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SharePoint Development Takes Center Stage

CIOs, enterprise architects praise Microsoft's SharePoint Server at Burton Group's Catalyst Conference North America 2008.

With more enterprise developers embracing Microsoft's SharePoint Server, the collaboration platform took center stage at Burton Group's Catalyst Conference North America 2008, a popular annual gathering of CIOs, enterprise architects and the IT consultancy's team of analysts.

SharePoint is rapidly evolving and growing as an enterprise development platform, as reported in the cover story of the most recent issue of Redmond Developer News ("Platform Rising," July 1, 2008). The five panels at Catalyst, held in San Diego, emphasized that there are numerous benefits and challenges developers face in implementing SharePoint.

"SharePoint has been a huge success," said Guy Creese, vice president and director of research at Burton Group. "However, what we're starting to find is that a high-tuned SharePoint installation requires custom coding and third-party" support, including perhaps third-party software.

SharePoint generated $800 million in revenues in Microsoft's fiscal year 2007, Creese noted.

Products that compete with SharePoint include IBM Lotus Notes, which Creese said is doing well but has failed to gain new customers. Oracle Corp. is currently consolidating four different products, and Creese said the jury is still out with regards to that company. Burton Group does not see Google Apps as a "SharePoint killer," a phrase Google Inc. has used to describe its offering. Other competitors include some veteran niche players, but they're more expensive to implement, Creese added.

The Good and Bad
One of the benefits of SharePoint can also be seen as a liability: It works with other Microsoft solutions, such as Internet Information Services and SQL Server, but that also creates dependencies on Microsoft solutions, Creese said. SharePoint provides templates for ease of use, but if developers don't map to those templates, then they have to rely on custom coding to make it work.

Improvements to SharePoint 2007 include a rich client to create fill-in forms and a content-management system that's complementary to many best-of-breed enterprise content-management systems, Creese said.

Weak or missing features in SharePoint include lack of offline support; poor records management, digital asset management, social networking software and back-end XML syndication; and the lack of a universal taxonomy agent, he added. Consequently, organizations using SharePoint may want to seek partner solutions to fill in those gaps.

Indeed, one key benefit of SharePoint to Redmond developers is its huge ecosystem of partners, about 2,700 in all, said Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft's general manager for the office business platform, in a webcast last month.

SharePoint Supporters
Among those talking up SharePoint development at Catalyst were: Exostar LLC, which provides SharePoint in a Software as a Service model, building in security for its aerospace and defense contractor clients; SchemaLogic Inc., a supplier of connectors that work with the predominant search engines and enterprise content-management repositories; and NSE Inc., which offers a roles-based approach to management, integrating SharePoint with back-end data systems to enable real-time access.

There's a common question facing partners and customers: Does SharePoint 2007 offer marked improvements over its predecessor? Panelist Jason Storey, NSE's CTO, saw an evolutionary improvement with SharePoint 2007 over SharePoint 2003.

"In [SharePoint 2003] ... it was really a pain to work with," Storey said. "In the new versions you have Windows Workflow services developed behind the scenes ... You have an ASP.NET execution model so it's easier for you to extend that. You don't have to go find a true SharePoint guru to do SharePoint developer work. You can train a .NET individual."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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