains to be seen if MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007) achieves the same pervasive feet, with its focus on going beyond portal and collaboration to include content management, business intelligence, process management and social networking. From the way the green weed of the same name keeps trying to take over my fields this spring, the acronym seems an appropriate one for SharePoint.

Bill listed his top 5 favourite features in SharePoint (from 5 to 1): Community (wiki, blog, RSS); Excel Services; Client integration; Search (including the new business data catalog); and SharePoint for composite applications. No real surprises there but interesting to see #1 is the ability to use SharePoint for building composite applications. I’ve sat through a fair few sessions on Office 2007 (server and desktop stuff) and it’s the first time I’ve heard the phrase ‘composite applications’ applied to SharePoint. What is a composite application? An application that, using minimal code, creates a single interface into two or more existing applications to access and/or edit data in a different way. Sound familiar? The common name on the web for such a creation is ‘mash-up’.

Mash-ups have been cropping up all over the place on the web, some of the most popular use mapping tools to geographically display information held in public databases. It’s not the first time I’ve heard Microsoft use the phrase ‘composition’. If you listen to Mike Platt’s talks on Channel 9, you’ll hear him define two forms of composition: application, the typical mash-up; and data composition – where two sources of data are merged together to create a new form of data. Data compositions are particularly interesting and examples have begun to appear on the web – Titanic: The Sequel being one (mashes up multiple movie trailers to create a trailer for a new film). Steve Soderbergh made some interesting comments about the potential and challenges with mash-ups in Wired last December. When asked for an idea for a video mash-up, he responded:

“I was channel surfing the other night and Gus Van Sant’s Pscyho was on. It would be fascinating to do a mash-up of Gus’ version with Hitchcock’s version, because the whole thing with Gus’ version was that he duplicated the original shot by shot…

…So right now, I could do that at home and give it to a friend, just as something for them to watch on a Friday night. But we don’t live in a world where that can be made commercially available. So it goes underground…”

An early form of composition appeared in 2000 in a portal product (TopTier, later acquired by SAP) where portlets could be joined together, enabling you to filter data in one portlet based on your selection in a different portlet. For example, one portlet may contain a list of customers retrieved from the CRM application. A second portlet may contain a list of orders from the ERP application. Clicking on a customer name in the first portlet filters the data in the second portlet, enabling you to see only orders associated for the selected customer without having to write code to join the two back-end applications together. SharePoint followed suit in 2003, making it possible to connect web parts together to filter data across applications without the applications having to know anything about each other. Application and data composition take the concept to a whole new level.

Why have two names for the same thing – mash-up and composition? I could be completely wrong, but maybe composition has a more grounded feel to it than the anarchic sounding mash-up, making it more palatable to the enterprise? (Think of the equivalent in music – a composition is a complete piece of music whilst a jamming session is, well, sometimes music to your ears and sometimes just an ugly loud noise.) The litmus test for emerging trends and technologies is always the journey across the bridge from consumer adoption to business adoption and ‘composition’ may just have a better chance than ‘mash-up’.

One thing is certain, it is very interesting that Bill Gates calls out composition as his number one favourite feature in Office SharePoint Server 2007 (ahead of the popular choice – blogs, wikis and RSS – that only make it to #5). The obvious composition candidates that fall under the Office 2007 brand will likely be forms- and calculation-driven. (That’s InfoPath Forms Server and Excel Services from a product perspective). But I suspect the more interesting composite applications will go beyond Office 2007 and delve into the land of Live and beyond. Indeed, during the SharePoint conference, a composite application was built to geographically view customers by mashing contacts on the internal CRM system with maps hosted externally on Windows Live Local.

[Update] There’s now a video up on Channel 9 showing SharePoint mash-ups: