Like a dish detergent spun through the rebranding cycle, SharePoint 2010 (news, site) is all new and improved. The enhancements though to the World’s most popular and prevalent web development platform -- nee portal platform; nee enterprise content management platform; nee Microsoft’s answer to Lotus Notes / WebSphere -- are far more impressive than your standard “new and improved” detergent in a bigger box. SharePoint’s box is bigger, but there is substance to the improvements above and beyond the style.
SharePoint 2010 (SP2010) has not been reconstructed, and is not the best solution for any organization in any scenario -- it can be expensive, very expensive, and it contains far more than most organizations will ever use. But, the enhancements are more than cosmetic with impressive additions and upgrades to the feature set -- when compared to MOSS 2007.
With all of SP’s features and functions -- hundreds of them -- what is it really good for? What are its strengths and weaknesses, and what type of organization makes a good fit for SP, or vice versa?
What the SharePoint Experts Say
We’ve taken a birds-eye approach to SP2010 with a look to the expert perspective. I asked three SP experts to weigh in with their thoughts on SP2010’s strengths and weaknesses:
- Shawn Shell, author of the SharePoint Report for CMSWatch, and CEO of Consejo Inc.
- Robert Bogue, CEO of Thor Projects, and a SharePoint MVP
- Andrew Connell, author, trainer, and co-founder of Critical Path Training
Somewhat surprisingly, though not entirely given the breadth of services offered by SP2010, each expert cites different strengths and weaknesses, with very little overlap.
On The Plus Side of SharePoint 2010
- My Profiles (formerly My Sites) -- including more social media and better associations between individuals.
- Office integration -- Better integration with MS Office particularly for Access and Excel Services -- improving the supportability of those inevitable Access applications.
- Business Intelligence -- Impressive upgrades to dashboard reporting and monitoring through Excel services.
- Service Application architecture -- Moving away from the Shared Services model and to independent service applications.
- Developer Story -- Across the board the story for development with SharePoint is better. Better tooling. Better APIs. Better materials.
- External Connectivity -- BDC is now part of SharePoint Foundation as Business Connectivity Services (BCS) with more powerful connectivity and workflow. For example, expense reports can be done in SharePoint and automatically imported into the accounting system; purchase orders can be routed through approvals before automatically being created.
- SharePoint Designer -- A full-fledged SharePoint editor that knows and understands SharePoint, not just an HTML editor. Administrators have control of whether SharePoint Designer can be used or not for individual sites, and can control which features are enabled.
- Offline Support via SharePoint Workspace -- Previous support for offline work was limited or only available via a 3rd party solution. SharePoint 2010 is now a platform for retrieving data while you’re offline as well as posting new data while offline.
- SharePoint Online (hosting) -- SharePoint 2010 Web Content Management sites can be deployed to the cloud and avoid up-front licensing, hardware and staffing costs.
There's Still Room For Improvement
- Web content management -- Much improved with the addition of social media, metadata controls and the ribbon interface for the editor, but far from best-in-class.
- Search -- Too many search experiences between Foundation, standard SharePoint and FAST (and FAST is quite complicated to setup).
- Increased complexity -- 2010 may cause organizations headaches; many firms felt 2007 was pretty complicated to maintain and 2010 is a good bit more complex (it’s new found flexibility around service applications has created some of the complexity).
- Security -- Generally acceptable for many, but SharePoint Designer access “still isn’t as controllable as large enterprises might want.” Some of the scenarios that SharePoint supports including running in the Sandbox and long running workflows make it difficult to hold on to the original user’s identity.
- Uneven administration -- No single administrative panel for an entire farm (security configuration remains a good example); fine-grain controls (e.g. quotas are applied to site collections, not sites).
- Coded workflow -- Converting declarative workflow to coded workflow. Declarative workflows, created by SharePoint Designer, are not easy to convert into a coded workflow.
- Bulk pages -- Lacking features to manage bulk pages (e.g. publishing multiple pages at a single time, such as a magazine).
- Reusable content -- Lacking features to reuse content for entire pages or sets of pages. SharePoint 2010 includes a feature called Reusable Content, but this is scoped only at snippets of content rather than entire pages.
- E-commerce -- If you’re looking to buy and sell online, there are better available options.
- Size -- There’s so much you can learn about SharePoint and so many features that you can spend your entire time working with SharePoint and never end up working with a particular feature or set of features.
(Editor's Note: For a closer look at SharePoint 2010, check out our list of articles covering the many aspects of this latest version, starting with What is SharePoint? Visions and Reality).
SharePoint 2010 For Business Users
For business users such as communications and marketing professionals, SP2010 is a powerful, if not overwhelming solution. Business users can take solace in knowing that the enterprise content management (ECM) and web content management (WCM) features are much improved. The ECM and WCM features are not considered best-in-class, but SP2010 provides most of what many require.
“WCM was good for 2002, but remains weak compared with far less expensive and more capable solutions (though it is compelling if combined with the rest of what SharePoint brings to the table),” says Shell who also adds that the improvements to taxonomy management (metadata) and social media are particularly notable.
“SharePoint isn’t perfect,” says Bogue. “But on the whole I think the features meet most people’s needs (particularly the editor which supports direct copy from Word; previously a thorn in everyone’s side).”
“From my perspective SharePoint is great value but things of great value are almost never best of breed. Best of breed demands a premium, and that’s just not SharePoint’s space in the market.”
For Developers & Administrators
For techies, there are a lot of enhancements to make the .NET pro smile: particularly improvements to SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio, SharePoint Foundation and Business Connectivity Services.
“SharePoint at its core is very extensible – when developers or site owners want to change specific functionally, tools like Visual Studio 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010 make it very easy to accomplish these tasks,” says Connell, who advocates patience in working with SP2010. “Folks working with SharePoint have to learn enough about the platform to understand what’s available to them while getting detailed knowledge on the things they need. It’s like the old saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
SP2010 certainly isn’t perfect, nor is it “everything to everyone”; it needs only a business case that can afford the sticker price.
“I think that professionals – of anything – tend to see things from the lens of perfection,” adds Bogue. “Developers want to write perfect code with 100% code coverage with tests, etc. However, the trick for me isn’t seeing the world perfect, the trick is to see the world as practically as possible.”
A Viable Option for the Right Organization
Overall, the experts give SharePoint 2010 a thumbs-up. It’s not for everyone nor every organization, but it’s a very powerful platform that gives Oracle and other .NET vendors a run for their money.
Adds Bogue: “I’m not minimizing the fact that SharePoint has its issues – even in 2010. My perspective is simply that it’s “good enough” for what most customers need. The real issues for deployment have nothing to do with the technology and everything to do with the politics and the people. The technology’s the easy part.”
(Editor's note: Also from Toby Ward: The Rise of Intranet 2.0: The Social Intranet)