SharePoint 2010: Five New and Improved Features

You may not need all the features SharePoint 2010 has to offer, but advances in areas such as social media, offline access and better CRM and ERP integration make it worth a look. Here's a rundown of what's new and/or improved.

Sharepoint, Microsoft's one-stop "content and collaboration" platform, has been around since 2001. But it didn't see widespread adoption until SharePoint 2007's debut and the integration with social software, such as blogs, wikis and social networking Web sites.

With SharePoint 2010, due in the first half of this year and available only in 64-bit, one of Microsoft's main goals is to improve on these social networking tools as well as provide better offline access, easier integration with line-of-business software like CRM and ERP, and improved search.

And then, of course, tie it all together.

The 2007 version of SharePoint (known as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 or MOSS 2007) was a breakthrough of sorts because of its Web 2.0 add-ons and its eventual offering to all Microsoft's customers as an online version in November 2008.

SharePoint 2010 MySites
MySites in SharePoint 2010 have been updated to make profile pages more personalized, a la Facebook.

Yet, as is usually the case, Microsoft was forced to make the change due to the rising tide of Web-based Office alternatives, such as Google Apps and those from niche Web 2.0 companies such as Socialtext, SixApart and Jive. Last November, Microsoft cut prices for its BPOS (Business Productivity Online Services) suite, which includes online versions of both SharePoint and Exchange, to curb the threat of free and low-cost offerings.

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Microsoft also wisely partnered with young companies like wiki maker Atlassian and RSS (Real Simple Syndication) vendor NewsGator to incorporate more social technologies into MOSS 2007. Other enterprise social media companies like SocialText (wikis) and Jive (blogs and wikis) made their products compatible with SharePoint as a necessity.

And now arrives SharePoint 2010, with its many confusing versions, Office-like ribbon interface and ability to run in multiple browsers. And it also offers many more social networking tools than MOSS 2007.

In a recent Forrester report titled "SharePoint Server 2010: An Evolutionary Step Toward Content-Centric Middleware," principal analyst Rob Koplowitz writes that while the social technologies built into MOSS 2007 "have been effective, SharePoint 2010 improves on native social tools" and other features.

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Not all companies will need all of SharePoint 2010's new features, but here are five new areas worth noting, according to Forrester.

1. Improved Social Networking Tools

SharePoint 2010 should benefit from the addition of personal blogs, tagging and activity feeds within its social networking sites, called MySites. MySites will also integrate with Microsoft's BCS (Business Connectivity Services), which allows IT to link employees' MySites profiles to non-SharePoint data, such as information from a human resources system.

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Wiki and blog integration in MOSS 2007 was criticized for not being user-friendly, but Forrester's Koplowitz writes that SharePoint 2010 improves on this dramatically.

"Wikis are now expressed as a pervasive content type that can be accessed in most content-generation scenarios, as opposed to a specific template type," he writes. "Blogs are tuned for internal and external audiences."

Community interaction within SharePoint has been given a boost, as MySites now have a user interface similar to Facebook profile pages. SharePoint 2010 has also added tagging (word labels that describe and help find content) through a centrally managed metadata service, with "tag clouds" that list common tag words so users can find content quicker. In addition, SharePoint 2010 is emulating Twitter by bringing microblogging and activity feeds into the fold.

2. Going Offline with SharePoint Workspace

Offline access to MOSS 2007 has been a sticking point for businesses and is considered inferior to the offline capabilities of rival Lotus Notes/Domino.

A demonstration of offline support with SharePoint Workspace 2010.

SharePoint 2010 catches up to Lotus Notes with SharePoint Workspace, a client application based on technology designed by Ray Ozzie's old company (Groove Networks), that makes SharePoint libraries, lists and forms accessible offline.

SharePoint Workspace will offer two types of functionality: as a peer-to-peer collaboration system based on the legacy Groove architecture, and as a client to the SharePoint server. Any given workspace will be in either the client server or peer-to-peer, but not both.

3. Application Development Tweaks

Developers will deal with less coding in SharePoint 2010 with the improvements to design tool SharePoint Designer, tighter integration between development tool Visual Studio and SharePoint, and built-in support for Web application framework Silverlight for more multimedia interaction.

Also, SharePoint Design has been tweaked in SharePoint 2010 to become a "no-code" tool to reduce the chances of code instability.

4. Better Connection to Line-of-Business Data

Previous versions of SharePoint have had trouble connecting with enterprise software systems such as CRM and ERP, despite efforts from companies like ERP Link and a joint offering from Microsoft and SAP called Duet that brings SAP data into Office.

To integrate more business data in SharePoint 2010, Microsoft will rely on its BCS (Business Connectivity Services) suite. BCS helps make SharePoint 2010 the "connective tissue that bridges line-of-business systems and knowledge worker systems," notes the Forrester report. The previous iteration of BCS, called BDC (Business Data Catalog), could bring only line-of-business data into SharePoint. BCS will provide both read and write access between business applications and SharePoint 2010.

5. Expanding Search and Content Management

Forrester's Koplowitz writes that the embedded search function in SharePoint 2010 is superior to previous versions because of "improved scalability, query functionality and index redundancy." In addition, companies that have opted for the high-end SharePoint Enterprise CAL (client access license) will have full access to FAST Search Server 2010, the search technology Microsoft acquired in 2008.

As for managing business content, Microsoft has removed limitations in MOSS 2007's ECM (enterprise content management) feature. For example, lists in SharePoint now support 1 million items, and document libraries can grow to 200 million items.

Shane O'Neill is a senior writer at CIO.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter at twitter.com/CIOonline.

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