Understanding Microsoft SharePoint in a Web 2.0 World

While SaaS offerings from enterprise 2.0 vendors creep up, and facing more pressure from IBM and Google with their collaborative software products, Microsoft believes SharePoint will give companies all the Web 2.0 they'll ever need.

By C.G. Lynch
Wed, May 14, 2008

CIOMicrosoft's answer to Web 2.0 — technologies such as wikis, blogs and social networks — can be found in SharePoint, the software platform tied to the Microsoft Office suite that the vendor hopes will become the one-stop destination application for enterprise collaboration.

While analysts say the social software in SharePoint lacks the functionality and usability of competitor products, its tight integration with existing Microsoft systems such as Exchange and Office makes it an attractive buy for IT departments looking to capitalize on the Web 2.0 movement while still utilizing the technology tools they already have inside their companies.

For its part, Microsoft boasts a staggering rate of adoption for SharePoint. According to Rob Curry, director of SharePoint, Microsoft has sold around 100 million licenses of the product. But it's hard to know what percentage of those licenses include the use of social software like wikis, blogs and social networks. While Curry said he couldn't specify that adoption rate, he noted these functions are central to the company's view: "We see social computing as an important piece of SharePoint [and have] since its inception."

This vision sounds great, but analysts say the story about SharePoint and Web 2.0 isn't so simple. SharePoint itself was not originally constructed as a Web 2.0 offering. In fact, the bulk of SharePoint is still largely what it started as back in 2003: a document management system predicated on the idea that workers will spend most of their day working on their desktop with installed software, which for Microsoft means the Office applications suite.

It wasn't until the 2007 version, known as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, that Microsoft released true social software features on top of it.

Though users access SharePoint through a Web-browser, the application differs from social software in the Web 2.0 space, where many vendors host their applications as a SaaS (software as a service) offering. While Microsoft announced plans for a hosted version in March, SharePoint is mainly hosted on-premise.

How well this works, for Microsoft and customers looking to adopt online collaboration tools, remains to be seen. Though it's in Microsoft's interest to keep people working in Office, installed software isn't generally what powers Web 2.0 technologies. Instead, the ability to author content, edit it, and share it with peers tends to work better with an online model, a place analysts say Microsoft still needs to work on with its SharePoint offering.

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