SharePoint is crack and Microsoft is the pusher. Yeah, I said it. Listen up now, I’ll say it again. SharePoint is crack and Microsoft is the pusher!
The other week, I wrote an article that stirred up a bunch of CMS, DMS, ECMS and other content professionals enough to make them comment. Some agreed, some poked at what they perceived to be holes in my central claim. And a couple took it as an opportunity to express their opinion of how SharePoint is the divine gift to business and IT professionals. It seems like I’ve seen this tableau before, maybe even more than once.
Microsoft's Modus Operandi
Microsoft has a long history of offering products that are either cheap or free in limited use cases, with enough power and functionality to get enterprise companies hooked. "You don’t want to be left behind! It’s so easy to get started! Everyone’s using it!"
Let’s look back for a moment: The year was 1993 and Microsoft had released Access 1.1. Businesses everywhere embraced this new tool because it was among the first applications that promised to bring the power to the people. From that point on, all sorts of business users and poseur programmers have been creating unmaintainable, bug-ridden, constantly crashing, support-time sinkholes that plague IT to this day.
Right around the same time, Lotus Notes, not made by Microsoft, was becoming popular. I’m not sure the written word can express how much pain has resulted from the proliferation of Notes and the closely associated Domino packages. What started out as the next generation of sharing and collaboration technology turned into a loathsome mess that has stuck around in large enterprises without enough commitment to sunset it, despite the earnest pleas of a tortured workforce.
What do Access and Notes have in common with SharePoint?
- They purport to make solution development accessible to non-programmers -- As noted above, I have found that this approach, with a minority of exceptions, leads to implementations that are, at best, crap. In 25 years of experience within the industry, I have yet to come across a single Access or Notes implementation where support, maintenance, enhancements and deployment are anything better than "painful but tolerable." This result further enables the pervasive and addictive dysfunction that exists between American businesses (both between business and IT and between leadership and "doership"), where one group of people is contemptuous of the time and effort of others. Often this contempt shows itself in the form of processes and systems that want to make humans shoot themselves out of frustration. Newer schools of leadership and IT have developed a little more empathy to make this slightly better, but employee-facing solutions, laden with contempt for the time of others, are the rule, and well-designed, sustainable and integrated solutions are the exception. While it is true that these systems are built with many tools, SharePoint has now become the medium most conducive to the spread of this addiction because it is so simple to roll out with a checklist-like approach that focuses on "what" a thing does, no matter how poorly it does it.
- They can be implemented well but, more often than not, are not --The programming memes and frameworks within these tools beg people to collapse architectural layers, merging data access, business logic and presentation into one big procedural mess. While SharePoint is slightly better with this than its forbearers, it is by no means free of this seemingly endemic problem the cause of which is mostly due to the masses of old school Microsoft developers who came from the school of "functionality above all else."
- They are not fully ready for the enterprise -- While this is clear with non-interoperable systems such as Access and Notes, (and yes, I know that Notes can interoperate but interoperable Notes platforms are the black swan of Notes implementations), it is less apparent, but still true, for SharePoint. The most obvious reason is this: In order to be fully functional, SharePoint requires the exclusive use of Internet Explorer. Yes, it partially works on Firefox and Safari, but it hasn't been tested on Chrome at all. The recent additions of partial support on Firefox and Safari are only on 2010 and as a user of 2007 SharePoint I can tell you that needing multiple browsers on my work machine and not being able to use anything but a Windows desktop is not what I call enterprise ready. You can keep saying IE is fine for internal uses but it does not mask the truth that many employees don’t want to be forced to use IE and that’s what you are endorsing. The days of IT being able to maintain a controlled list of computing and browsing platforms are over and they are not coming back. No matter how you slice it, this is not enterprise-class.
SharePoint is a Problem Waiting to Happen
But the worst thing about SharePoint by far is that it recreates the problem it was intended to solve, only on a much larger scale. What starts out as a hierarchically organized file share ends up as a hierarchically organized file share with a web interface on top of it. SharePoint is constantly rolled out in a slipshod manner with little thought to governance or developing scalable and maintainable taxonomies. I know there are recent improvements in this arena, but being capable doesn't matter if enterprises don't roll it out that way (see the 2nd bullet above). The resulting organic growth inevitably results in buried content with no easy mechanisms for ambient findability. SharePoint, just like Windows Explorer and Outlook, suffers from the obsolete single-parent hierarchy mechanism used to categorize files. Folders gave way to the matrix with tagging, as evidenced by Gmail and Facebook, but SharePoint has not really caught up yet.
Just like the recently released news item that showed why the Courier was axed, Microsoft is holding onto old solutions until the market abandons them in favor of better paradigms and platforms. It’s just a matter of time before Microsoft’s competitors come up with something that will break the addiction. Off the top of my head, here are three possibilities I can see as reality before the end of 2012:
- Salesforce.com understands that Chatter is a SharePoint killer and starts marketing it as such.
- Facebook launches a SaaS solution with private social networks that leverage individual’s public profiles.
- Google integrates Google+, Gmail, Google Sites, Google Docs and Google Apps into a ridiculously compelling way to get rid of the IT and user headache that is SharePoint.
Clearly, hosted SharePoint solutions, including the ones offered by Microsoft, can start to address some of the pain I am referring to (and talked about in depth in the aforementioned article), but even this will not address the systemic concerns where a medium-to-large implementation will, more likely than not, result in both a painful user experience and a problematic governance model.
Now that I’ve enraged the addicts and the pushers, can anyone recommend a good bullet-proof vest?