Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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SharePoint Conference 2009: The Developer Story

As I write this, Day 1 of the Microsoft SharePoint Conference 2009 is almost over. The conference is impressive. There are over 7400 people in attendance, a number that represents 92% growth over last year and which tops this year's Tech*Ed and MIX attendance combined. All this in a year when most events' attendance is way down.

That should tell you something about SharePoint, and should explain why Steve Ballmer, in his keynote at the conference this morning, said (1) he wasn't going to start this keynote by talking about the economy and (2) that SharePoint is a product he loves to talk about. It's obvious SharePoint is one of those things in Microsoft's product portfolio, and in the industry in general, that's doing really, really well. And there's not too many of those just now.

There's a party going on here in Las Vegas, literally: tomorrow night's conference “beach party” will be the Mandalay Bay hotel's largest ever. SharePoint defies economic gravity and it's becoming pervasive in the corporate world. And, when SharePoint Online 2010 and the Office Web apps (which sit on top of SharePoint) become available next year, it could also take off for small business and maybe catch some consumer love too. That makes for a huge market and that's good for developers.

But it's not all fun and beach games. Microsoft now has an important challenge that could make it a victim of its own success: SharePoint developers, good ones anyway, continue to be in short supply. And while that may seem good for those developers, it threatens SharePoint's long-term viability, and thus their own. Because if a high developer barrier to entry remains for a product that is becoming pervasive, that pervasiveness might peak pretty early.

So what is Microsoft doing about it? What I learned today is that they're doing a lot. For example, they're adding Business Connectivity Services to connect to external data in a straightforward way, REST APIs to allow external systems to connect to SharePoint more easily, a SharePoint-specific LINQ interface to make server-side SharePoint development a snap, and a developer dashboard feature for diagnosing all kinds of programmer-relevant information.

And beyond what's being added to the product itself, the most important developer accommodation has finally been made: The Visual Studio and SharePoint teams have collaborated to produce a premier development environment. Team Foundation Server support. SharePoint Workflow designer support. Visual Web Parts that get built like ASP.NET User Controls. Support for Service Applications. And full deployment support, including deployment of so-called Sandbox Solutions, that can run in a safe, trial environment before being activated. Plus, from what I can tell, much of this will work with SharePoint 2010 Online (the SharePoint cloud offering) as well.

SharePoint is maturing and so is SharePoint development. And developers should get in while the gettin' is good: the tools are productive and the and the market shortage is still acute. Plus, the 2010 product wave is the one where Microsoft finally seems to have embraced the browser, and done so in a way that will sync with their cloud strategy. This alignment of circumstances is rare and should be exploited quickly.

Microsoft isn't Google. Nor are they Apple. Microsoft is still the company whose base franchise is Windows and Office. But SharePoint seems to be the product that allows them to make peace with their traditional underpinnings, while extending those core strengths to more modern channels. SharePoint lives in the browser and plays in the cloud. But it's a tool for office workers, and as Steve Ballmer said during his keynote today, "SharePoint's becoming a platform just like the OS."

Works for me, and I expect it should continue to work for Microsoft, for quite some time. Should work for developers too.

More tomorrow.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 10/20/2009

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