Beyond SharePoint Hype


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Microsoft's SharePoint has grown consistently in market share and stature over the years, with the 2007 release making it one of Microsoft's most successful products to date, with sales of well more than $1 billion a year in revenue and more than 100 million seats sold.

It is unsurprising then that the preview of the 2010 edition of SharePoint, which was showcased recently in Las Vegas, was met by a level of hysteria not seen since the dot-com boom days. By most people's measures and expectations, SharePoint in its 2010 guise will exceed all previous milestones and targets. As for me, however, I have my doubts-doubts based at least in part on the very reasons that many others predict success. I can't help but wonder if SharePoint has peaked, and if its shine is on the wane.

Certainly the 2010 edition will fix many of the annoying back-end issues that developers and implementers complained about in its 2007 predecessor. It offers a radically improved web services architecture, and the product will, in some aspects, be more scalable than in the past, handling higher volumes in its lists and libraries. Additionally, we will see new and much-welcomed functionality such as improved records management, central metadata management, and some really rather nice and useable business intelligence functions. That is all good stuff and will certainly be of benefit to many buyers and end users.

However, many things that existing users of SharePoint were hoping to see fixed were not. And those existing users are hugely influential regarding the future success or otherwise of SharePoint. The installed numbers-100 million seats sold-are impressive, but the numbers may also point to a maturing customer base that is nearing its saturation point. One way or another, it points to a very substantial customer base that will need encouragement and incentive to move to the new version. And this is where I think Microsoft may be challenged, as there is simply too little reason to want or need to move to 2010 for 2007 users.

For large enterprise buyers of SharePoint, there seems to be no middle ground: They are either ecstatically happy with the 2007 product or, the complete opposite, wishing they had never let it into their organizations in the first place. Lack of governance, management, and scalability issues have frustrated and, indeed, ruined many a project-issues that have not been fully resolved in the 2010 edition.

Major consultancies and integrators we have spoken with have reported a distinct cooling off in enthusiasm for SharePoint, with many projects being put on a back burner or deals that would have previously gone straight to Microsoft now going out to competitive bids. For some enterprises, SharePoint has proven to be popular with users but unexpectedly expensive to run and maintain-and very complex to develop.

Furthermore, it has proven to be lacking core functionality at crucial moments. One enterprise content management practice lead at a major system integrator put it this way: "The love affair with SharePoint is over. It has its uses, but buyers now understand that it is not particularly cheap, and its functions are far from best of breed."

Security management concerns inherent in SharePoint 2007 have not been addressed, licensing remains complex, and federated architectures remain rudimentary compared to competitors. The 2GB file size limit remains, and the much-criticized web content management functionality remains largely untouched. Hence, for the enterprise buyer, there is little to commend on SharePoint 2010 beyond the new and funky Ajax-based user interface (UI).

Nevertheless, 2010 will be a success, and SharePoint will be a part of the broad content management landscape for the foreseeable future. The hysteria in Las Vegas was in large part courtesy of the huge SharePoint reseller and developer channels, and they see good reason to continue their enthusiasm for the product. And so they should, as the small and medium-sized business (SMB) markets that many of them focus on will rightly continue to be excited by SharePoint and its possibilities. An improved SharePoint with an Ajax UI provides the channel with many new options to develop solutions and to sell into the SMB market.

Yet for large enterprises there is little evidence of the same level of excitement. In situations where SharePoint competes against the likes of EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet, Open Text Livelink, or even open source options such as KnowledgeTree, Nuxeo, and Alfresco, SharePoint is no longer the slam-dunk it once was.