SharePoint: Love It, Leave It, Or Hope For More


Now on the market since mid-2001, Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server (SPS)
has already attracted millions of users and more than 300 third-party
applications. Proponents praise its relatively low pricing, easy
installation, and intranet functionality. The same product, though, has
also drawn heaps of criticism from industry influencers like GartnerGroup
and Meta Group. Why the discrepancies?


“SharePoint has a lot of capabilities for small companies,” contended Bill
English, a consultant, trainer and author specializing in .NET platforms.
In a recent presentation, English estimated SharePoint licensing costs at
just $11,000 for a company of 1,000 employees. In contrast, a deployment of
IBM WebSphere might easily weigh in at $250,000, including the price of IBM
Global Services, according to English.


“Intranet-in-a-box is beautiful,” he added, citing SharePoint’s document
management capabilities, in particular. English likes the way the Office XP
client makes it easier for administrators with some programming skills to
create Web parts. “Users can come in and create their own dashboards if you
give them a gallery of Web parts.”


On the down side, though, English pointed to weaknesses for SharePoint in
areas ranging from deployment to backup and recovery, security, and
integration with other .NET servers.


English is hardly the only one who appreciates SharePoint’s strengths. “I
am building an intranet for my company, and I’m considering SharePoint Team
Services and/or Portal Server. We are a computer training company in
California with two branches and about 40 employees. I would greatly
appreciate your assistance in helping me review SharePoint so that I can
decide whether it is the best solution for our needs, and if it is, which
SharePoint product(s) to use,” wrote one administrator, in a posting to the
Microsoft.public.sharepoint.portalserver newsgroup. The administrator
wanted to “build a good intranet from scratch.”


An industry consultant responded: “A key objective in most of the projects
I’ve been involved in has been to create a system which is user
maintainable. SharePoint Team Services would provide a good platform. You
should talk the company into using it for document management. The benefits
are huge.”


In its first year of existence, MSSP sold seven million licenses, said Jeff
Raike, Microsoft’s group VP of productivity and business services, during
the Microsoft Fusion conference last summer.


Meanwhile at least 300 third-party vendors have taken the time of create
third-party apps for SharePoint.


Industry reaction, though, as been a mixed bag all along. When SPS1 was
still in beta, Gartner released a report drubbing the product as “a first generation
portal.”


“For more than a year, Gartner has expected that Microsoft would announce a
better-defined KM and collaboration strategy, and anticipated that
Tahoe/SharePoint would form the cornerstone for it,” according to the
report.


“Microsoft planned to position Exchange-based collaborative services
against those of Lotus Development, whereas SharePoint brings Microsoft
more directly into competition with enterprise portals. In announcing
SharePoint, then, Microsoft de-emphasized KM as a strategic initiative but
introduced language that could confuse enterprises.”


The authors of the report, Denise Carrau and Debra Logan, conceded that
SharePoint has some of the functionality needed to support KM, such as
workgroup-level document management. “(But) Microsoft has blurred the lines
between KM and enterprise portals and tries to stretch SharePoint to cover
both. It does not have greatly enhanced functions to support KM, nor does
it have particularly robust application integration capabilities, which are
essential to portals. Furthermore, Gartner does not believe that SharePoint
will easily scale to support enterprise-wide document management.”


More recently, Microsoft has been trying to reposition itself away from KM
and toward the portals space. In announcing SPS2 last spring, Microsoft
pointed to three general directions: integration with SharePoint Team
Services (STS); with Windows .NET Server; and with other .NET platforms.


Since then, though, Microsoft officials seem to have drummed most heavily
on STS/SPS integration.


“You guys have bashed us all over the park on what you think about our
SharePoint Portal Server. Okay, that’s fine, but at the end of the day,
the ability people have today to really share and find information inside
corporate intranets is not what most people want it to be. We recognize
that. We think we have a good initial set of offerings between SharePoint
Team Server and SharePoint Portal Server. We’ve got to take it to the next
level,” said Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, during a Q&A at Gartner’s recent IT
Expo.


Meanwhile, other observers have pointed to weaknesses in STS, and in
current integration between SPS and STS. STS does not provision sbwebs
correctly when trying to install onto other Virtual Directories, noted
another news group participant. “The Wizard fails to complete. Perhaps
later revisions or patches will allow other Virtual Directories to function
properly.”


“Search is a major feature of SharePoint Portal Server, but it does not
support search of SharePoint Team Services-based Web sites, i.e. material
created using Office XP (or 2000) and placed in IIS/SQL Server. We expect
Microsoft to fix this in upcoming upgrades,” according to another report
from Gartner.


In a report issued two months ago, Meta Group applauded Microsoft’s .NET
vision as “the broadest vendor articulation of portal user impact” to date.
Meta also predicted, however, that Microsoft will be unable to produce a
“workable portal solution” for some time to come.


“Until Microsoft resolves internal product group struggles (e.g.,
collaboration distributed across several Microsoft groups; content smeared
across different broadly overlapping products; lack of a strong portal-oriented
integration story), we do not expect it to provide integrated .Net
Framework Web services reusable across several different application
categories.”


In fact, although more than 50 percent of Microsoft-oriented organizations
will use SPS, “most will use it as an application-centric environment
(specifically, SPS will be used as a mechanism to build ‘intranets on
steroids,’)” according to Meta’s Ashim Pal.


By 2004/5, the SPS product base will blossom to 50 million users,
forecasted Pal. Many enterprises, though, will delay adoption of SPS2 till
then, due to SPS2’s need for Windows .Net Server, according to the analyst.


Where, then, does that leave administrators – in small companies,
enterprises, and branch offices — who like some of the capabilities of
SPS1, and who want to deploy it over the interim? Next, we’ll drill down
into some of the biggest problems posed by SPS1, and some of the available
workarounds. We’ll also take a look at some of the new features to look
forward to in SPS2.


»


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Jacqueline Emigh

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