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Five Things Wrong With SharePoint

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Collaboration is what Microsoft's SharePoint is best at. But there are several real problems with it... and somehow, nobody's been talking about them. That is, until Mike Drips arrived. And boy, does he have strong opinions.
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Five Things Wrong With SharePoint

"My favorite Office thing today is how SharePoint is being used for collaboration." — Bill Gates, Office System Developer Conference, February 2005

Bill, either cut back on the medication, or dump the former Howard Hughes bodyguards. Get back in touch with reality: Collaboration is the forté of SharePoint.

"SharePoint is one of the most underutilized assets of the Office system." — Bill Gates, Office System Developer Conference, February 2005

I have been accused many times of having a Microsoft bar code tattooed on my neck over the years, as a long time consultant on Microsoft technologies. So, while posting these failings may not exactly be like Luther nailing his treatise to the door of the church, I feel compelled to point out that as a product, SharePoint, like the king, is wearing no clothes.

There are five reasons, Bill, why SharePoint is underutilized.

1. It's a crappy mish-mash of multiple technologies.

Yes, I said crappy! Any Microsoft developer who lived through the 90s watched Scott McNeely of Sun Microsystems parody Microsoft at every opportunity. Sun sued Microsoft numerous times over its Java license. In addition, Sun executives testified against Microsoft during the Department of Justice anti-trust investigation. Those behaviors certainly did not build much goodwill in the developer community.

Well, guess what? When you start to dig into the inner workings of SharePoint, you find a great many of the core files are written in JavaScript! Hello? Does Microsoft support JavaScript? Sort of, as Jscript supposedly is a supported .Net language, but if you actually go to MSDN for Jscript support, you won't find much content. Some content, sure, but certainly not enough to educate or support developers. Are there any Microsoft courses on programming in JavaScript? No.

Once you get past the shock and horror of encountering the alien JavaScript files, to professionally program SharePoint you also have to deal with CSS, HTML, XML, ASP.Net, Visual Studio.Net, and your choice of C# or VB.Net. That doesn't include dealing with Windows Server 2003, Active Directory, and the wonderful world of IIS.

This isn't trivial. Good SharePoint programming practices require expert level capability in each of these areas, as SharePoint is very unforgiving, relative to undoing programming changes. Just getting SharePoint properly configured and working can be a challenge, as the product lacks documentation depth relative to its complexity.

2. The development team is playing the Longhorn card.

To be fair, all the Microsoft development teams currently seem to be "Waiting for Longhorn," which is not to be confused with "Waiting for Godot." Godot never shows up. Longhorn might show up. If and when Longhorn does show up, it will bring with it a whole new set of underlying APIs.

These new APIs provide the excuse for no new interim software releases outside of code patches, because God forbid, any new code probably will have to be rewritten to accommodate the Longhorn APIs. This means that the next release of SharePoint will probably occur in 2007. That's four years of no product improvement. Microsoft is besmirching its reputation as being market driven by allowing its development teams to sit on their hands waiting for Longhorn to ship. How do these teams justify getting a paycheck?

3. There are two SharePoint products, which is confusing.

Windows SharePoint Services is included with Windows Server 2003. Windows SharePoint Portal Server 2003 is a standalone product that must be purchased separately. In essence, SharePoint Services is a subset of SharePoint Portal Server. (How many of the people reading that knew this? A show of hands, please?)

Microsoft fails to adequately document and differentiate between the two products throughout its Web site. Granted, Microsoft's documentation personnel try to create good information, but they consistently fail to clarify the differences between the two products, even though they have white papers on this very subject on the Microsoft Web site.

SharePoint Services is like the junior edition of SharePoint Portal Server. There are no "junior editions" of other Microsoft server products, so what is the point of SharePoint Services? If nothing else, it causes a great deal of end-user confusion, and truly makes paying for the Portal Server hard to justify.

As John Dvorak has repeatedly pointed out over the years, Microsoft has no marketing executives. Microsoft needs to dump the Services edition and build up the Portal edition.

4. Support for SharePoint is lacking.

Outside of calling up the Microsoft pay-as-you-go help desk, trying to locate good SharePoint resources to assist in understanding or programming SharePoint is quite frustrating. Yes there is a lot of SharePoint material on the Microsoft Web site, though not much of that material will help anyone with the real day-to-day issues of development, administration, or installation.

The good news is that Microsoft does support a lot of community forums for their products. While other Microsoft community forums, such as the BizTalk ones, seem okay, the bad news is that the Microsoft SharePoint community forums are dreadful. Part of the reason they are so bad is that the SharePoint forums seem to be plagued by Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs).

My understanding of the Microsoft MVP program is that part of its basis is how often one responds to questions in the Microsoft forums. Obviously, they look at the quantity, not the quality. For example, one MVP only posts "You are in the wrong forum! Ask that question in another forum!" while others often post, "Read the documentation," or "Write a custom program." Maybe some of the Microsoft employees who are sitting on their hands while waiting for Longhorn to ship could visit these forums once in a while.

In a nutshell: there are a lot more questions than answers in the SharePoint forums.

Naturally, one cannot discuss support without mentioning weblogs. There are about fifty blogs dealing with SharePoint on the Internet. Perhaps five of these are worth reading on a monthly basis. Most of the good SharePoint blogs tend to be out of Europe, and are written largely by SharePoint trainers. Nearly all the SharePoint bloggers are (surprise!) MVPs, as well as part-time apologists for Microsoft. If you are looking for criticism of SharePoint, you won't find it on the blogs.

The final source of SharePoint knowledge is, of course, books. Eleven books have been written on SharePoint 2003, including one in French and one in German. The French and German ones are good, but if you only read English then I advise that you review the available titles at your local bookstore prior to purchase, as most of them are useless.

5. Microsoft has not stated a strategic direction for SharePoint

Strategic direction? Come to think of it, Microsoft hasn't laid out a roadmap for SharePoint's future at all.

My favorite quote, from an attendee at Microsoft's 2005 Office System Developer Conference, was, "The SharePoint product team appeared to be completely out of touch with the needs and wants of the SharePoint development community." That's the understatement of the year!

Originally, SharePoint was a competitor for pure portal products like PlumTree, with some document library features stolen from Documentum. Now, SharePoint has been positioned as a team collaboration tool. It's not quite the ghost of Microsoft Team Manager 97, but there is somewhat of a family resemblance. Often, it appears to be no more than a collection of product concepts thrown in a box.

Despite its lack of support and direction from Microsoft, SharePoint Portal Server still remains a viable product for an Intranet portal, document library, and company forum. To make all of those pieces work takes a tremendous amount of effort and education that — unfortunately — is not readily available to the end user community.

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