SharePoint was originally developed as a response, albeit a very weak one, to IBM’s Websphere software, which quickly became the leading enterprise portal solution. However, the mighty Microsoft, never one to rest on its laurels, decided to chase the leader by pouring billions of dollars into SharePoint and has arguably displaced Websphere as the category leader, while IBM has allowed Websphere Portal to plod along with comparably little fanfare, or investment.

Last week, Microsoft unveiled its future plans by announcing "SharePoint 13," which features a more robust cloud offering, enhanced file synchronization services, an improved "metro" user interface and more social capabilities.

How it will all work and be presented is still left to some guesswork given the new release is merely only a beta release (SharePoint 2010 went through a beta release program of more than half a year before its full release in late Spring of 2010).

There is even more confusion about this new version of SharePoint. Microsoft’s SharePoint website doesn’t mention the product yet and a site search using “SharePoint 13” only produces top results of pages that are years old, or documents or blogs related to SharePoint 2010. And in light of Microsoft’s US$ 1.2 billion purchase of social software Yammer – there is nothing yet to show for the integration of Yammer into SharePoint.

Microsoft has said this will happen in the new SharePoint, though how remains to be seen, but at least Microsoft has clearly and explicitly alerted the enterprise software world that it has recognized the tectonic shifts in enterprise computing and intends to do it’s darnedest to answer the challenge.

IBM's Suite Response

I can’t say I’m yet impressed with what I’ve seen thus far with SharePoint 13, but as we said, it’s only beta. SharePoint 13 beta, however, is more impressive than IBM’s response to the increased competition: if only IBM showed a fraction of Microsoft’s commitment to understanding the evolution of enterprise computing.

IBM once owned the enterprise portal solution darling, Websphere Portal, and all the accolades and revenue it generated. It was the true portal solution market leader, and a far superior product (and may still be for some enterprise scenarios, in some organizations, in the right environment). But no longer is Websphere Portal the clear, dominant leader it once was, now the future of Websphere Portal appears to be uncertain at best, if not black altogether.

It’s been nearly two years since the last full release of Websphere Portal, which was not an earth-shaking upgrade even in 2010 (though IBM did in fact quietly release a beta version only of V8 of Websphere Portal this Spring, no one outside the IBM community seems to know it. IBM's Wikipedia page on Websphere Portal did not even mention this at the time of publishing).

While IBM has kept Websphere afloat with some investment, it is certainly not the billions Microsoft has put into SharePoint. No, instead, IBM has largely stood pat ... until just prior to the launch of the new SharePoint 13 last week, and then with lightning knee-jerk reactionary force, IBM quietly announced a new intranet solution, The Intranet Experience Suite. A closer examination of this new “suite” however reveals very little "new" whatsoever.

All About the Packaging

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The new Intranet Experience Suite appears to be little more than window dressing: instead of a new upgrade to Websphere Portal, or IBM Connections (formerly Lotus Connections, which underwent a major upgrade itself almost two years ago, in November of 2010), IBM appears to have limited this new solution to merely packaging.

The Intranet Experience Suite is a list on a page of IBM.com of different solutions that have existed and been for sale for years: Websphere portal, IBM Connections, IBM Content Manager and other IBM software. There is no upgrade to Websphere Portal, or any of the other solutions under this new banner. In fact, there seemingly is no change or improvement at all, merely packaging: a new label and banner above old solutions that have not significantly changed since the Fall of 2010.

Furthermore, IBM has not formally or publicly stated a roadmap (or at least none that I am aware of or can uncover after some investigation) for any future evolution of Websphere portal whatsoever.

Near as I can tell, despite the press release touting the “New Software,” the new Intranet Experience Suite is not new software, only marketing -- what we used to call vaporware. In fact, the new landing page for the Intranet Experience Suite does feature a prominent case study: a client case study from Omron, which is a project that is more than 2 years old -- Internet years prior to this month’s announcement. Finally, and most pathetically, a request I made of IBM a week ago to provide more information on this new "software" has been ignored by IBM.

While Microsoft’s announcement at least has some tangible qualities compared to IBM, both "solutions" are works in progress at the very best. A beta product is not a finished product; vaporware is not software. My advice to CIOs and intranet executives is simple: hold your breath, and don’t commit to either until each company provides more concrete solutions, or look elsewhere entirely.

Image courtesy of koya979 (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: You may be interested in reading this piece by Toby Ward:

-- Despite SharePoint's Success, the Social Intranet is Still Rare